The Perils of Occupation

October 28, 2004

nyt_header.jpgIn this election season, we still need a realistic debate over the most costly and dangerous American foreign policy action in recent history: the military occupation of Iraq. We are a diverse group of scholars, analysts and former government officials from across the political spectrum who believe that the use of military force to direct the internal affairs of other nations is detrimental to American national security.

We question the new conventional wisdom, which proclaims the need for the United States to "stay the course" in Iraq by maintaining a substantial army on the ground. It is reminiscent of last year's conventional wisdom, which uncritically accepted the need for an invasion to eliminate Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction." The experience of the past year and a half has demonstrated that instead of producing stability, the presence of American troops inside Iraq is a continuing incitement to nationalist insurgency and regional upheaval.

Despite claims that the United States has now transferred "full sovereignty" to an interim Iraqi Government, it remains fully subject to American decision-making. Its handpicked leadership is constrained by laws enacted by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and lacks jurisdiction over the 160,000 foreign troops now based on its territory. That American led force retains final authority over Iraqi security, a mission that has previously been used to justify interference with protest, the censorship of newspapers, mass arrests and extended incarceration of people without formal charges or access to counsel.

At the time of the June handover, the Coalition Provisional Authority's own polling data revealed that 82 percent of the Iraqi public disapproved of the U.S. and allied military presence in their country. If the Bush Administration is serious about the right of Iraqis to determine their own destiny, there can be no rationale for requiring them to accept foreign troops on their soil, when a majority wishes them to leave. The existing state of affairs is compromising to both governments. The United States is held responsible for problems it cannot solve, while the new interim Iraqi government is deprived of popular legitimacy and the opportunity for independent action.

For the people of Iraq, the American occupation has brought neither physical safety nor economic improvement. More than 10,000 civilians have lost their lives in the crossfire between U.S. troops and the insurgents. To the harshness and unpredictability of daily existence, the shocking abuses at Abu Ghraib prison and other detention facilities have fanned an escalating sense of national humiliation.

For the people of the United States, the human and financial costs of the Iraqi venture have far exceeded the projections of the Bush Administration. Over 1,100 servicemen and women have died, more than 8,000 have been wounded and thousands of others have been evacuated because of illness and "non-combat" injuries. At least $140 billion has already been spent on the Iraq war, with operations continuing to cost over $1 billion a week, draining resources that are vitally needed here at home. Meanwhile, our Army is dangerously overextended, and the National Guard and Reserve systems are reeling under the new demands.

The effort to combat international terrorism through a strategy of Iraqi occupation has proven to be impractical and counter-productive. It has inflamed public opinion in Iraq and throughout the Muslim world, weakened the support of vitally needed allies, diverted energy and funds from the campaign against Al Qaeda and handicapped efforts to improve safety inside the United States.

We urgently need a principled, realistic approach to the crisis in Iraq, one that takes seriously the right of Iraqis to control their own country and that recognizes the limitations of American power. In the political sphere, this means abandoning the hitherto misguided efforts to choose Iraqi leaders, impose governmental structures and enforce American-drafted laws. In the military sphere, it means ceasing offensive operations immediately, pulling troops away from heavily populated areas and beginning a process of phased but rapid withdrawal, following the election of a new Iraqi government.

The United States can play a vital role in assisting Iraqi reconstruction and providing technical support for the scheduled elections. However, this help will not be welcome so long as the Americans are perceived as occupiers. By the same token, the international community has a legitimate interest in seeing that Iraq does not acquire "weapons of mass destruction" or become a new base for terrorism. It can more successfully address these concerns, once the specter of American domination has been eliminated.

At this historic juncture, the United States faces a critical choice. We can persist in imperial policies that are sacrificing our soldiers every day and heightening antagonism all over the world, or we can embrace an approach that combines democratic values with a more responsible understanding of our national interest.


Ervand Abrahamian, City University of New York
Louis Aucoin, Tufts University
Andrew Bacevich, Boston University
Doug Bandow, former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan
Magnus Bernhardsson, Williams College
Joel Beinin, Stanford University
Nicholas Berry, Foreign Policy Forum
Richard K. Betts, Columbia University
Marc Blecher, Oberlin College
Mark Bradley, Northwestern University
Stephen Eric Bronner, Rutgers University
Jonathan Clarke, former British diplomat
Steven C. Clemons, New America Foundation
Joshua Cohen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Frank Costiglia, University of Connecticut
Stephen Crowley, Oberlin College
Bruce Cumings, University of Chicago
Michael C. Desch, Texas A&M University
John W. Dower, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Carolyn Eisenberg, Hofstra University
Matthew Evangelista, Cornell University
Lloyd Gardner, Rutgers University
Theodore P. Gerber, University of Wisconsin
Paul Gessing, The Free Liberal
Eugene Gholz, University of Kentucky
Melvin A. Goodman, former CIA analyst
Mike Gravel, former U.S. Senator from Alaska
Leon Hadar, Author
Gary Hart, former U.S. Senator from Colorado
Hurst Hannum, Tufts University
David C. Hendrickson, Colorado College
Robert Higgs, Independent Institute
Stanley Hoffman, Harvard University
David Isenberg, British American Security Information Council
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, American University
Robert Jervis, Columbia University
Chalmers Johnson, Author
Jeffrey Kimball, Miami University of Ohio
Michael Klare, Hampshire College
Edward Kolodziej, University of Illinois
Peter F. Krogh, Georgetown University
Walter LaFeber, Cornell University
Christopher Layne, The American Conservative
Richard Ned Lebow, Dartmouth College
Zachary Lockman, New York University
Ian S. Lustick, University of Pennsylvania
Peter P. Mandaville, George Mason University
Kristina Mani, Oberlin College
Scott McConnell, The American Conservative
Sarah E. Mendelson, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Rajan Menon, Lehigh University
E. Wayne Merry, former State Department and Pentagon official
Daniel N. Nelson, University of New Haven
John L. Petersen, Arlington Institute
John Prados, Author
James Richter, Bates College
Paul W. Schroeder, University of Illinois
Kenneth Sharpe, Swarthmore College
Jack L. Snyder, Columbia University
Robert W. Tucker, Johns Hopkins University
Robert Vitalis, University of Pennsylvania
Lisa Wedeen, University of Chicago
John Willson, Hillsdale College
Lawrence S. Wittner, State University of New York, Albany
Marilyn Young, New York University
Stephen Zunes, University of San Francisco

* This statement reflects the opinions of the individual signatories. Institutions are listed for identification purposes only.

Download PDF of The Perils of Occupation

Posted by coalition at October 28, 2004 05:53 PM

<< Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy - An Open Letter to the American People | Main | Lessons from the Iraq War >>


I think your statement is right on. I first saw it in the Friday Times. I'm glad that a group like this can come together with one common goal.

Posted by: Steve Gibson at October 29, 2004 12:23 AM

"The Perils of Occupation is an excellent brief statement of what is indeed a "realistic, principled approach." It has the potential to be exceptionally useful in reaching out to the vast numbers of people who now believe the war was a mistake but see it as unrealistic and unethical to think about withdrawal, given all the problems the US has now created. Thus it would be very helpful if you could post the "Perils of Occupation" in a format (pdf file?) that could be printed on a single 8 x 11 page (ideally on one-side but if necessary two), thus making it suitable for duplication and use as a flyer at events.

Posted by: Mary Ann Clawson at October 29, 2004 09:13 AM

Finally a well formulated review of the current situation without blinders or politcal spin. A most needed input in the so-called politcal debate. Unfortunately you are using your funds in a forum already convinced of this - the NYTimes. The country is so split at the moment, that I, as most citizens, only can forward such intelegent analyses to others convinced of the same. The other side can not be reached!! It seems that things must get worse before they can turn around. While the situation in the US reminds some of us (I live in Denmark) of the rise of the Nationalist Socialist party in Germany in the 30's, the situation in Iraq is reminiscent of the chaotic conditions in China after the fall of Chang's regime - a release of revengence which was growing over generations. A Pandora's box.

Posted by: Floyd K. Stein at October 29, 2004 11:04 AM

Great comments. It's about time someone put those words down on paper.

Posted by: Steve Gibson at October 29, 2004 11:56 AM

As you are academics for the most part, I suggest that you try an academic exercise, and make the following changes in your article.

1. Change the year to 1946.
2. Adjust the dollar amounts for inflation.
3. Substitute, Japan for Iraq.

Then, Please let me know if you still agree with your own point of view, in the light of actual history.

Posted by: Peter Gill at October 30, 2004 10:47 AM

Thank you for the statement "The Perils of Occupation" which appeared in yesterday’s New York Times. It is the most accurate and enlightened statement I have read on the terrible debacle we now face in Iraq. I am only sorry that you did not publish it sooner so that it could have received wider dissemination. However, it is not too late.

Rather than publishing it in the form that appeared in the Times, I urge you need to send it either as a column or an op-ed piece by one or two of your esteemed signatories, to newspapers across the country, particularly those in mid-size cities who are always hunger for well written articles and whose readers are less likely to be reading the New York Times.

If you do not already have a list of such newspapers, there are companies that do and that specialize in disseminating such articles. Further, I recommend that your Coalition contact any and all television and cable news programs to bring your article to their attention and recommend your members to appear as guests.

As you well know, there has been a parade of so-called experts over the past year appearing on news shows and in print, but I have never found that any of them grasp the situation in the clear and concise manner reflected in your article.

This matter is urgent. I hope you can act before it’s too late.

Thank you again,
Kay Showker
New York, NY

Posted by: k Showker at October 30, 2004 03:26 PM

the United States has gone to far. The United States will regret this war because it wasn'y prepared properly.

If George Bush wants to win people over to his cause stop using terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and the need for USA and allies to help rebuild Iraq.

Theses countries should be pouring money into Iraq and supervise the rebuilding and not run it.

America, Britian and Australia wake up to your selves.

Stay out of peoples busineess
And let the Iraqis control their opwn destiny

Posted by: David maloney at November 5, 2004 03:43 AM

This ad is very reminiscent of the ad taken out by IR scholars in September 2002, prior to the invasion of Iraq. Our administration must desperately study history and read Snyder's "Myths of Empire"

Thanks to all of you for being the voice of reason in this critical juncture of history.

Posted by: Dan Berger at November 7, 2004 02:55 PM

Thanks to your advertisement in the 'Economist' January 15th issue, that I became aware of your existence. It is refreshing that rational voices, can be heard over the projections of mass media.
This I feel is one way that individuals who share similar views can spread the message and bring more sense in global issues.
Similar to Tolstay's first epilogue in " War and Peace." He was a soldier and he knew.

Posted by: Kumar David at January 6, 2005 04:51 AM

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