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Colonel T.X. Hammes (USMC, retired), counterinsurgency expert

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


MJ: I guess the broader question is: What is our moral obligation to the Iraqis now that this whole situation has been stirred up?


TXH: That's a much broader question, because the problem is we put the Iraqis in this mess and now we're bailing on them. I don't know how you deal with that. Obviously, we've got an enormous moral responsibility for making this mess, with no plan to fix it, and essentially just kind of dithering along as it got worse and worse. We certainly owe the Iraqis for doing this to them, but there's no way to get that balance sheet right.


MJ: People are talking about withdrawal, but is it likely at this point?


TXH: Oh, it's coming. I just think the American people have had it. The Iraqis aren't making political progress. If they were, then you could argue to stay. The question the American people are going to raise is how much more blood and treasure they're willing to spend for Iraqis who are not willing to compromise themselves?


MJ: What do you think the right course of action in this situation is?


TXH: I'm not sure you can make Iraq a country at this point. I think the best thing we could do is work with them to continue to do what they're doing already, which is this breakup. Maybe we can reduce the amount of violence that goes into this. If we were unable to do that, then we've got to start preparing for the possibility that the violence spills over. Certainly, the huge number of refugees in Jordan are going to be a big problem. Jordan is obviously threatened.


MJ: It seems like having all these refugees in surrounding countries is going to be a destabilizing factor.


TXH: It always is.


MJ: Do you think there was a specific turning point in this war, where things started going downhill?


TXH: Invading. The invasion was dumb. The turning point was when we went in to this place. If you were to study the entire world and pick a place where it would be hard to install a democracy, I don't think you could have done better than Iraq. It's on religious fault lines, it's on cultural fault lines, it has a no-longer-functioning middle class that's been repressed for years. The Iraqis mostly talk about justice rather than freedom. We keep pushing freedom, but what they want is justice. The incompetence of the Bush administration has been pretty stunning. What we've got to do now is some very serious planning within the U.S. government and with the regional powers about how we minimize the damage.


MJ: It seems like the most important piece of this is not the logistics, but the strategic planning.


TXH: I don't care if we leave all our stuff there. What I do care about is that we come out leaving some kind of semblance of stability in the region. That's going to be very tricky. But I can't find any serious indicators that the administration is planning that or discussing it.


MJ: Do you think if we were to leave, the civil war would burn itself out in a decade or so?


TXH: A decade is a long time. It's going to be at least a decade, and then the question is how many get killed and does it spill over.


MJ: It seems like any talk about withdrawal or mitigating strategies is seen as defeatist.


TXH: Yes, it is. And it's a standard Bush administration response to any criticism—declare the guy to be supporting the enemy and ignore your own blunders and blame everything on them.


MJ: What have you thought about the efforts of congressional Democrats to end the war?


TXH: It's been a lot of posturing. It's really about the election. It's not about stopping the war.

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