"The Dilemma of Iraq: What Should the United States
Do?" A Talk by Leon Panetta
Leon Panetta, former White House Chief of Staff and member
of the Iraq Study Group, looked at how to resolve the crisis
in Iraq at a recent presentation for the Markkula Center for
Applied Ethics. He discussed the implications of the situation
not only for Iraq but also for the very fabric of our country
Panetta said that to improve the situation, the White House
would need to recognize the realities of the war, exercise leadership,
and be committed to the goals set out in the preamble to the
Constitutionensuring the blessings of liberty
to ourselves and our children. The founding fathers, he said,
recognized that there would be differences of opinion within
the government and in the society at large about how to ensure
those blessings. To come to consensus, they recommended the
forum of debate.
That was the goal, Panetta said, behind the bipartisan Iraq
Study Group, chartered by Congress in 2006. After months of
data collection and analysis, the study group recommended a
phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
The decision to withdraw troops was a hard one, but it is the
only practical solution, Panetta argued. To show the logic behind
the recommendation, Panetta talked in detail about the Iraqs
problems. Sectarian violence between Shias and Sunnis, an inexperienced
government, a poorly trained and resourced military, a nonexistent
police force, and corruption make the situation extremely volatile
and hard to control.
Panetta then discussed practical ways to stabilize Iraq. First,
the militias must be disbanded. To bring more experience into
the government, Panetta recommended allowing ex-Baath party
officials to join, as they are the only ones who have any experience
running the country. Another important step would be to share
the oil revenues and focus on providing at least the basic services
to the common person.
Panetta also stressed the importance of diplomacy in resolving
the Iraqi situation. The United States should engage all of
the Middle East states, he said, whether they are friends or
foes, to have a meaningful dialogue and bring stability to the
According to Panetta, the biggest obstacle to controlling the
Iraq situation today is the lack of initiative on the part of
the Iraqi government and army. By sending more troops, the U.S.
government is only making the problem worse. U.S. soldiers are
fighting the battle at the front lines to bring order to Iraq,
while the Iraqi army and government are doing little to help,
and in some cases are even hindering the efforts. Unless the
Iraqi government, army, and people decide to take the initiative,
the problem cant be solved, no matter how many troops
Washington sends, Panetta said.
The United States, he argued, should publish a timetable for
troop withdrawal while committing to help the Iraqi government,
army, and police meet the challenge and control their country.
He said if the Iraqi government doesnt make a concerted
effort to improve the situation and misses the progress milestones,
the United States should withdraw troops and resources even
faster, thereby penalizing the Iraqis.
Panetta went on to articulate the U.S. presidents role
in bringing the war to a satisfactory conclusion. A president,
he said, always lives in the twilight zone between the world
as it really is and the world as he wants it to be. Successful
presidents are able to bridge that gap by accepting the reality
and using tools such as debate and diplomacy to achieve their
objectives. Panetta cautioned that making policy decisions without
support from the public or the Congress harms the entire society
by dividing the country. In that context, he argued that President
Bushs decision to send more troops to Iraq was a mistake,
as it is unlikely to resolve the situation in Iraq, and it is
divisive at home.
Panetta also criticized the administrations programs to
rebuild Iraq. While $34 billion have been spent on the effort,
the money has not translated into actual benefit because of
poor planning and execution.
Panetta believes that the Iraq War will land in the lap of the
next president. In his closing remarks, he expressed hope that
the new president would adopt policies in line with the Iraq
Study Groups recommendations and recommit to the principles
on which the United States was founded. Panetta concluded by
saying, Whether this or any president is willing to recognize
the realities of war, to be committed to the goals of our preamble,
to exercise some common sense for the common good, and to exercise
some leadershipthat will determine the ethical and historical
legacy of that president and in many ways and more importantly
it will determine how this country faces the challenge of Iraq.
Suruchi Bhutani is media intern at the Markkula Center for