This journal believes the Letter to the Editor below to be of general interest among its readers whether one agrees with it or not. Therefore, we publish it as a guest editorial. We note that Amb. Spiers had a long, distinguished career in both the U. S. Foreign Service and the U. N. He retired in 1992 with the rank of Career Ambassador. Ed.
The current debate over Iraq policy continues to spin in circles with no common ground between the Congress and the White House in sight. This stalemate can't be in US interests, either in the long run or short.
The best of all the bad options, I have long argued, would have been to require the democratically-chosen Baghdad government and parliament to reach a formal and unambiguous decision whether they want "coalition" forces to stay in Iraq or go. It is not too late to choose this course if, as appears likely, the Surge is not going to be able to produce a stable and lasting end to sectarian violence in the remaining few months that escalating casualties and the patience of the Ameican public will allow it.
If the majority of the Iraqi parliament reject a request for us to remain we should withdraw in full as quickly as we can arrange an orderly and safe departure.
We should make clear that if they do want coalition forces to stay the US will be ready to keep a force large enough to provide agreed logistic and training support, help in reconstruction security and assistance in dealing with remaining foreign militants as well as its own force protection needs - and that it should stay as long as both sides agreed it was necessary and desirable with no pre-set timetables or deadlines. While its precise size should be determined by defence professionals, a force of 50-70 thousand should suffice to meet our responsibility to help clean up the mess we precipitated with our invasion.
If we stay in response to a request endorsed by a parliamentary majority we should be clear that coalition forces would play no combat role or intervene in internal conflicts that can only be resolved by the Iraqis themselves. The coalition presence would, in effect, change from that of an "occupying" force to an "invited" one and therefore be more politically acceptible not just to the American public, but internationally. I believe a policy along these lines could be supported by a majority in the Congress, avoid a presidential veto and overcome the present impasse.
We should press the Congress and administration to stop castigating one another and find a way back to the drawing board as rapidly as possible.
Ronald I. Spiers