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When to Leave Iraq
Today, Tomorrow, or Yesterday?
WILLIAM E. ODOM, a retired three-star General in the U.S. Army and former Director of the National Security Agency, is a Professor at Yale University and a Senior Adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
COLIN H. KAHL is an Assistant Professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and a Fellow at the Center for a New American Security.See more by Colin H. KahlSee more by William E. Odom
WALK BEFORE RUNNING
Colin H. Kahl
In "The Price of the Surge" (May/June 2008), Steven Simon correctly observes that the Sunni turn against al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), known as the Sunni Awakening, has been a key factor in security progress during the period of "the surge." Simon is also on point when he notes that the Awakening, which began before the surge, was not a direct consequence of additional U.S. troops. But although Simon gets much of the past right, he ultimately draws the wrong lessons for U.S. policy moving forward.
Rather than unilaterally and unconditionally withdrawing from Iraq and hoping that the international community will fill the void and push the Iraqis toward accommodation -- a very unlikely scenario -- the United States must embrace a policy of "conditional engagement." This approach would couple a phased redeployment of combat forces with a commitment to providing residual support for the Iraqi government if and only if it moves toward genuine reconciliation. Conditional engagement -- rather than Simon's policy of unconditional disengagement -- would incorporate the real lesson from the Sunni Awakening.
The Awakening began in Anbar Province more than a year before the surge and took off in the summer and fall of 2006 in Ramadi and elsewhere, long before extra U.S. forces started flowing into Iraq in February and March of 2007. Throughout the war, enemy-of-my-enemy logic has driven Sunni decision-making. The Sunnis have seen three "occupiers" as threats: the United States, the Shiites (and their presumed Iranian patrons), and the foreigners and extremists in AQI. Crucial to the Awakening was the reordering of these threats.