Larry Korb, a former assistant defense secretary under Reagan, wants to keep a regional military presence and to keep intervening in Iraq, but he thinks that continuing the occupation does more harm than good. He and Phillip Carter, a UCLA alum and Iraq war veteran, take questions on the war and Gen. Petraeus's strategy.
We do more damage to the Iraqi people the longer we stay. Phillip Carter
A former Reagan administration assistant secretary of defense, Larry Korb wants to see U.S. ground troops out of Iraq sooner rather than later so the country can begin a process of political reconciliation backed by neighboring states, including Iran, which has been emboldened since 2001 by the defeat of foes in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Unless it's clear to [the Iranians] that we're leaving, it's going to be hard" to get any cooperation from them on Iraq, said Korb at a Sept. 26, 2007, public talk sponsored by the Burkle Center for International Relations at UCLA.
Those who conclude that the United States must stay to prop up Iraqi government forces have it backwards, he said.
"The problem with the Iraqi security forces is not training; it's motivation," he remarked during the question period. "Until you get that reconciliation, they've got nothing to fight and die for."
About 100 people filled a law school auditorium for the event. A senior fellow for the Center for American Progress and frequent commentator on military matters, Korb is lead author on a plan (pdf) to withdraw troops and key equipment from Iraq in a space of 10 to 12 months, while maintaining a regional presence and the ability to intervene there. Captain Phillip Carter, a UCLA law school alumnus and Iraq war veteran who is also engaged in the public debate about the war, expressed support for the outlines of that plan as discussant at the talk. He said that the United States was "out of good options" in Iraq.
Korb said that an exit, once ordered, could occur in as little as three months, but that such a rapid withdrawal would leave too much military equipment in the wrong hands. In their presentations, both Korb and Carter detailed the toll that long deployments, rapid re-deployments, and lowered recruiting standards are taking on the U.S. armed forces.
Keeping the U.S. military in Iraq near current levels—the course recommended by the top general there, David Petraeus, in congressional testimony earlier in September—will do "further damage" to the military and leave it vulnerable to new catastrophes, Korb said. If, for example, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the leading Shiite cleric in the country, were assassinated, U.S. forces could be sent packing amid an intensified civil war.
"I think we need to get control of our own destiny here," he said.
On the other hand, leaving Iraq in relatively short order would undermine the case of those who charge that the United States invaded over oil, according to Korb.
During the question period following the two presentations, members of the audience turned the discussion to the prospect of U.S. or Israeli strikes on Iran, the U.S. government's use of Blackwater USA and other private security contractors in Iraq, and the significance of the "moral debt" owed by the United States to the country, given that the Bush administration's pre-war claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq proved to be entirely false. The questioner on the last point suggested that the United States would be shirking its moral responsibility if it left Iraqis to stew in civil war.
"The moral debt that we owe the Iraqi people is one of the hardest things I deal with as a supporter of 'strategic redeployment,'" responded Carter, using Korb's term for the pullback plan (first used, Korb said, by Reagan in withdrawing marines from Lebanon).
But Carter said he'd reached the conclusion that "we do more damage to the Iraqi people the longer we stay."
The two speakers agreed that the United States has an obligation to admit into its borders many more of the millions of Iraqis who have fled the violence.
"To let 202 people in last year is just absurd," said Carter.