Edward Luttwak, Center for Strategic and International Studies


Edward Luttwak: I think that withdrawal can be accomplished very quickly in a matter of weeks and even days for some positions. So long as it is understood that this is not the withdrawal 1200 miles back to the United States. It is a withdrawal into secure bases within Iraq. It is a withdrawal from patrolling the villages, the alleys, and the towns of Iraq into the Green Zone, Camp Victory outside of Iraq, which is a very well-defended large area, which includes the airport and probably a support base in the deep desert. There are several that have been produced by Saddam. So this disengagement is what is the practical course, not withdrawal and abandonment to chaos, but a disengagement from this futile attempt to police Iraq.

Mother Jones: If you were czar, when would you start withdrawing U.S. troops?

EL: I would start tonight because despite all of the good statistics, and the anecdotes and the analyses of a couple of really optimistic people, the fact is that this extraordinary experiment by general Petraeus of converting the Army and Marine Corps into a Mesopotamian constabulary has failed. It is a kind of scheme that one would associate with no military experience. I suppose these days people can become a senior general without really having ever experienced combat. This is what must reflect it. The weird thing is the same General Petraeus is publishing his counterinsurgency manual whose inordinate length reflects the attempt to square the circle. How to defeat an insurgency? That is, how to win an unconventional war with impeccably conventional forces?

I feel sorry for the president who bought this absurd theory, but the theory ultimately fails. The proof of it is that no official can walk around Baghdad. If you can’t walk around even the capital city you can not pretend that there is any useful degree of security in it. That is why there is absolutely no progress being made in reconstruction by Iraqis or anyone else. The country is completely paralyzed and the country is being driven by desperation into flight. So all the statistics and nice clever op-eds that we will see saying that the surge is working are contradicted by the simply reality. All of these advocates of the surge, I would ask them to simply take a stroll down the road in Baghdad. None of them would.

MJ: You would have withdrawn the troops…

EL: From 160,000 to maybe 16,000, because that’s all you will need. That would be amply sufficient.

MJ: And what is their task?

EL: One task is to prevent any invasion of Iraq. That 16,000 ground forces—including of course highly mobile light infantry, airborne troops, and such—would be quite enough to prevent any invasion of Iraq, because these troops would only have to designate and any conventional invasion would be repelled primarily be air power with the ground holding element. Secondly these forces would rally out of their desert base to smash any flag-waiving seizure of a town by Al Qaeda or people of that sort.

MJ: Is 16,000 people enough to do that?

EL: Maybe 160 are enough to do that. The problem in Iraq has been that the enemy is invisible. The enemy presents no contrast, the enemy does not show up in photographs, and the enemy cannot be found. Therefore, America’s overwhelming firepower is ineffectual. If the insurgents come out to celebrate there will be targets and then you smash them. Otherwise the withdrawal means that the Sunni and Shiites and Kurds and of course the other groups like the Turkomen will all have to find their own equilibrium and find local agreements as people in order to end this civil war. And I have no doubt that once American forces, I don’t think there will be any more violence than there is now, but there will be purposeful violence and civil war will be allowed to do the job of civil war which is to bring peace by separating out communities, creating boundaries that can be respected.

MJ: So soft partition?

EL: No, it’s allowing the Iraqis to determine their own fate instead of having General Petraeus determine their fate. It will be determined by the Iraqis. General Petraeus is unable to do it.

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