Like many Americans, we have put off that conclusion, waiting for a sign that President Bush was seriously trying to dig the United States out of the disaster he created by invading Iraq without sufficient cause, in the face of global opposition, and without a plan to stabilize the country afterward.I’ve feared this same motivation on Bush’s part for a long while now. Realizing that he has placed the United States in the middle of an ethnic and religious war in Iraq, he’s determined that the best outcome can be to leave this disaster in the hands of whichever Democrat moves into the White House in January 2009. Republican’ts will then begin beating that Democratic president over the head with complaints that he or she isn’t moving quickly enough to resolve a war that their own man couldn’t, or wouldn’t, bring to a conclusion during his own two terms in office. The GOP game plan will be to turn Bush’s abject failure in Iraq into a Democrat disappointment, which can be used as an argument to elect another Republican to the presidency in 2012. Bush has long contended that it isn’t his responsibility to ensure his party’s success in the future, but he’d be handing Republican’ts a giant cudgel with which to beat their opponents if he doesn’t settle the Iraq debacle before he leaves office.
At first, we believed that after destroying Iraq’s government, army, police and economic structures, the United States was obliged to try to accomplish some of the goals Mr. Bush claimed to be pursuing, chiefly building a stable, unified Iraq. When it became clear that the president had neither the vision nor the means to do that, we argued against setting a withdrawal date while there was still some chance to mitigate the chaos that would most likely follow.
While Mr. Bush scorns deadlines, he kept promising breakthroughs--after elections, after a constitution, after sending in thousands more troops. But those milestones came and went without any progress toward a stable, democratic Iraq or a path for withdrawal. It is frighteningly clear that Mr. Bush’s plan is to stay the course as long as he is president and dump the mess on his successor. Whatever his cause was, it is lost.
However, I digress. The Times’ point is that there’s been too much energy exhausted in political infighting and not enough common sense applied to America’s involvement in Iraq’s civil war--a conflict, many would argue, that Bush ignited by removing Saddam Hussein from the equation. Opines the Times:
Continuing to sacrifice the lives and limbs of American soldiers is wrong. The war is sapping the strength of the nation’s alliances and its military forces. It is a dangerous diversion from the life-and-death struggle against terrorists. It is an increasing burden on American taxpayers, and it is a betrayal of a world that needs the wise application of American power and principles.Which isn’t to suggest that withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq will be easy, either as a political decision or a physical exercise.
Americans must be clear that Iraq, and the region around it, could be even bloodier and more chaotic after Americans leave. There could be reprisals against those who worked with American forces, further ethnic cleansing, even genocide. Potentially destabilizing refugee flows could hit Jordan and Syria. Iran and Turkey could be tempted to make power grabs. Perhaps most important, the invasion has created a new stronghold from which terrorist activity could proliferate.And what does the United States leave behind? The Times laments that “Iraq may fragment into separate Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite republics,” but “American troops are not going to stop that from happening.” The only reasonable solution is to crank up the diplomatic machinery:
The administration, the Democratic-controlled Congress, the United Nations and America’s allies must try to mitigate those outcomes--and they may fail. But Americans must be equally honest about the fact that keeping troops in Iraq will only make things worse. The nation needs a serious discussion, now, about how to accomplish a withdrawal and meet some of the big challenges that will arise. ...
The United States has about 160,000 troops and millions of tons of military gear inside Iraq. Getting that force out safely will be a formidable challenge. The main road south to Kuwait is notoriously vulnerable to roadside bomb attacks. Soldiers, weapons and vehicles will need to be deployed to secure bases while airlift and sealift operations are organized. Withdrawal routes will have to be guarded. The exit must be everything the invasion was not: based on reality and backed by adequate resources.
The United States should explore using Kurdish territory in the north of Iraq as a secure staging area. Being able to use bases and ports in Turkey would also make withdrawal faster and safer. Turkey has been an inconsistent ally in this war, but like other nations, it should realize that shouldering part of the burden of the aftermath is in its own interest.
Accomplishing all of this in less than six months is probably unrealistic. The political decision should be made, and the target date set, now.
Iraq’s leaders--knowing that they can no longer rely on the Americans to guarantee their survival--might be more open to compromise, perhaps to a Bosnian-style partition, with economic resources fairly shared but with millions of Iraqis forced to relocate. That would be better than the slow-motion ethnic and religious cleansing that has contributed to driving one in seven Iraqis from their homes.Finding a “negotiated outcome” will also require that Bush drop his peevish resistance to so much as talk with the leaders of Iran and Syria. If there’s to be peace again in Iraq, achieving it will require cooperation from all of its neighboring states, as well as foreign powers. “Britain, France, Russia, China and other nations with influence have a responsibility to help. Civil war in Iraq is a threat to everyone, especially if it spills across Iraq’s borders,” the Times explains.
The United States military cannot solve the problem. Congress and the White House must lead an international attempt at a negotiated outcome. To start, Washington must turn to the United Nations, which Mr. Bush spurned and ridiculed as a preface to war.
The New York Times editorial page has, over the last couple of years, become one of the clearest voices demanding an end to the fear-mongering that helped Bush launch his 2003 invasion of Iraq and has led to the demonizing and defeat of the war’s opponents. This “paper of record” encapsulates its position at the end of today’s editorial:
President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have used demagoguery and fear to quell Americans’ demands for an end to this war. They say withdrawing will create bloodshed and chaos and encourage terrorists. Actually, all of that has already happened--the result of this unnecessary invasion and the incompetent management of this war.We’ll see how much affect this and other calls to set a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq have, when Congress meets this week to discuss more funding for Bush’s Middle East misadventure.
This country faces a choice. We can go on allowing Mr. Bush to drag out this war without end or purpose. Or we can insist that American troops are withdrawn as quickly and safely as we can manage--with as much effort as possible to stop the chaos from spreading.
READ MORE: “Administration Shaving Yardstick for Iraq Gains,” by Karen DeYoung and Thomas E. Ricks (The Washington Post); “Lonely and Lame, Bush Agonises Over Legacy,” by by Ewen MacAskill (The Guardian).