I just got off a conference call launching a new report from the Commonwealth Institute: "Quickly, Carefully, and Generously: The Necessary Steps for a Responsible Withdrawal from Iraq." (Download taskforceresponsiblewithdrawal.pdf ). The report was drafted by the Task Force's Organizing Committee (Shelagh Foreman, Charles Knight, John Maher, and Chris Toensing), and fronted by Reps. Jim McGovern and John Tierney (both Democrats from my old home state of Massachussetts).
Rather than advocate for withdrawal, the report lays out a series of practical steps which would help to reduce the risks associated with the withdrawal of US forces while increasing the chances for a positive outcome. Where most reports like this begin with (and often end with) security and military issues, this one prioritizes political and economic considerations with a heavy focus on international involvement and high levels of economic support for Iraqis even after withdrawal. Among its main recommendations:
- seek a short-term renewal of the UN mandate instead of a bilateral US-Iraqi security agreement, followed by the drafting in 2009 of a comprehensive new UN mandate governing international assistance for Iraqi rebuilding and reconciliation
- establish an International Support Group for Iraq, which would go along with engaging with Syria, Iran, Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia in a much more sustained and systematic way, and strengthen the International Compact
- announce a timetable for withdrawal, and then plan that withdrawal around likely flashpoints, while preparing now for the introduction of UN blue helmets rather than waiting until it's too late
- greater focus on the refugees and internally displaced, and the humanitarian needs of the entire population - inside and outside of the country.
There's a lot more, and I encourage all interested to read it. I took part in the rather intense workshop in Cambridge in March where many of the ideas were hashed out. I didn't help write it and don't agree with all of its points, but I really commend the authors for thinking seriously about practical, multilateral responses to the anticipated problems associated with a withdrawal. Hopefully it will help move the debate beyond "stay or leave" and open up avenues for discussion about how to work together to make a drawdown succeed.