Last February, I went to Iraq and had a chance to talk to a top allied military leader about how our operation was going. He said “nothing would take the wind out of the sails of the insurgents more” than having a timetable for bringing our brave troops back home. This commander is one of a growing number of experts who agree that refusing to provide a clear but flexible timetable is a mistake that is actually fueling the Iraqi insurgency.
A timetable would undercut the insurgency by showing that the U.S. doesn't intend to stay in Iraq indefinitely. It would move Iraqis toward real political independence. It would let us focus our resources on our top national-security priority—fighting the global terrorist networks that want to attack us again. And it would give our military men and women, who are bravely doing their jobs, some answers about how long they can expect to serve in Iraq.
In June, I called on the President to define our military mission in Iraq, and to propose a time frame for achieving our military goals there and withdrawing U.S. troops. But all we got were the same old slogans about “staying the course.” So in August, I decided to jump-start the conversation about an exit strategy by suggesting a target date for withdrawal: Dec. 31, 2006.
We cannot afford to wait for the Bush administration to act. Congress needs to demand a flexible timetable to bring our troops home. The sooner that happens, the sooner we can bring some clarity, and some direction, to the U.S. military mission in Iraq.
Senator Russell Feingold
Democrat of Wisconsin
To determine whether the United States should announce a timetable for withdrawing combat forces from Iraq, we need to think strategically. Our objectives are building a legitimate, sustainable government and establishing adequate security forces. We should set a timetable only if it advances those causes.
A timetable would send a signal to four important players: our allies, the American people, the insurgents, and the Iraqis. Let's consider each group. We don't need a timetable to satisfy the international community. A U.N. resolution recently reaffirmed the legitimacy of the U.S. presence. Our allies have made it clear that, regardless of how they feel about the war, none want America to fail.
A timetable wouldn't help the President maintain adequate domestic support. For his supporters, the President's pledge to “stand down as the Iraqis stand up” is sufficient. For his detractors, putting a date on the calendar won't dampen criticism of the war in Iraq. The enemy won't care. Insurgents in Iraq are mainly killing Iraqis, and they'll continue killing them regardless. Announcing a timetable won't change their minds.
Nor do Iraqis seem to require a withdrawal date to move the political and security process forward. They've already started holding elections, approving a constitution, establishing a sovereign government, putting Saddam Hussein on trial, and creating a national army and a police force.
So the answer seems self-evident. A timetable wouldn't help in Iraq. So why set one?
The Heritage Foundation