The Only Way Out of Iraq: Set a Date

I came to this position the same way that Hemingway once wrote that a very rich man lost his entire fortune: first gradually then suddenly. Like so many of us I was against the invasion in the first place for a myriad of reasons not least of which was that nation-building is about as exact a science as aromatherapy. However once we went in I have to say that I agreed with Colin Powell’s now-infamous Pottery Barn dictum: “You break it, you buy it.” It has become clear to me now that our very presence is the only thing encouraging non-Iraqi jihadists to flood into Iraq for their terrorism training. If we were gone that destabilizing influence would go with it.
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I came to this position the same way that Hemingway once wrote that a very rich man lost his entire fortune: first gradually then suddenly. Like so many of us I was against the invasion in the first place for a myriad of reasons not least of which was that nation-building is about as exact a science as aromatherapy. However once we went in I have to say that I agreed with Colin Powell’s now-infamous Pottery Barn dictum: “You break it, you buy it.” I felt that we, that is all Americans, had a moral responsibility not to let the country that the Bushies so blithely invaded descend into bloody civil war. Our nation elected Bush not once but twice so we had an obligation to sleep in the bed that we made.

It has become clear to me now that we are much of the problem in Iraq so therefore cannot be part of the solution. Our very presence is the only thing encouraging non-Iraqi jihadists to flood into Iraq for their terrorism training. If we were gone that destabilizing influence would go with it.

So why the hell is the Bush administration so adamant about continuing this war?

Myth #1: A deadline would just encourage the insurgents to wait us out and then take over the country.

Insurgencies don’t seem to work like that. The history of guerilla warfare is that they last for decades. Even our military commanders now agree that a military solution is impossible. We need to drain the Sunni insurgents of much of their strength by giving the Sunnis a say in the future of Iraq proportional to their population. Sure, there will still be Baathist extremists who want to go back to their good old days of the tyranny of the minority, but the size of the enemy will have shrunk considerably.

The Italians are drawing down their small force and even the British as well. We too need to hop on that train before it leaves the station.

Myth #2: Pulling out now would mean a humiliating defeat for the U.S. and show our vulnerability to our enemies.

It depends on how we frame the pull out. The first thing to do is ask the Iraqis themselves when they would like us to go. I think it was the most-excellent Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that first floated this idea of an Iraqi referendum on foreign troops leaving their country. Poll after poll of Iraqis shows that they themselves want us out of there. If they are indeed a sovereign country and not the newest U.S. protectorate, why the hell don’t we listen to them?

Who would take our place? It is clear that the new Iraqi government needs help with training troops. As John Kerry suggested NATO, UN and I would add most crucially the Arab League all need to invest massively in rebuilding an Iraqi army. The training needs to take place anywhere it’s safe, inside or out of Iraq. And the more we can put an Arab face on the rebuilding of an Iraqi army the better. The recent attacks on Muslim diplomats by Sunni insurgents will make that task even harder, but we don’t really have another choice.

The insurgents are fighting a guerilla war because we, their targets, are everywhere. If we were to pull out to bases in neighboring Kuwait, for example, to see how the new Iraqi government got along without us, we would still be able to attack and defeat the Baathists if they ever massed enough troops to try to take back Baghdad, just as we defeated them when they were the out in the open old Iraqi army.

This is the obvious fact about this insurgency that seems seldom mentioned. The Baathists had months and months before the actual invasion to plan this guerilla response. Our generals seemed shocked that most of the Baathist Iraqi fighting force didn’t just sit in the open and let us carpet bomb them. Then that genius Bremmer disbanded what was left of the Iraqi army and left the ammo dumps unguarded. We couldn’t have done a better job being our own worst enemy if we tried. It’s long overdue that we close the chapter on this catastrophe and move on.

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