It’s no surprise that the mess in Iraq is at the top of the news. Many people thought it was a bad decision from the get-go and even some of the President’s most ardent supporters are now wondering just what in the hell he’s doing.
At the time of the invasion, I thought it was a mistake. I believed:
- Far more important work in Afghanistan was incomplete.
- The run-up to the war was recklessly fast and based on sketchy intelligence.
- Saddam was not the immediate threat he was said to be, even though I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had been working on WMD.
- And finally, that the administration appeared to be dangerously unprepared to “win the peace”.
Although I was against the war, I agreed with Colin Powell who warned of the “Pottery Barn Rule” – you break it, you pay for it. I believed that once we crossed the border, we should fix what we’d hamfistedly brought down on the Iraqis. After all, they were innocent bystanders. They hadn’t asked us to invade. We took it upon ourselves to decide what was best for them and they were caught in the cross-fire.
Since then, much has changed. The rationale for the war has morphed from a search for WMD, to building a democracy, to fighting terrorists over there instead of over here. The near-daily reassurances from the administration have evolved from, “they’ll greet us as liberators”, to “mission accomplished, to building a democracy, to democracy taking a long time to build to, “We’re not leaving Iraq while I am in office”.
And during that time, the Iraqis and American have suffered and all the photo ops and catch-phrases doesn’t change that fact on iota.
Today, Iraqis have few of the day-to-day things they used to take for granted – dependable electricity, clean water, kids being able to play outside. Sectarian violence kills them by the thousands while we debate the finer linguistic points of whether we have a civil war on our hands. They spend long days looking over their shoulder for the next car bomb or firefight and we hear a steady chant of “stay the course”.
Our own troops have fared no better. They’re dying by the thousands defending a place that’s increasingly indefensible. Meanwhile, our troops stay longer and longer. Our military is stretched like a camouflaged rubber band, and new and potentially worse challenges wait in the wings.
Many, including me, have criticized the democrats for not being more active in proposing a successful exit strategy. Before rot crept into the administration’s Iraq “strategery”, I hoped that someone – democrat or republican – would be courageous enough to come forward and propose a more workable solution than, “let’s keep keeping on”. Unfortunately, none did and now I believe it’s too late.
So, I find myself reexamining my position on not leaving before Iraq was pacified and rebuilt. I still agreed that the effort would be long and arduous. I still understood that plenty of Americans and Iraqis would die on the rutted road to “democracy”. I still felt that leaving Iraq to chaos was morally wrong. Yet, I changed my mind.
Today, I believe we should leave Iraq. I’m still troubled by abandoning the Iraqis. I’m still troubled that Iraq will be a stinking morass for years to come. I’m still troubled by how many people will die in a war that was avoidable to begin with.
Yet, I changed my mind. All of those reasons to stay are still true, but they are trumped by one thing – staying only makes it worse for everyone.
At this point, regardless of what we do, Iraq will remain in chaos. The only unification the warring sects will find is a hatred of the American infidels. Their civil war will almost certainly spill over into surrounding countries. And, the terrorism Bush currently uses as a bludgeon on his questioners will only intensify.
If people want to call that cutting and running, so be it. I prefer to see as a competent general might. We’re up against a superior force causing a rapidly deteriorating situation only made worse by our very presence. Any good general – or Commander-in-Chief – must evaluate that situation and decide if an orderly retreat to fight another day is a better option than killing thousands of our own and many more thousands of Iraqi lives on a lost cause. This is not a fear-based position, but one of simple war strategy. You don’t continue to waste your forces in a single battle at the expense of the wider needs of the war.
I’ve reevaluated my position and come to peace with it. I would hope that our Commander-in-Chief would do the same, but I expect I’ll be as disappointed in that outcome as I was with the original decision to invade.
Unfortunately, it’s a familiar feeling.