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The Risks of Withdrawal

BERLIN – Entering a war is easy; getting out of it is the hard part. That axiom is particularly true for the United States today, as it muddles through three wars – two of which were forced upon it (Afghanistan and the “war on terror”), with the third (Iraq) started unnecessarily by a US administration blinded by ideology and hubris.

The US has no prospect of a military victory in Afghanistan or Iraq; these wars’ economic costs can hardly be borne anymore, and political support at home is dwindling. America must withdraw, but the price – for the US, its allies in the region, and for the West – remains an open question.

The last US combat troops have pulled out of Iraq. Despite using all the means at its disposal, the world’s greatest military power managed only to create a precarious domestic stability. No one today is hanging “Mission accomplished!” banners. None of the urgent political problems caused by US intervention – the distribution of power between Shia and Sunni, between Kurds and Arabs, and between Baghdad and the regions – was actually resolved.

Iraq remains a state without a common nation. Moreover, it threatens to turn into a battleground for its neighbors’ opposing interests. The struggle between the leading Sunni power, Saudi Arabia, and Shia Iran for Persian Gulf hegemony threatens to turn Iraq into a battlefield again, including another round of civil war. Neighboring Syria and Turkey would probably be dragged into such a conflict instantaneously. One can only hope that the vacuum created by America’s withdrawal doesn’t implode in violence.