Center for American Progress

: What are the U.S. Policy Choices for Iraq now?
Past Event

What are the U.S. Policy Choices for Iraq now?

12:00 AM - 11:59 PM EDT

What are the U.S. Policy Choices for Iraq now?  

Featured Speakers:
Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations
Lawrence J. Korb, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress and Senior Advisor, Center for Defense Information

Moderated by:
Morton H. Halperin, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress and Director, Security and Peace Initiative

Introductory remarks by:
John D. Podesta, President and Chief Executive Officer, Center for American Progress

The rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq will not be easily improved, but to do so we must have a different plan from what currently exists. This message was delivered by a panel discussion of distinguished foreign policy experts held at the Center for American Progress.

Leslie Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Lawrence Korb, Senior Fellow of the Center for American Progress, participated in the panel. Morton Halperin, also a Senior Fellow of the Center for American Progress, moderated. The panel was introduced by Center for American Progress President and CEO John Podesta.

In his introduction, Podesta highlighted the current security and reconstruction difficulties in Iraq, drawing particular attention to the recent upsurge in violence. Criticizing the “failure to plan a post-invasion success strategy,” he said that “mistakes in Iraq have served to strengthen our adversaries and make us less safe.” Those sentiments were supported by Halperin, who said “we’re hearing less about success and more about avoiding catastrophe.”

The question of what to do next was picked up by the panelists. Gelb found the administration’s current plan unacceptable. “It’s a policy that can’t win,” he said. “It can only lose slowly.” He cited the decision to end economic reconstruction funding at the end of this year, restrictions on democracy-building nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the decreased street presence of U.S. troops as evidence of a strategy by President Bush to not “lose on his watch.”

This assessment was echoed by Korb, who drew attention to Iraq’s negative impact on broader national security goals. “We’re not at war with terrorism,” he said. “Terrorism is a tactic. We’re at war with radical jihadists, and if you stay in Iraq you’re going to make it harder to win the war against radical jihadism.” Using Iran and Afghanistan as prime examples, Korb argued that we cannot afford to have so many military resources invested in Iraq. The U.S. presence in Iraq is actually counterproductive, he said, because we are providing ready recruiting incentives for Al Qaeda. Furthermore, the quality of people in the army is declining; manpower is stressed because there is “tremendous pressure on recruiters to meet their quotas in an unpopular war.”

Korb advocated strategic redeployment, which entails a set date for withdrawal and a redistribution of our military in the Middle East to better protect America. He said that a timetable will “give the Iraqis an incentive to do what they need to do” in making political arrangements and securing the country. A commitment to leave would also, according to Korb, “diffuse part of the insurgency” since “a lot of people are fighting our troops there because they don’t believe that we’re going to go.”

Gelb favored a U.S. role in crafting a better political solution before withdrawing troops. In building Iraqi anti-insurgent capability, he said, “the answer is not more arms and better training. The answer is a government that troops will fight and die for. The key is a political settlement.” It is his hope that by being a strong and active leader, the United States can help broker a decentralized power-sharing arrangement to accommodate Iraq’s diverse factions. Iraq, Gelb said, will “end up partitioned and decentralized either by war or by negotiations. We owe it to ourselves — we owe it to Iraqis — to figure out a compromise.”

The key to both positions were the questions of how effective an incentive a definitive date for U.S. withdrawal would be, and how active a role the United States should take in shaping the Iraqi government. Both panelists agreed that a new approach is badly needed if we are to have any chance of success. “Almost anything you do in Iraq,” Gelb said, “is going to be a long shot.” But no matter what the prospects, Korb emphasized that we must make hard decisions based on “what’s best for the United States and our security.”

Event Materials



Note: All video provided in QuickTime (MPEG-4) format.


Dr. Leslie H. Gelb is currently President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, having served as president of that institution from 1993 to 2003. One of America’s most prominent foreign policy experts, he is also a former Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent for The New York Times, and senior official in the Departments of Defense and State. He entered government service in 1966 as an executive assistant to Senator Jacob Javits. From 1967 to1969, he served in the Department of Defense as the Director of Policy Planning and Arms Control for International Security Affairs. Among his responsibilities was overseeing the Pentagon Papers Project chronicling the Vietnam conflict. Dr. Gelb left government in 1969, and spent five years as a Diplomatic Correspondent at The New York Times. He rejoined the government in 1977 as the Assistant Secretary of State for Politico-Military Affairs in the Carter Administration. Returning to The New York Times in 1981, Dr. Gelb held a variety of positions there during the next 13 years, including National Security Correspondent, Op-Ed Page Editor, Deputy Editorial Page Editor, and Columnist, winning a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism in 1986. Dr. Gelb left The New York Times in 1993 to become President of the Council on Foreign Relations, overseeing the rejuvenation of one of America’s most esteemed non-profit institutions. He stepped down after 10 years, and has since served as President Emeritus. The author of four books on American foreign policy, he is currently working on a fifth on power and foreign policy in the 21st century. He has also published several pieces analyzing the war in Iraq. Dr. Gelb earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Tufts University in 1959, and a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1964.

Morton H. Halperin is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Director of the Security and Peace Initiative. He is also the Executive Director of the Open Society Policy Center, as well as Director of U.S. Advocacy for the Open Society Institute. Dr. Halperin served in the federal government in the Clinton, Nixon and Johnson administrations, most recently from December 1998 to January 2001 as Director of the Policy Planning Staff at the Department of State. In the Clinton administration, he was also Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Democracy at the National Security Council, a consultant to the Secretary of Defense and the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and was nominated by the President for the position of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Democracy and Peacekeeping. In 1969, he was a senior staff member of the National Security Council responsible for National Security Planning. He has authored, co-authored and edited more than a dozen books, including Bureaucratic Politics and Foreign Policy (1974), The Lawless State (1976), Nuclear Fallacy (1987), and Self-Determination in the New World Order (1992). He has also contributed articles to a number of newspapers, magazines, and journals, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, Harpers, Foreign Affairs, and Foreign Policy, on subjects such as national security and civil liberties, bureaucratic politics, Japan, China, military strategy, and arms control.

Lawrence J. Korb is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Senior Advisor to the Center for Defense Information. Prior to joining the Center, he was a Senior Fellow and Director of National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. From July 1998 to October 2002, he was Council Vice President, Director of Studies, and holder of the Maurice Greenberg Chair. Prior to joining the Council, Mr. Korb served as Director of the Center for Public Policy Education and Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program at the Brookings Institution, Dean of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, and Vice President of Corporate Operations at the Raytheon Company. From 1981 to 1985, Korb was Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration for Manpower, Reserve Affairs, Installations and Logistics. In that position, he administered about 70 percent of the defense budget. For his service in that position, he was awarded the Department of Defense’s medal for Distinguished Public Service. Mr. Korb served on active duty for four years as Naval Flight Officer, and retired from the Naval Reserve with the rank of Captain.

John D. Podesta is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for American Progress and visiting Professor of Law at the Georgetown University Law Center. From October 1998 until January 2001, Podesta served as Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton, where he was responsible for directing Congressional relations and staff activities of the White House. He coordinated the work of cabinet agencies with a particular emphasis on the development of federal budget and tax policy, and served in the President’s Cabinet and as a Principal on the National Security Council. Podesta has also held a number of positions on Capitol Hill including: Counselor to former Democratic Leader Senator Tom Daschle; Chief Minority Counsel for the Senate Judiciary Subcommittees on Patents, Copyrights, and Trademarks, and Security and Terrorism; and Counsel on the Majority Staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Podesta is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center and Knox College.