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A Tentative Timetable for a U.S. Withdrawal from Iraq

OPINION features excerpts of pieces by columnists from the Op-Ed page and other sections of The New York Times. All columns from the last seven days are available at nytimes.com; Op-Ed pieces (by columnists and outside contributors), plus Editorials and Letters to the Editor, are at nytimes.com/opinion. Please let us know what you think of OPINION at upfront@scholastic.com.

How do we get out of Iraq? Immediate withdrawal risks abandoning the country to civil war and chaos. And staying the course indefinitely inflames nationalistic resentment and feeds the insurgency. So what should we do? My vote is to set target dates for withdrawing our troops. I suggest we announce that we intend to pull out at least half of our troops by the end of 2006—and the last soldier by the end of 2007. We should also pledge not to keep any military bases in Iraq. Will this work? I'm not sure. But a tentative timetable does avoid many pitfalls. The insurgents have traction only because many ordinary Iraqis share this hostility to American troops. If we can make it clear that we're headed for the exits, that'll make it harder for the insurgents to portray themselves as nationalist heroes. A target date would also light a fire under Iraqis to work out a modus vivendi [a temporary agreement between contending parties]. Time and again, deadlines have proved the only way to get Iraqi politicians to do anything. Our exit strategy must focus on healing nationalist resentments, not inflaming them by settling our troops in for a long haul.

—Nicholas D. Kristof [11/15/05]