The Discerning Texan
-- Edmund Burke
Monday, July 30, 2007
High Tide and Worms Turning in Iraq
HH: Would a, John Burns, a contrary approach yield the also counterintuitive result that if Congress and the United States said we’re there for two or three more years at this level, would that assist the political settlement, in your view, coming about?
JB: Unfortunately, I think the answer to that is probably not, and that’s something that General Casey and General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker now, General Petraeus’ partner, if you will, are very wary of. They understand that there has to be something of a fire lit under the feet of the Iraqi leaders. It’s a paradox, it’s a conundrum, which is almost impossible to resolve. Now I think the last thing that you need is an Iraqi leadership which is already inclined to passivity on the matters, the questions that seem to matter most in terms of a national reconciliation here, the last thing they need is to be told, in effect, the deadline has been moved back three years. I would guess the way, if you will, to vector all of this would be to find some sort of solution, indeed it was the benchmark solution, which would say to them if you come together and you work on these benchmarks, then you will continue to have our support. But it seems to me that the mood in Congress has moved beyond that. The mood in Congress, as I read it from here, at least those who are leading the push for the withdrawal, are not much interested anymore in incremental progress by the Iraqi government. They’ve come to the conclusion that this war is lost, that no foreseeable movement by the Iraqi leaders will be enough to justify the continued investment of lives and dollars here by the United States, and that it’s time to pull out. And of course, you can make a strong argument to that effect.
HH: Now you’ve reported some very tough places, Sarajevo, Afghanistan under the Taliban, and after the liberation from the Taliban, and you’ve won Pulitzers for that. When you say cataclysmic civil war, what do you mean in terms of what you’ve seen before? What kind of violence do you imagine would break out after precipitous withdrawal?JB: Well, let’s look at what’s happened already as a benchmark. Nobody really knows how many people have died here, but I would guess that in terms of the civilian population, it’s probably not less than 100-150,000, and it could be higher than that. I don’t think it’s as high as the 700,000 that some estimates have suggested, but I think it’s, and I know for a fact, that the sort of figures that were being discussed amongst senior American officials here, as a potential, should there be an early withdrawal and a progress to an all-out civil war, they’re talking about the possibility of as many as a million Iraqis dying. Now of course, that is suppositional. It’s entirely hypothetical. How could we possibly know? But I think you couldn’t rule out that possibility. And the question then arises, catastrophic as the effect on Iraq and the region would be, you know, what would be the effect on American credibility in the world, American power in the world, and America’s sense of itself? These are extremely difficult issues to resolve, and I can’t say, sitting here in Baghdad, that I have any particular wisdom about what the right course would be. And fortunately, as a reporter, I’m not paid money to offer that kind of wisdom, only to observe what I see. And there are days when I thank God that I’m not sitting in the United States Senate or the United States House of Representatives, with the responsibility of putting the ballot in the box on this.