Mother Jones: When we leave Iraq, what equipment do we leave behind?
Wayne White: You have to keep something in mind, and that is if there has been an escalation in the sheer monetary value of certain military items, that reduces flexibility in leaving things behind. In other words, in World War II, a $250,000 Sherman Tank could easily be left behind as with a lot of vehicles that could be towed out on a barge off France and dumped into the deep blue sea rather than shipping them home, because it wasn’t very expensive. Whereas an M1 Abrams, to leave something like that behind, you are talking about a piece of equipment that has a far, far higher replacement cost to the U.S. military. They will not be left. So some of the pieces of equipment that would have been considered expendable in the old days are not now.
Also, we have to presume in drawing up these scenarios and assessments that we won’t have a coherent military or government to turn things over to. In other words, a lot of M48 tanks were turned over to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. That’s probably not going to be an option in this day, because probably they would just become equipment for use by one side in the civil war.
MJ: The theory that we have created and trained security forces strong enough to leave it to seems like a fiction.
WW: I think I am most worried about Muqtada al-Sadr. He does get Iranian support. It could extend to groups beyond him, but he is clearly the one with the most serial and anti-occupation sentiment, and somebody who probably couldn’t resist either taking his last lick at us as we withdraw, or keeping control of elements that are part of his organization who want to do that.
There are a lot of scores that people might want to settle.
MJ: What do you think of the argument that we should leave residual forces in the country for a number of years to keep it glued together?
WW: I regard that as…I think it’s moot. There won’t be domestic support for [doing that]. And Iraq won’t look better in order to make people think this is a good thing. The casualties will continue to trickle in.
We have to keep in mind, like that general who was quoted [recently] in the New York Times, who asked 40-odd soldiers, “How many of you trust our new best friends?” And not a hand went up. He said, “Good, I want it to stay that way.” Essentially, the thing is watch your back, because these people who are cooperating with us now are the most virulently anti-occupation of any constituency in the country, and they regard the government in Baghdad as a Shiite-Kurdish government that will not only deny them a fair share of what happens with the budgetary pot and energy pot in the country, but will most likely use the new Iraqi Army to actually wreak vengeance on these people.
Iraq is a very, very tough place. People don’t get mad; they get even. The Sunni Arabs know that they have done plenty to get people mad.
MJ: Would you move our troops out, or would you move them to bases, sort of behind big walls?
WW: No, bases are a very bad idea. Bases really aren’t a way to withdraw. Bases are a way to first of all create immense resentment in a country in which the issue of British faith became so significant under the monarchy that it was one of the reasons the monarchy fell. As we know from the Vietnam experience, retention or establishment of bases is the same. It’s the way to get into a war, not out. If you keep something like that, you are going to have to defend it, and that means you are going to have to retain a large force, and that large force has to be deployed, and that large force has to have air cover.
MJ: Can we trust the Sunnis to be our sort of proxy in fighting Al Qaeda?
WW: You can’t completely trust them, because in some cases you are going to have the efforts disrupted by tribal and familial issues.
MJ: After the elections in ’08, do you see the new president bringing the troops home as fast as possible?
WW: No, I see a very gradual withdrawal. It’s an agonizing process, withdrawing and drawing down. I don’t know whether you can go fast.
MJ: Could troops be replaced by private contractors, just so we could say, “Hey, we don’t have so many troops in the country anymore”?
WW: Well, they have their own problems though. They don’t want to be at the forefront of the military action out there. They have their large elements that are performing essentially security duties, but those guys didn’t sign up for infantry duty. They signed up to be prepared to defend against occasional violence.
MJ: How much do these companies start basically localizing their employee base? I mean, do they start hiring Iraqis to do what they had people from Texas doing before?
WW: They do have people who are Iraqis already working for them, but I would think if we are drawing down, the contractors are going to be drawing down also. They aren’t going to be hiring more people. They will be hiring less.
MJ: Is there any hope of getting the international community involved at this point in Iraq, the U.N. or NATO?
WW: No. They know it’s a very dangerous place, and they don’t want to lose people. The international community wants to stay as far away from this as possible. Humanitarian organizations want to help very badly, but they know that their people cannot operate in a hostile environment. In other words, if you take care of Sunni Arab refugees, let’s hope you don’t run into any Shiites.
MJ: If there is a partition of Iraq, where the U.S. reduces its presence there, who does make humanitarian efforts there?
WW: I think until the worst settles down, you can only do it on [the borders]. A lot of the refugees are already on the borders.
MJ: Do we take the Iraqis who have worked with the Americans with us?
WW: Yes. This would be a vital aspect of a withdrawal. In other words, if you are banning these people, a lot of them are going to die, their families will die. This will be flashed all over the media throughout the world as a horrific thing that the United States allowed to happen. In addition, some of them, if they are turned away embittered, will join the people attacking us, because they know a lot about our facilities and installations, and could actually be a tremendous help to anyone wanting to harass us during the withdrawal.
So in order to have their help and have their loyalty, and to avoid a bloodbath in certain dangerous areas, they must come out with us along with their immediate families. If that means 350,000 people, that’s what it means.