(CNSNews.com) - Securing Iraq is a lost cause for U.S. forces, and President Bush should begin withdrawing troops to avoid "floundering ineffectually" and further damaging U.S. credibility, a report issued by the Council on Foreign Relations concludes.
"The American intervention in Iraq unseated a murderous despot in April 2003," Steven Simon, a senior fellow at CFR, acknowledges in the report, originally published last week but presented Wednesday in a teleconference.
"It also triggered the collapse of the Iraqi state, plunged the country into a civil war that brought about the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, wrecked the country's already debilitated infrastructure, and spurred violent sectarian rivalries that threatened to spill over into the broader Middle East," Simon added.
Simon said that by beginning to withdraw troops from Iraq - with a goal of having them out by the end of 2008 - the United States can minimize the damage to its international and military credibility he says is being caused by staying in Iraq.
"The time has come to acknowledge that the United States must fundamentally recast its commitment to Iraq," he wrote. "It must do so without any illusions that there are unexplored or magic fixes, whether diplomatic or military. Some disasters are irretrievable."
Simon said if the United States is willing to begin withdrawing troops carefully, "it will not have lost everything. Rather, the United States will have preserved the opportunity to recover vital assets that its campaign in Iraq has imperiled: diplomatic initiative, global reputation, and the well-being and political utility of its ground forces."
Speaking from Abu Dhabi, Simon said in the conference call Wednesday he did not expect Bush to abandon his plan to send 21,500 additional soldiers to Iraq in what has been termed a "troop surge."
Simon said his report suggests "a rational off-ramp for the United States in an extremely difficult situation" and that "If the administration is not inclined to take that off-ramp, then so be it."
Simon said he expects that public opinion for the war will continue to decline and that Republican officials will continue to weaken their support for Bush's handling of the war - factors that could lead to "the White House hand being forced ... and studies like mine will be looked at by Congress especially as models for getting the United States out of a real mess."
A Gallup poll released Wednesday showed that 56 percent of Americans believe sending troops to Iraq was a mistake and 60 percent oppose the troop surge. A recent CBS poll found that 25 percent of Americans believe things are going "somewhat well" or "very well" in Iraq, while 72 percent believe they are going "somewhat badly" or "very badly."
But as Cybercast News Service previously reported, some analysts and politicians are still hopeful that a surge will quell increasing violence in Iraq and bring about a determinable U.S. victory there.
In a January report, the conservative American Enterprise Institute suggested that "victory in Iraq is still possible at an acceptable level of effort. We must adopt a new approach to the war and implement it quickly and decisively."
The report suggested a surge of seven Army brigades, slightly more than Bush announced, would be participating in the surge.
On the report's release, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), in a speech at AEI with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said withdrawal would "lead to Iranian expansionism, the creation of an al Qaeda base in Iraq and even more significantly the intimidation of the moderate forces throughout the region and a drop of confidence in the credibility and the strength of the United States of America."
Simon said violence in Iraq "will increase at least somewhat when the U.S. troops leave" but said it is important for the U.S. to leave on its own terms, "before we were somehow forced to do it."
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