Mother Jones: How soon should the U.S. leave Iraq?
Medea Benjamin: I would say, just to pick a time, by the end of the year. We have been saying troops home by the holidays, but we’ve been saying that for the last four years. And then in terms of when we would leave, that’s a very different story. I think if we left a year from now, that would be not my ideal, but it would certainly be positive. I doubt even that is going to happen.
MJ: When you say, “by the end of the year,” do you mean you want to pull out every last U.S. soldier by then?
MB: Well, I think it’s kind of silly to talk about it because it’s just not going to happen. I think it makes more sense to talk about what is in the realm of even the possible. If we said we would like the troops to withdraw by the end of 2008, let’s say, I would think that is totally doable physically. Certainly you will hear different generals tell you different things. I had McCaffrey tell me that you could do it in six months; some say it would take two years. So I would think if we began the withdrawal, like Senator John Warner is saying, by the holidays and had all U.S. troops out by the end of the year, that would give over a year to try to put into place the mechanism for trying to move for a real reconciliation plan and if necessary have some international peacekeeping troops come in.
MJ: After most troops pull out, should the United States leave any bases behind?
MB: No, I don’t think there should be U.S. bases; I think having U.S. bases in the Middle East was part of the reason we were attacked on September 11th and will keep us vulnerable and less secure. I think with the modern military the way it is, you don’t need to be based on somebody’s soil.
MJ: Should we station troops at the border?
MB: I don’t think there should be U.S. troops anywhere. I think the U.S. should help pay other countries, if they are willing to contribute troops, and it’s needed. I would say no country that has been part of the “Coalition of the Willing” would be considered legitimate in Iraq right now, but there are plenty of other countries that didn’t participate and that, if paid by the U.S., might be willing to contribute troops. They could be countries like Indonesia, Nigeria. It could be forces from countries from the Muslim community that are not the neighboring countries.
MJ: Under what conditions would you redeploy American troops to Iraq?
MB: I think that the U.S. is part of the problem, not part of the solution. And there definitely needs to be a plan in place, but the U.S. troops should not be a part of that plan. If the violence escalates and the troops went back in, it would just get worse.
MJ: What will prevent Iraq’s civil war from flaring into genocidal violence?
MB: We have to get the international community—the U.N., the Arab League—involved. The transition plans should set up different scenarios that could include an increase in violence and how the international community, not the U.S., should respond to that.
MJ: What will make the world stop genocide in Iraq when it didn’t in Rwanda or Darfur?
MB: The Europeans, the Japanese, and the Chinese are all concerned about the flow of oil. The First World will be affected by this, as they weren’t in Rwanda. Come on, there is a hell of a lot of difference, unfortunately, between the international community’s concern about a small, resource-poor nation like Rwanda and a region like the Middle East.
MJ: Should having an international force at the ready be a precondition for a U.S. withdrawal?
MB: Yeah, especially as a contingency plan. We’re spending $3 billion dollars a week on the war, and we could certainly be spending the money better in helping to pay for an international peacekeeping force to be in the ready.
MJ: Is assembling such a force even being seriously discussed right now?
MB: There has been more of a hopelessness this year with the increase in violence and the sense the U.S. wasn’t going to leave, so why even bother planning such scenarios? So I think it will really only happen seriously once there is a timetable for withdrawal. The more we put off the timeline, the less likely it is that any of those plans are even talked about in a serious fashion.
MJ: Is there any contradiction between supporting U.S. military intervention to stop the Rwandan genocide and opposing U.S. military intervention to prevent ethnic cleansing in Iraq?
MB: It’s a totally different situation. We are looking at a case now where our presence is a major part of the problem. The United States cannot, in my opinion, be construed at all as part of the solution, and we have got to recognize that we have zero possibility of stopping the violence and helping Iraq become a functioning stable country. And that it’s only by leaving that the possibility of that will exist. But yes, we do have to have contingency plans, because there is a possibility that the violence could get worse.