Someday, sometime, somehow, some president will decide it’s time to pull our troups out of Iraq, or at least take them down considerably. In Newsweek magazine Fareed Zakaria has proposed a force of 60,000, reduced from the current level of 144,000. In a new book, Out of Iraq, former Sen. George McGovern and William Polk, once with the State Department, urge a phased withdrawal beginning on or before December 31st of this year and ending by June 30, 2007.

None of them are suggesting that we cut and run. Zakaria envisions the American military functioning as a rapid reaction force, no longer responsible for security in the cities. McGovern and Polk argue for an extensive program of aid, including grants and loans to the Iraqi government for reconstruction and reparations to Iraqi citizens for loss of life and property.

They also press the administration to release all prisoners of war and  close all detention centers as well as military bases, leave the Green Zone and turn it over to the regime in Baghdad  by December 31, 2007, open a normal American embassy with no more than 500 employees somewhere outside the Green Zone, pull out  the 25,000 mercenaries operating as the Personal Security Detail, dig up and destroy land mines and clean up depleted uranium in artillery shells. The expense could run about 13.25 billion dollars and probably more, but it would be nothing compared with the 400 to 500 billion dollar cost of two more years of occupation.

The complicating factor, of course, is oil. I’ve heard more than one expert say that our energy supply will depend on oil and gas for decades to come. Other sources such as nuclear power and cellulosic biomass will help. So will hybrid cars and higher standards for fuel along with a tax on gasoline. But to think we’re going to stop our reliance on the oil market, dominated in part by some pretty unpleasant countries, is a fantasy.  Hence there is no choice but to get along with Iraq, whatever course it takes, and also Iran, not only because it is an oil producing nation itself but also because Tehran is likely to be quite influential in Southern, Shiite Iraq.

This means that some president, someday, sometime, somehow must open talks with Iran without preconditions. The current approach in Washington that we will speak directly with the Iranian government after it has suspended its enrichment of uranium has not worked. To insist on settling the subject of negotiations before those negotiations have even begun never had a chance.

This does not mean that dealing with Iran will not be arduous. But we must consider nuclear weapons and Middle Eastern oil as two parts of the same picture. Saudi Arabia remains central too, along with Russia and Venezuela, which are learning to use oil for political purposes. The trouble, according to one report, is that most of the world’s oil reserves are controlled by government-owned companies, not the major corporations. In fact, only about one-tenth of proven reserves are in the domain of ExxonMobil, Shell, et al.

So it’s a complicated puzzle — oil, nuclear weapons and the residue of war. But they must be viewed as all of a piece and managed with an eye on the importance of paradox.