The Road Out of Iraq

The first step in getting out of Iraq is to blame George W. Bush.

This is a serious suggestion. It is neither facetious nor partisan.

It would be wonderful if the occupation were going to lead to the creation of a stable, secular, self-sustaining democracy. But that doesn't seem to be the case. Chaos and disorder are increasing. The best prediction is that the country is headed toward full-scale civil war. It will end with Iraq divided along ethnic and religious lines. At least one segment will have an Islamic government closely tied to Iran. Our presence seems to be making things worse. Nor has anyone suggested some alternative way of running the war that might work better.

Realistically, there is nothing to be done but to get out.

Politically, that's next to impossible.

The arguments that the Bush administration has made for staying are not terribly logical, but they are emotionally compelling. The first is the Colin L. Powell position: We broke it, now it's ours, we're responsible and can't leave until it's fixed. The second is that we have to fight until we win so as to honor those who have already died in the fight. Finally, we don't want to "cut and run." That would be unmanly and dishonorable, bad for our self-image and our image in the world.

Most Democrats are terrified of taking an anti-war position. They have been branded so effectively as weak on national security that a Republican senate candidate who got out of the draft claiming bad knees actually beat a veteran who had lost two legs and an arm to a grenade in Vietnam by calling him soft on terror.

And Mr. Bush, who used the ultimate rich kid's gambit to stay away from combat, beat an authentic war hero on similar grounds. Democrats know that if they oppose the war, the Republicans will suggest that they are practically traitors, un-American cowards who cannot be trusted to defend America - and then, for generations, they will accuse the Democrats of having "lost" Iraq.

And yet it is futile to stay in Iraq.

The solution is to rebrand the war. It's not America's war, it's not a war on terror, it has to be labeled as George Bush's war. It needs to be established in the popular mind that it's Mr. Bush's personal war, that he led us into for his own political and psychological reasons - it was not about security, not about weapons of mass destruction, not even about terrorists. That he lied to the American people and effectively conned us into following him, and that once in the war, he planned it foolishly and led it ineffectively.

Most important, George Bush has already lost the war.

If it is Mr. Bush's war, not America's, it is patriotic to end it.

If he conned us into it, then there is no dishonor in repudiating it. Indeed, it is forthright, honest and courageous to stand up and say there was a terrible mistake made, we will do all we can to correct it.

If he has already lost it, then leaving is not cutting and running, it is cleaning up someone else's mess. It's better than that. Indeed, it is the only courageous, honorable and decent choice.

There is plenty of truth in these propositions. Certainly a great deal more than in the claims that Saddam Hussein had WMD and links to 9/11. But that won't make it easy.

Still, if there is one thing we have learned from this administration, it is that the way to put over an idea-- to market a brand--is to find emotional symbols and code words and then to repeat them loudly and often. And everybody has to "stay on message." No nuances, no complexities, just the brand's special selling points, over and over again.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid made a great first step Tuesday. Closing the Senate was a dramatic way to launch the brand.

Republicans are reacting predictably. First they said it was rude and shocking. Then they began to point out that support for the war was widespread and anyone questioning it now is flip-flopping. Or crazy.

Mr. Reid, and anyone else who realizes we need a way out of this great bog, should not be fazed. He should respond this way: "The president waved the flag. I saluted. I never expected to be misled by the president of the United States. Sadly, that was the case. Now it is my duty to the people of this country to do what I can to correct that, at whatever risk there is to my personal career. There is no shame in being wrong. But it is shameful to be so afraid to admit a mistake that you push a wrong into being a disaster."