Former Sec'y of State Kissinger on Dangers of Premature U.S. Withdrawal From Iraq

This is a partial transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," October 28, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: As the debate over the war in Iraq intensifies at home, what would be the consequences of a premature withdrawal of U.S. forces?

Earlier, I spoke to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.


GIGOT: We are having a national debate on Iraq and particularly the question of withdrawal, U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Do you think that if the United States withdrew from Iraq early next year — that is, at a relatively early date — there would be beneficial or negative consequences for the U.S. strategic position in the Middle East and the world?


GIGOT: If we withdrew abruptly.

KISSINGER: I think it would have the gravest consequences for our international position. It would produce a civil war inside Iraq. It would magnify the civil war inside Iraq. It — there would be no assurance that some region would not turn into a Taliban region. It would mean that the most radical militia are the most likely ones to prevail.

And it would mean that all the surrounding countries, unable to adjust to this thing quickly, would be unable to do it without strong American support, would be in an impossible position in planning their own future or in creating some grouping as a conduit. So a rapid abrupt withdrawal, I think, would be a catastrophe.

GIGOT: It would be interpreted within the region, in particular, as a significant strategic defeat for American interests?

KISSINGER: In the last week, I talked to two senior people from the Gulf. And they thought it was unimaginable that the United States would withdraw quickly, especially in this abrupt manner.

Of course, if we could — if certain stabilizing events evolve inside Iraq and/or if we can create a grouping of Sunni countries around Iraq, then it might be possible to look at this question again. And then, one can think of negotiation with other — with, say, Iran and Syria. But unless we have some real assets that are on our side of the equation, no negotiation can succeed.

GIGOT: Some people in the American debate who favor a timetable for withdrawal, or a date certain, Senators Biden, for example, Carl Levin among others, say, look, if we set that timetable, if we tell them — in Iraq, Prime Minister Maliki's government — you only have a certain amount of time to do what needs to be done, to make those hard decisions on political compromise, on disarming militias, for example, that that timetable will give them more incentive to make those hard decisions.

KISSINGER: Well, that is based on the assumption that the reason these decisions aren't being made is because Maliki doesn't want to make them or that if he made them he couldn't enforce them. And I don't think either condition is exactly effectively accurate.

For one thing, Maliki has been put in, in part, with the support of the Sadr militia. So before he can turn on the Sadr militia, if that were to be his inclination along the road, he would have to get some freedom of maneuver. And one would have to build up a national army that he controls, that he can then use against the militia.

I have not heard any of our people claim that we now have a national army, that if Maliki gave the order, would be capable of doing this.

GIGOT: So until we build up and train that national army so that it could take over without us being there, leaving or setting a date to leave would send a signal of lack of resolve and the lack of ability on his government to...

KISSINGER: We have to agree domestically on certain criteria that in our heart we know need to be filled. If we don't just want to turn withdrawal into a way for us to disengage, let the situation turn into chaos, after which we'd still have to pick up the pieces.

We have seen in Lebanon that some of — how suddenly the Middle East can erupt. Now collapse in Iraq would be incendiary for almost all of the countries in the region. Plus, it would encourage the radical elements in every Islamic movement in countries from Indonesia to central Europe. So we have to be willing to face these consequences.

I'm not happy with the present situation. I know, and I have argued for years that certain mistakes were being made.

GIGOT: Sure.

KISSINGER: But what we should try to do now is to come together and to see what is needed to avoid, at least, the worst outcome and the combination of a radicalized area, which has huge oil resources, together with a demonstration of American failure, and then suddenly giving up a yearlong — an effort that has gone on for years.

GIGOT: All right. Dr. Kissinger, thanks so much for being here.


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