AC: "...living in a dangerous fantasy."
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We begin tonight with how to get out of Iraq, something most Democrats and a growing number of Republicans seem to support now, some openly, others privately -- how to leave, how quickly, and perhaps most importantly, when, what happens after that?
"TIME" magazine's Michael Duffy has been working the problem, along with a team of correspondents and military experts, his report part of "TIME" magazine's coverage titled "Iraq: What Will Happen When We Leave?"
Michael Duffy joins me now. And, in Baghdad, as he's been since day one, CNN's Michael Ware.
Michael Duffy, what is the best way to pull out? You write in this week's "TIME" -- and I quote -- "Done judicially, a pullback from the war would start restoring America's ability to advance its interests and deter aggression beyond Iraq."
How do you go about doing it?
MICHAEL DUFFY, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, "TIME": Well, there aren't many good things that would come out of a pullback.
It be difficult for the U.S. to do. It would take a long time. It would be tough on the country, bad for our relationship with allies, but it wouldn't be completely a disaster. There are some advantages that we would conceivably be able to gain. We would gain some bandwidth intellectually in the region to do some other things. We would be able to apply some diplomatic pressure in some other directions. Iraq takes up a huge amount of just space, time and money of American foreign policy now. So, it's not without some upside. But, as you point out, it would be hard. People think it can be done quickly, and it really can't be. It takes a long time.
COOPER: How long are you talking about, I mean, to pull out a significant number of forces?
DUFFY: Well, it took the Soviets 10 months to get 120,000 troops out of Afghanistan, Anderson, and they were just going next door. The Pentagon estimates it would probably take a month for every 10,000 troops. We have 160,000 troops.
No one is really talking about pulling them all out. But we also have about 50,000 U.S. contractors. And I believe there are probably between 35,000 and 100,000 Iraqis who might want to come with us if we made a staged withdrawal.
So, I think most estimates be -- have it would probably take at least a year-and-a-half, and maybe longer, to get everybody out. And no one is really talking about that.
COOPER: Yes, certainly not -- those timetables are not being discussed. You also write about what would happen if we leave Iraq. U.S. casualties, of course, would likely decrease. But what happens to the Iraqis? I mean, there are a number of scenarios about what happens on the ground.
DUFFY: And none of them are very good.
Some people think that the Iraqis, after an initial burst of violence, sectarian violence, would eventually get control of their country. But that is not a widely held view, Anderson. Most people think that the 1,000 Iraqis who are dying per month, that rate would double, triple, maybe even grow by a factor of 10, for some period of time.
No one knows how long. The U.S. would have to pull back to a position where it was really not trying to referee that fight anymore. Some people think it would be good for the Iraqis to have some of that out. It would be a huge moral and human cost for the United States to do that.
But, increasingly, that is the view of many people who are looking at this problem. What they do worry about is that spiraling out of control into a regional conflict, where Sunnis and Shias from nearby countries get involved as proxies, shipping men or money or both to join that fight.
And then it could go in any direction. That's also dangerous.
COOPER: Michael Ware, if it became a regional conflict, then, I guess the concern is, all gloves are off. I mean, there's no telling what would happen then.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, absolutely.
And I can tell you, Anderson, that U.S. commanders certainly fear that happening. I mean, in a muted sense, you already have it now. All the regional players have their proxies on the board in play as we speak. I mean, you have 160,000 U.S. troops here right now, and you can't stop it. Commanders say they can't even close the borders as it is.
So, if you reduce it to 70,000 or 80,000 American soldiers huddled in little bases, what kind of a disincentive do you think that's going to be? Absolutely none. It's going to humiliate America. Anyone who thinks that you can have any kind of phased withdrawal and maintain any shred of American dignity in this part of the world or, indeed, elsewhere, is living in a dangerous fantasy.
America cannot withdraw in any form from this country, until it begins to address the fundamental problems. I mean, America has created a failed state built upon the building blocks of militias, mostly funded by Iran. You can dress this up as a fight against al Qaeda, but until you deal with the militia problem and the Iranian problem, you're just shooting yourself in the head by sticking a bunch of poor American soldiers in bases on borders you can't close.
COOPER: Michael Duffy, there are some who argue that, if the U.S. did withdraw or pull back a significant number of forces, basically, Iran would step in more than they have on the side of the Shias, and maybe that wouldn't be a bad thing, in terms of dragging Iran in, bleeding Iran a little bit economically.
DUFFY: Well, it would certainly reduce Iran's leverage over the United States at the moment, since, as long as we have that many troops there, we are very hard-pressed to actually influence events at the moment between us.
Most people expect the Sunnis to fight back with their preferred weapon of choice, the car bomb. And that would become pretty bloody pretty quickly. Most -- the military officials that I spoke to for this story said, it's going to be violent, no matter what we do, whether you leave everybody there or you pull them out all -- or you pull some of them out.
And, so, the question becomes, what are our interests going forward that we really have to protect? And I think that's the question that's beginning to be addressed here in D.C.
COOPER: You can read more about that in "TIME" magazine.
Michael Duffy, appreciate your coverage.
And Michael Ware as well -- thank you very much from Baghdad, Michael.