Carl Conetta, Project on Defense Alternatives

| Thu Oct. 18, 2007 2:00 AM EDT

Carl Conetta: To plan decently well it really depends on how you want to leave. There's a lot of contingency plans and I'm sure that there are already contingency plans to redeploy in case of emergency and stuff like that. But I would guess that once you've decided—if you have already done planning for just in case you want to leave—from that point forward if all you wanted to do was sort of leave like thieves in the night—pick up and get out as quickly as you possibly could—we could redeploy all of our people and all of our mobile equipment to Kuwait within two months.

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Mother Jones: We could leave in two months if we really wanted to?

CC: Well, what I'm saying is that if we left under sort of emergency conditions and just moved people and mobile equipment, we could get it all to Kuwait within two months. If you want to talk about a safer exit where we're making sure that our people are not attacked, there's a degree of planning at the sort of tactical level, meaning not just planning for the whole business but doing some cleaning up behind ourselves, that would be more like four months. I don't think that under any conditions would we leave in the two-month scenario—an emergency is not likely to happen.

The four-month scenario is one where we've made very little provision for the vacuum that would be left behind us. So you could say that if we were just going to leave the country without preparing the Iraqis, we just wanted to get out as quick as we possibly could, then depending on the amount of risk and the amount of stuff you were willing to leave behind it would take two to four months to move everything into Kuwait or into Saudi Arabia.

We start with two to four months, and anything after that really has to do with preparing the Iraqis for our departure. And then there's a question that I've left out, which is how long does it take to get from Kuwait back to the United States. We can move 100,000 people in a month all the way to the United States. That's not the issue. The issue would be the equipment. We have a capacity today to move about 32,000 tons a day and I don't know what the estimate of the amount of equipment that we have presently in Iraq is. I would guess that it certainly exceeds 2 million tons and that means it would take a couple of months minimally, if we poured all of our lift into the effort to get it out of Kuwait and back to the United States.

You've got to think of it as a hop from Iraq to Kuwait and from Kuwait to the United States and that you're moving two types of things: people and stuff. People move really quick; stuff doesn't. Everything can move pretty quick from Iraq to Kuwait, but to get it from Kuwait there's no question it takes longer because that's boats...basically, boats and planes.

Again, the type of planning that I'm talking about is, "We've got to get the hell out of here!" It's not, "How do we best get out and how do we take care of our Iraqi friends?" We would have everybody and most things out of Iraq and into Kuwait within three months, so that's how we start.

MJ: What are the logistical considerations that we have to think about when we talk about moving a brigade out of Iraq?

CC: There are a lot of ways to tackle that question. One thing we can say is that we are routinely moving brigades in and out of Iraq, so any considerations are not ones that have not already been thought about. Now normally when a brigade leaves Iraq and does its rotation, it leaves most of its stuff behind because it keeps handing off to the next guys. So mostly we're just moving people. That's not entirely true because there's always stuff that's been wrecked or there's special equipment or stuff that new guys want to a bring with them and the old guys want to take home with them. So there's always some stuff moving, and we're doing that routinely. With the average rotation we're doing about a brigade a month.

We've also set up bases, and the bases are more than just structures. They're filled with electronic equipment, repair equipment, depots, that type of thing. You're not going to strip those buildings bare, but you are going to want to take your repair equipment back, your communications equipment back. Any ammo depots that exist there, you're going to want to strip them and bring them back. So it depends how much is left at any particular point, and presuming that they have at least 30 to 60 days of supplies on hand—that's a lot, and that's got to move back.

Tanks pose a special problem. You can fly them by plane, but it just takes forever because you can only fit one or two on a plane. And then to move them on ground you've got to have transporters, and the question becomes, How many transporters do you have? They have to keep on doing round trips until the tanks are out because you don't want to drive the tanks on loads. But we don't have tanks in large numbers there, hence not only is the problem a bit easier than it was back in 1990, but it also screws all the numbers I have for how much a brigade weighs.

MJ: Would insurgents be important players if we decided to leave in two months?

CC: I don't think we'll leave that quickly unless there's sort of the Vietnam War analogue where everything fell apart real quick and we had to get out. We would want to use the fact of leaving as a political lever. You don't just go; you say to some forces and possibly even some of the lower level players who are associated with Al Qaeda Mesopotamia, "Okay, you wanted us to go, we're going. Now are you going to lay off? Are you going to protect us?"

Leaving is a type of political momentum. It's a huge change to the political environment and you want to utilize that to try to get some positive benefit. The minimal benefit would be to ensure our security, but two months is not enough time to make those arrangements. Presumably you'd do some very short-term planning for two or three weeks and within a month you could have some real movement. What you'd probably do is you would stop current rotations and you would continue with those who were already planned to rotate out. I don't think there would be enough time to use the momentum, the leverage that we would gain from saying to them, "Okay, you want us to go, we're going. Now what are you going to do for us?" When you give people something they want you try to get something back, and security is the minimal thing. What we might want additionally is to compel people to sit down together and start planning together, Sunni and Shiite. Presumably a positive affect of our saying we will leave in a certain period of time is that everybody starts getting much more realistic about their situation.

Hopefully you begin to split off the moderates from the extremists. You split off those people who are actually representative of tribal groups and municipalities and families, people who are worried about people living, you split them off from the small cells of fanatics. The fanatics may not care [about a stable Iraq], especially if they have some jihadist ideology, but the tribal leaders will care and the municipal leaders will care. So you shock them into realism and you want to use that, you want to give that time. That's how we leave without letting the country sink into total chaos.

MJ: How long will that take?

CC: Two months basically means the order comes, you do the immediate planning, you start loading up, and you get out as fast as you can. Your only real considerations are securing the roads and not clogging them up with your stuff. You're leaving a lot of stuff behind.

Four months allows you to do more planning, to be more secure, to move a lot of the stuff that you would otherwise leave behind. You can do some minimal activity in preparing Iraqis, but not much. It takes a month to get a meeting together, if you're lucky, because they keep getting delayed. It's not easy to do, so four months doesn't really give you enough time to do anything.

At the other extreme is where you've obviously taken care of yourself very well and you're moving out very securely and you're taking most of the stuff that's important—advanced equipment, communications gear, ammunition of course, repair equipment, all of that. You're moving slowly and you're taking maximum advantage of the fact that you're leaving. That's where you're talking 14 months.

Another thing you might do with that time is you might continue to train Iraqi troops. You could train up a lot in that period of time. If that was the principal thing that you're doing—you know we've said all along that this is what we want to concentrate on doing, but we've never really done it sufficiently because we end up continuing to fight. It's no wonder it's going bad. You also have to transition the contracts that we currently hold. If the Iraqi government says, "We don't want your contractors; we want our contracts," fine, but lets work with them to do that right.

MJ: What becomes of the military bases that we set up across the country?

CC: Nobody likes the term permanent, including the Pentagon, but personally I think our current plan is to stay there forever, and that includes the Democrats. We would move into a small number of large, well-protected bases, more than four and probably less than twenty.

You know the embassy is 60 acres and houses more than 3,000 people? That's ridiculous. It's the largest in the world. It's proof of a couple of things. First of all, our intention is not to leave. Secondly, that we intend to continue to have an extraordinary role in this country, basically running it behind the scenes. Turn it in to housing; I don't care what you do with it. You don't need that.

People talk about our responsibility toward Iraq and some say that's why we can't leave. I say, "No, actually the occupation poisons the environment. We do have a responsibility, which is to turn this over to somebody else who would not poison the environment. Now I think that would probably have to be some combination of the United Nations and frontline states that surround Iraq. They all individually exercise influence over different portions of the political puzzle inside of Iraq, and unlike the people inside of Iraq they're not necessarily at each other's throats, at least not in the same way. So they can play a unifying and stabilizing role if we let them. Part of the problem of course is that we're in a cold-war situation with several of them and that's got to stop if you hope to move forward in Iraq.

MJ: What are we going to do with prisoners in U.S.-controlled jails?

CC: Right, it's 17,000 or something now and it's going up every day. A lot of people who are guilty of something are going to go free because you can't prove that they're guilty of anything. But I think it's important to return as best we can to the rule of law, which means respecting their human rights. I don't think you necessarily just turn them over to Iraqis, especially given that many of the people in the jail are Sunni, and you still have this problem of the current government being dominated Shiites. So I think that you want to move quickly to process them and get it down to those people who might actually go to trial, that you actually have some sort of hard evidence on. So the answer is you try to empty the jails.

MJ: Can you talk about the trade laws and business agreements that have been engineered in Iraq by the American occupation, and what the consequences of those will be when we leave?

CC: The laws are in place to accelerate privatization of the Iraqi economy. Relatively little has actually happened because it's such a contentious issue. What we have done is lowered trade barriers, and to change that—it's really a question of the Iraqis making that decision. A number of these things were locked in early on by the Coalition Provisional Authority: a lot of the laws, much of the constitution, the entire judiciary, and most of the contracts that exist today. These are supposedly legally binding documents and I think in doing a transition we need to recognize—and it has to happen at the U.N. level,—a decision that all of these things need to be renegotiated. It is not the role of a foreign country to establish these things for another country. One good example is the oil law, which is being contested right now. The oil law makes provisions for production-sharing agreements that are inappropriate to Iraq. It's a high-profit-for-foreigners approach to producing Iraqi resources when there's a bunch of countries that'd be glad to come in there and make other types of arrangements. I think the underlying goal to the U.S. mission there is to gradually break the back of oil cartels and to use Iraq as a leading wedge. We shouldn't be dying for that and they shouldn't be dying for that.