Mother Jones: Knowing what you know about the way things are going, what do you think is a reasonable time frame for executing a withdrawal?
Paul Eaton: 18 months.
MJ: In that scenario, what kind of numbers are we talking about, troops-wise?
PE: Different guys have put forth between 60,000 and 80,000 soldiers to do all of what we are talking about right now, but that figure goes down as the security situation improves, if it does.
MJ: What can you tell me about the USDA requirements for getting vehicles out? Is that a complicated process?
PE: No. Either you meticulously clean the vehicle with your garden hose, or you pay somebody who knows what he is doing to clean it. It's obviously more complicated with a big old tank or a Bradley fighting vehicle or a helicopter, but basically it is just cleaning.
MJ: But it would be troops doing this themselves. It's not like there are cleaning crews in Kuwait.
PE: Like anything else, you can contract it out. It all goes to time and money. If you contract the service out, you will probably get it done faster. You will have more people. They'll bring in specialized equipment to do it.
MJ: Say that we brought out everybody, how long do think it would take from that point of view?
PE: We are talking definitely months to get out. My guess would be 6 months.
MJ: What takes so much time?
PE: Just the sheer movement of vehicles, getting the vehicle from point A to point B, doing the requisite post-movement maintenance, getting the ships positioned, loading the ship. It takes days to load a ship. How big are your parking spaces? How big are your parking lots? How many ships can you bring into the port of deportation? All of that is tedious and time consuming. If you are in a huge hurry, can it done by faster? Sure, but consider the old adage of good, fast, and cheap. You get two out of three under normal conditions. The longer you spend, the less expensive.
MJ: In terms of equipment, another factor that would affect how long it would take would be what you decide to bring with you. What do you think we would take, and what would we leave behind?
PE: One consideration is [the Iraqis'] ability to maintain fleets. Each type of vehicle that you give to the Iraqis implies a maintenance and supply tag for X number of years. So if you leave an up-armored Humvee with the Iraqis, there is an implication that you are going to supply spare parts for that for a period of time. Otherwise they will just drive it into the ground. So our tanks and our Bradleys would not be left under that rule.
MJ: What will happen to the bases?
PE: We just turn them over to the Iraqis. It's not gone particularly well with the Brits, but we have no other choice.
MJ: I read that their bases in Basra have been looted and destroyed as they pull out.
PE: When I was trying to find a training base, we found all of the Iraqi army bases [looking like] stripped ghost towns. They were just shells. They were just walls with roofs. Part of the big drama is to bring all that back online. You turn over the base to the most competent guys you can find and you expect them to take care of it. If they don't, then too bad.
MJ: If you wanted to move a brigade somewhere in Anbar Province—if you wanted to get the brigade to Kuwait and on a ship—what would you have to do to accomplish that?
PE: Well, a brigade is, say, 5,000 troops and thousands of vehicles, and one column is probably about 60 miles long. You've got to move it 500 or 600 miles. Either you secure the route or your packets of vehicles. So you establish a convoy, start and stop times, programmed fuel stops, maintenance, a broken-down-vehicle recovery policy. It's not rocket science, but it is fundamental devil-in-the-details kind of planning. Any wheeled vehicle is subject to being left. But if it is a complicated piece of equipment, it makes no sense to leave it. And we would take our ammunition with us—I would not leave that stuff there.
MJ: How much of a role do you think contractors will play in a withdrawal scenario?
PE: I can't see a terribly big role. Setting up refuel points, setting up those stations that [are needed] whenever you move a large amount of equipment over ground. You are going to have to have places for these folks to refuel and to rest and feed soldiers.
MJ: What about the Iraqis who have been collaborating with us? Do you get the sense that any move would be made to protect them or bring them out?
PE: We have a moral obligation to those who have soldiered with us to provide them with safe haven in the United States. We did it in the drawdown during the Vietnam War. We have to honor our commitments and provide safe haven to Iraqi interpreters and those who have worked very closely with us.
MJ: What do you see happening in Iraq after the U.S. significantly draws down its presence. What can we expect?
PE: One of the big things that this administration has failed to do is prepare the region diplomatically for our ultimate withdrawal. We know we are coming out of there, so what can we do to make it a little bit more elegant? But this administration has just ignored the diplomatic tools available and has dumped this entire problem on the American soldier.