New York Times
June 21, 2005
How best to support our troops in Iraq? By sacrificing more of them in a war that should never have been launched and has no end in sight, or by bringing them home? The latter is the best course for the U.S. and Iraq. Our military occupation fuels nationalist and religious insurgents and we should begin a phased withdrawal as soon as feasible, while increasing aid.
Although this position is shared by millions of Americans and many others globally, it has long been deemed beyond the pale by leading politicians of both parties. Now that appears finally to be changing, as an increasing number of Republicans are admitting that the emperor has no clothes — having lied his pants off about our motives for invading Iraq, and ever since about how great things are going there. Declining public support for the war and the latest outrageous claims by Vice President Dick Cheney have given these moderates an opening to challenge their own party's administration.
"Too often we've been told, and the American people have been told, that we're at a turning point," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on NBC's "Meet the Press," as he disagreed with Cheney's absurd claim last week that the Iraq insurgency is in its "last throes." "What the American people should have been told and should be told [is that] it's long, it's hard, it's tough."
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, was even more blunt: "Things aren't getting better; they're getting worse," he told U.S. News and World Report, as the latest suicide bombings claimed the lives of dozens of Iraqis. "The White House is completely disconnected from reality. It's like they're just making it up as they go along. The reality is that we're losing in Iraq."
Even Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.), who brought us "freedom fries," has found enough of his wits to admit publicly that he has lost confidence in the Iraq occupation and would sponsor legislation calling on the administration to more clearly define how, and when, it intends to bring the war to a close.
All of this means we may finally get a long-overdue national debate on ending the U.S. occupation. A "democracy can't do certain things if, in fact, the citizens don't support it," the Pentagon's Lt. Gen. James T. Conway admitted, citing the Vietnam War experience. "It's extremely important to the soldier and the Marine, the airman and the sailor over there to know that their country's behind them," he said. A Gallup poll released last week found that about six in 10 Americans don't approve of President Bush's handling of the war and want a partial or full withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Funny that Conway should mention Vietnam. Its prime minister arrives today for a historic visit to the White House, in belated recognition of the renewed diplomatic relations and robust economic trade now enjoyed between the two countries. It is thus an especially good time to reflect on the pitfalls of false patriotism and blind loyalty to a lost cause.
The general was right that growing public opposition to the Vietnam War pushed President Nixon to pull the plug on that conflict. But he was wrong to imply that being guided by voters to set firm deadlines for withdrawing from a foreign quagmire was a bad thing for either side. An estimated 3 million Vietnamese and 58,000 American deaths later, Vietnam is run by the same Communist Party that was our enemy back then, but it now seems to matter not at all. We are perfectly happy to see them open their cheap labor markets to the West.
The sad irony is that Iraq — unlike Japan or Germany during World War II — also wasn't a viable threat to the United States when we "preemptively" invaded it. Once again, we have been reminded that violent intrusions into other people's history have unforeseen consequences, usually negative. First among these effects is the inciting of insurgencies, united only by common hatred of the occupying foreign soldiers
Iraq, as Vietnam, will likely have serious problems after the American withdrawal. These problems, however, will be Iraq's, destined for Iraqis to sort out. Simply put, the best thing we can do now to encourage stability in Iraq is to stop serving as a recruitment poster for the insurgency.