Mother Jones: When do you think we should pull out troops from Iraq?
Leslie Cagan: Tomorrow. We never should have sent troops in. How do you clean up a mess like this? You do it as quickly and as orderly and as efficiently as you can. There is no reason to delay the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
MJ: After American troops withdraw, will the violence in Iraq escalate?
LC: Our position is that while there might be some spike in violence—although it’s hard to imagine that it will get a lot worse than it already is—but assuming there is some spike in violence in Iraq, that will not be a permanent condition of life in Iraq. But we do know that if the U.S. troops stay for as long as they’ve stayed there will be permanent fighting and death and destruction. So the first step to getting beyond that and to moving toward a country with stability and security is announcing and putting into place the withdrawal of all U.S. troops.
MJ: What will prevent the violence from getting worse after troops leave?
LC: Our presence is a magnet for a lot of the violence. Most of the violence is directed at U.S. service people or outposts of the U.S. military and not internecine or sectarian violence. So if you remove the cause of that—I mean, I could be wrong, none of us has a crystal ball of course.
MJ: What if a genocide breaks out after a withdrawal?
LC: I think that what we should do there is similar to what we should have been doing in other parts of the world where there have been full scale genocides also, and that is using the authority that we have as the world’s greatest superpower to encourage and cajole neighboring nations, including other countries of the Middle East, to a conference table to figure out how a multilateral solution could be worked out.
MJ: Should this be a precondition to getting troops out?
LC: No. In fact, it should be the other way around. Withdrawing the troops will create the conditions for other things to happen.
MJ: How will we convince people to intervene in Iraq given lack of success elsewhere?
LC: I don’t have any guarantees. What I know is that this plan, and I use the word with great hesitation, this approach that the Bush administration has continued to use for these four and a half years now isn’t working. And what is required is a dramatic change in U.S. policy.
MJ: What if that international force does not materialize or does not work?
LC: I don’t know if we should assume that there would be a genocide. There wasn’t a genocide in Vietnam after we left. That is always the card that they pull out, that if we leave much worse things are going to happen. And I don’t see anything that guarantees or promises that that is going to happen. Things might get worse, but they also might get better.
Were we to be invited in by a legitimate government, and our forces were under the legitimate control of that government, that might be a different scenario also.
MJ: Do we need a contingency plan for a genocide scenario if no U.N. force is willing to intervene?
LC: I don’t know. If there is a genocide taking place someplace in the world, then I think we do have some responsibility to use our resources to try to involve ourselves in a process that would end that. Does that mean sending in the Marines? No. Does that mean bombing them? No, it does not. What it does mean is, I don’t know exactly what it would mean. It would mean really making, having the political commitment to solve problems, to resolve tensions, to work out international differences. Right now, we don’t have a commitment to international law in this country. That strikes me as a good place to begin.
MJ: Is there any contradiction between supporting U.S. military intervention to stop Rwandan genocide and opposing U.S. military intervention to prevent ethnic cleansing in Iraq?
LC: There is a little bit of a conflict or a contradiction there, but in general, we think the use of force by anybody must be a last resort and there is enough of a track record of U.S. military force not to trust it in virtually any situation.