Mother Jones: You support a timetable for withdrawal. Specifically, you feel American troops should be out of Iraq by March 31, 2008. Why that day?
Senator Christopher Dodd: I believe that this allows us enough time to safely redeploy our troops out of Iraq and to hand over power to the Iraqis on the ground. I also think that a timeline is required to ensure that the Administration effectively plans for the withdrawal of military forces from Iraq. They failed to plan for the invasion of Iraq, and I think a timeline will force the president to plan for the withdrawal from Iraq.
MJ: As president, would you leave any troops in Iraq after that date? Would you leave any troops in the region?
CD: I have offered and supported legislation in the United States Senate that will force the president to redeploy combat forces out of Iraq, with three critical exceptions. One, training and equipping of Iraqi security forces. Two, protection for U.S. personnel still in Iraq. And three, targeted antiterrorism actions aimed at international terrorists. I think it is critical that we allow for the flexibility of a small number of U.S. forces to be used in Iraq for very specific narrow missions, which are critical to U.S. and Iraqi security. Additionally, I would leave some troops in the region, at bases located in Kuwait and Qatar—two staunch U.S. allies where American forces have long been stationed—to ensure some degree of regional stability.
MJ: As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, you must know the political situation in Iraq well. How will power shift after an American withdrawal? Will Maliki still cling to power? If that is unlikely, who or what is likely to replace him?
CD: That is the $64,000 question. If we knew the answer, I think our withdrawal from Iraq would be much easier. One of the key problems with the Maliki Government is that, in many instances, it has been a party to the sectarian conflict rather than a force for sectarian reconciliation, which is a necessary condition for stability in Iraq. Sunni death squads, Shiite militias, Al Qaeda in Iraq, and others are all vying for power, but no one authority is able to control violence or maintain order—and that includes U.S. troops. Ultimately, it is up to the people of Iraq to decide their own fate.
MJ: Let’s say at some point during withdrawal or after withdrawal, ethnic cleansing begins to occur in Iraq. Does America have an obligation to stop it? Would you send additional troops back into the country to do so?
CD: I am a firm believer that when and where America can prevent genocide, it should act to do so. But one of the most difficult things for me is that while I feel strongly that after invading Iraq we have a moral obligation to protect Iraqis, it seems that we simply don’t have the means to live up to our obligation.
In fact, U.S. forces have been unable to prevent the outbreak and spread of a pernicious and complex civil war that has killed tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. We haven’t been able to prevent the hemorrhaging of 2 million Iraqi refugees who have fled that country due to violence, or the additional 2 million refugees who are internally displaced in Iraq. We haven’t been able to stop Shiite militias and Sunni death squads from wreaking death and destruction upon Baghdad and the rest of Iraq. So despite our efforts, we simply can’t control the violence in Iraq. And that is part of the reason why I am advocating for our troops to be withdrawn.
I also think that there is an important difference between a civil war and state-sponsored genocide. In a genocide, like the one in Darfur, we know who the victims and perpetrators are, and we know where and how to protect them. In Iraq’s civil war, with numerous actors, and various “sides,” these lines aren’t quite as clear, and there is no military solution to a civil conflict—only a political solution will stop the violence.
MJ: Under a Dodd administration, would America still try to influence events in Iraq even though it has few to no people on the ground? If so, how?
CD: I would use the traditional and in many cases more effective means of influencing events around the globe—diplomacy. Unlike the Bush administration, which has perceived of diplomacy as a gift to one’s enemies, and has chosen force as its primary means of interaction with the rest of the world, I would use America’s diplomats to help shape events in Iraq, both through direct bilateral relations, multilateral relations with our allies and Iraq’s neighbors, and also through multilateral institutions, such as the United Nations, World Bank, Arab League, and others.
MJ: If in post-occupation Iraq an undesirable government takes power—a strongman, a theocracy, an extremist Shiite willing to slaughter Sunnis—would a Dodd administration engage with that government?
CD: It is only the Bush administration that has refused to engage with American’s adversaries—and to our tremendous detriment. Our current standoff with Iran has not improved because of our unwillingness to engage the regime. In fact, when we finally decided to engage North Korea, in concert with our allies in North Asia, we saw a major breakthrough in moving to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. Imagine what the Cold War would have looked like if Ronald Reagan had refused to engage Gorbachev or President Kennedy had refused to engage Khrushchev? Diplomatic engagement is crucial to advancing U.S. interests and peace and security around the world.
MJ: Do you believe Iraq’s neighbors will try to fill the vacuum of power left by the United States after a pullout? If so, whom? And how?
CD: Iraq’s neighbors are already trying to fill the political vacuum that currently exists in that country. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and others all have key interests in Iraq, especially because they are neighboring states and instability in Iraq has serious implications for stability within their own borders. Some of them are working towards stability and some of them are instigating conflict in order to undermine U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq. The key question is how the United States, Iraq, and the broader international community can mobilize the diplomatic and economic power of Iraq’s neighbors to act as positive forces, securing Iraq’s border, rebuilding Iraq’s economy, and working towards internal political reconciliation in Iraq. Frankly, the Bush administration has done a terrible job of mobilizing Iraq’s neighbors—we need them to buy into Iraq’s future, because their futures and Iraq’s future are immutably linked.
MJ: How would a President Dodd confront Iran if it became increasingly clear that Iran was working to destabilize Iraq, or encouraging the mistreatment of Iraq’s Sunni population?
CD: First, let me say it is critical that we do not stumble into a military conflict with Iran. Any additional military conflict in the Middle East, especially one that involves the United States, would be devastating for our national security and the security and stability of the region. To avoid such a conflict, we must use our diplomatic and economic might, in concert with our allies, to effect a change in behavior by the Iranian regime, so that they stop acting as spoilers in Iraq. I think it’s wise to remember that the United States and Iran cooperated quite closely in the run up to and immediately after our invasion of Afghanistan. But we should also use targeted and effective sanctions as a policy tool to demonstrate to the people of Iran that their economic interests are being harmed by their government’s improper interference in Iraq.
MJ: What should we do with the detainees held in American detention centers in Iraq?
CD: I believe very strongly in the tenets of the Geneva Conventions and would always adhere to those standards in dealing with detainees. Moreover, I think that the abuses at Abu Ghraib are a moral stain on the United States and am frankly outraged that this administration did not adequately investigate up the chain of command to determine who ordered or allowed these practices to go on. In the Senate, I introduced the Restoring the Constitution Act as part of my effort to lead the fight to restore human rights to all detainees, and to ensure effective prosecution of those deemed to be dangerous. This is about who we are as Americans and as a country—torture and illegal detention without trial are not American values.
MJ: What would you do as president to help the translators, fixers, and other Iraqis who served the United States and would be in grave danger after withdrawal?
CD: I support lifting the current caps and restrictions on visas for Iraqis who have helped the United States, and I have urged the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to revise their procedures for investigating these cases and issuing these visas.
MJ: What should be done with the Army bases and reconstruction projects already built or being built in Iraq?
CD: I firmly believe that the United States should not construct any permanent bases or other military installations in Iraq. We should make clear to the Iraqi people and others in the region that we have no desires to maintain any permanent bases in Iraq. As for reconstruction projects, I believe that it is vital that we work with Iraqi authorities and the international community to improve the living conditions of Iraqis, from building roads, medical clinics and schools to providing electricity and clean water. Aside from security, these projects will most improve the living conditions for millions of Iraqis.
MJ: As president, how would you use contractors in a withdrawal? Is the presence of contractors likely to increase or decrease after withdrawal?
CD: I am deeply concerned about this administration’s over-reliance on contractors, both for reconstruction, but also, and perhaps more troubling, in combat roles. Many of these contractors have fleeced the U.S. government, securing billions of dollars in no-bid contracts. There are more than 100,000 contractors currently in Iraq, and numerous reports, including those from the GAO, clearly indicate that the U.S. government has little idea who these contractors are and, more importantly, what they are doing in Iraq. This lack of oversight and accountability has to stop, which is why I have supported legislation introduced by Senator Webb to examine this issue. I would use as few contractors as possible, and ensure a rigid system of oversight and accountability.