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The Precedents for Withdrawal

From Vietnam to Iraq

In November 2008, the governments of the United States and Iraq agreed that U.S. troops would leave Iraq by 2011 -- eight years after the U.S. invasion. For some, this is much too soon. These critics argue that events on the ground, not an artificial deadline, should govern the pullout and that, in any case, a residual force should remain for decades.

U.S. WithdrawlBut as Washington ponders how long to stay in Iraq, it would do well to examine the strategic impact of the United States' withdrawal from other conflict-riven countries: Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1970s, Lebanon in the 1980s, and Somalia in the 1990s. Even though Washington's commitment to these situations differed in its degree, disengagement eventually proved to be the right policy for the United States. Abandonment damaged Washington's credibility at first, but it was the best way to protect U.S. interests in the long run. The

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