Nine months ago "World News" brought three top foreign relations experts together to talk about the future of Iraq -- Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, former Army Vice Chief of Staff and retired Gen. Jack Keane, and the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass.
At the time they agreed that the U.S. faced an uphill battle to establish the kind of security that would allow the new government to succeed (Click here for the original round table discussion).
Charles Gibson met with them again today for a spirited debate on how a potential reduction in U.S. forces would affect Iraq and its future. The following is a partial transcript of their discussion.
Click on the video player on the right side of this page for an extended video clip of the discussion.
Charles Gibson:So, let's frame this around two central questions: How do we leave, and when do we start? First of all, is the president right that leaving would be a disaster?
Gen. Jack Keane: Well, I think leaving precipitously, before we have the kind of security that we have to have in place will clearly be a disaster. Particularly now, when we've made some significant progress. Precipitous withdrawal makes no sense in my judgement, and what we should do is, is begin to leave, and then go back to the presurge level forces. I think we can do that in '08 for sure.
Gibson: The general is talking about a very gradual withdrawal. Is that where the American political will is?
Fareed Zakaria: I think Americans will be more than happy to have a gradual withdrawal as long as it's a withdrawal. Because I think Americans believe fundamentally that this isn't a military solution to this, and I think they're right. If you look at what the commanding general of the third infantry division said, he said, we're holding territory, but if we leave, the enemy will come back and take it. …
So, the question becomes, what are the conditions under which security will cement itself so that we can leave? And the only condition that makes sense is some kind of political deal, a power-sharing deal among these various communities. There isn't any real progress on that front, and until you get progress on the politics, we're just engaging in a holding operation. It's a very successful holding operation.
Gibson: But don't you get a sense that the American political will is that that time is now, or very soon?
Zakaria: I think there's a deal to be made here, a grand bargain. If President Bush were to commit himself to the idea of beginning a drawdown, a serious drawdown, and engaging with the neighbors to make sure they don't take advantage of it, figuring out what the modalities of such a drawdown would be, he should ask for in return a commitment that we would be engaged in Iraq for the long haul, a substantially reduced troop presence, but staying in Iraq to make sure that things don't get really bad, securing Kurdistan, hiding al Qaeda, maintaining the training of the Iraqi army.
We can do all that with 50,000 troops. And so that would be a bargain I think the American people could live with. What they don't want is American boys and girls trying to secure neighborhoods in Baghdad from Shia militia one day, Sunni insurgents the other day, not really knowing who the bad guy is, except when they fire at you. That's a no win scenario.
Gibson: Gradual withdrawal.