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January 2007

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The "Go Home" Option
Review by Robert V. Keeley in the Foreign Service Journal January 2007

Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now George McGovern and William R. Polk, Simon and Schuster, 2006, $15, paperback, 135 pages.

As I write this review shortly after the midterm elections, parties on all sides of the Iraq War are awaiting with great anticipation the report of the Baker Hamilton “Iraq Study Group.” Whatever that effort produces, an exit strategy is already available in this short, aptly titled book by two well known experts on the Middle East.

After he retired from politics, Senator George McGovern resumed his prior profession of teaching history and headed the Middle East Policy Council in Washington for six years. William R. Polk taught Middle East history and politics at Harvard and Chicago, published many books on the region, and has closely studied Iraq since he first visited Baghdad in 1947. In 2005 he published Understanding Iraq, a highly readable 213 page history.

The two authors have collaborated on a book that recaps what Iraq is and who the Iraqis are, analyzes the effects of the invasion and occupation on Iraq and on America, and then lays out in a single chapter a 24 point exit strategy, followed by a brief warning about the dire consequences of our not making a reasonably rapid exit. They foresee a phased withdrawal of all foreign military troops by June 30, 2007, including the 25,000 mercenaries euphemistically called “Personal Security Details” provided by 50 foreign firms. They put their plan's cost at about $14 billion—a true bargain considering projections that another two years of the occupation would cost at least $350 billion. They insist that the plan must be implemented as a coordinated whole.

To facilitate the transition, McGovern and Polk urge the Iraqi government to request the short-term services of an international force to help police the country during and after our withdrawal, perhaps remaining for as much as two years. This force should be drawn from Arab and/or other Muslim countries, whose personnel would be much better equipped with an understanding of the culture, religion, language and traditions of the Iraqi populace to carry out police work.

There is not space here to describe the plan's other 22 points in detail, but a good many are worthy of mention. For instance, the authors view the training of a permanent Iraqi national police force as essential, but oppose recreation of a national army, which in the past has been more disruptive than helpful. They also call for Washington to release all prisoners of war and to close our detention centers as soon as possible. To counter the impression that we plan to stay in Iraq long-term we must cease construction of some 14 “enduring” American military bases now under way (five of which are as large as cities). For similar reasons, we should vacate the Green Zone by the end of 2007.

The authors also urge the U.S. to fund a project to hire and train Iraqis to find and destroy mines, unexploded ordnance and depleted uranium; pay reparations for loss of lives and property; and allow Iraq to renegotiate oil contracts entered into during the occupation. Finally, though it may be hard for us to do it, America should express its condolences for the large number of Iraqis killed, incapacitated, incarcerated and tortured. This cost free gesture would help greatly to restore our reputation in Iraq, the region, and the world.

McGovern and Polk close by calling on all Americans to acknowledge the debt we owe to the men and women who served in Iraq, and to treat them as well as were the returning veterans from World War II: “Now is the time for healing the wounds of war and trying to understand its lessons. The veterans of the war in Iraq especially need and deserve a comprehensive rehabilitation - physically, mentally, educationally and economically, including the highly successful offerings of the World War II G.I. Bill of Rights.”

This brief book provides a reasonable, workable and inexpensive road map for extricating ourselves from the Iraq quagmire. It should be essential reading not only for all decision makers and their advisers in Washington, but all Americans.


Note: This review was originally published in Foreign Service Journal January 2007 (Vol. 84, No. 1), page 53-54. Reprinted by permission of the Journal.


Three-time ambassador Robert V. Keeley operates Five and Ten Press, a small, independent publishing company he founded to bring out original articles, essays and other short works of fiction and non fiction that have been rejected or ignored by mainstream outlets.

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