(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. should withdraw its troops from Iraq and engage in diplomacy with Iran, according to two scholars who spoke Monday at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington, D.C.
"Without a diplomatic push I don't see how we can accomplish our goals in Iraq," said Christopher Kojm, a former senior adviser to the Iraq Study Group and a professor at George Washington University. "U.S. forces should be on the path to withdrawal. That should clearly be the Iraq policy."
Kojm served as staff member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee when it was chaired by the now-retired Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.). Hamilton served as co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, which Kojm advised.
"The U.S. is an external irritant that gets between parties while driving them on to various positions," said Nabil Al-Tikriti, a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace.
"It's almost like a big dumb hammer you can manipulate against your enemy within the Iraq domestic political sphere. It's almost like the U.S. is the force multiplier for many militias. That is an argument for withdrawal right there. We are not a positive figure. We are an exasperating figure."
Both Al-Tikriti and Kojm said effective diplomacy means the U.S. must engage in dialogue with states it has previously shunned.
"As I see it, without engaging Iran, all the other multilateral efforts are not likely to succeed because a lot of these relationships revolve around Iran somehow and Iran has the ability to spoil them," said Al-Tikriti. "I don't see how isolating Iran would work in the long-term or the short-term."
Kojm agreed that the U.S. should engage all states that have an interest in Iraq. "Diplomacy has to be an open prospect," he said. "We don't really know that much about Iran because we don't have an open conversation with Iran."
When reporters asked the experts who of the three leading presidential candidates have presented the most reasonable Iraq war strategy, Kojm said he would not make an endorsement but suggested he would cast his vote for the candidate who is most willing to pull out swiftly.
"There needs to be a clear direction set for the course of American policy and that is the withdrawal of forces in connection with, and with a primary emphasis on, the training mission on the military side, and a strong push on diplomacy with a very great priority placed on political reconciliation," he said." I will let you draw for yourselves who that position lines up with."
Al-Tikriti said he supports Sen. Barack Obama because the Illinois Democrat has been the clearest about his intention to withdraw from Iraq. "Though their [Obama's and Clinton's] positions are close, I feel the Obama campaign is more credible about trying to withdraw and looking at more than just military affairs," he said.
The scholars spoke one day before U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was set to join an international conference in Kuwait to discuss economic, political, and diplomatic support for Iraq.
The Center for American Progress lists "restoring America's global leadership" as one of its four priorities. The others are "seizing" energy opportunity, creating "progressive growth," and delivering universal health care.
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