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HOW HE SEES IT Dems should push for quick exist from Iraq



Published: Fri, January 28, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



By JOHN B. QUIGLEY

KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Democrats would do well to resurrect Howard Dean, at least on the subject of Iraq.

John Kerry's effort to try to sound "presidential" on the issue did not work. Although Kerry criticized President Bush, he failed to make clear how he would do anything different from Bush now that we are in Iraq.

In 2005, the Democrats could raise their standing if they take President Bush to task over Iraq, not only for his past errors but for his current policy.

Despite the outcome of the November election, it should be clear to Democrats that the current situation in Iraq is not playing well in Peoria.

Service men and women are being dragooned into extended terms. Many are resentful. Some are resisting. Many are reservists, and reservists seem to have a stronger sense of their rights than do members of the regular military.

Exist strategy

Moreover, in Congress all is not well on Iraq policy. Even many Republicans are not sure Bush has the answers. They do not see an exit strategy. They see Americans still running the show in Iraq.

President Bush's failure to foresee the results of an occupation of Iraq is all too obvious. He can try to put the onus on Iraqis for killing Iraqis, but we invaded Iraq and then disbanded its police force and army.

Had we kept the police and army in place, we might have avoided at least some of the bloodshed that is taking the lives of both Iraqis and U.S. service personnel.

Our pro-consul Paul Bremer said we needed to get rid of anyone in the Iraqi bureaucracy remotely connected to the former regime. Perhaps he was motivated by a need to emphasize the "replace the dictator" rationale for our invasion, after the collapse of "weapons of mass destruction." But the policy left Iraq without administrators.

Bush can depart from Iraq on his terms only if Iraqis take over governance. At the moment, that prospect is distant. So far, the Iraqi police and military units we have tried to train have failed.

For the Democrats, the aim should be to chart an approach for the future that differs from Bush's and that, at the same time, makes sense. They must say forthrightly that there is no good way out.

American casualties

The Bush alternative is to stay for an extended period and to try to fix Iraq. This alternative means more Iraqi and American casualties and stands little likelihood of success.

The other alternative is to leave sooner, without pretending to have fixed Iraq. This alternative requires an implicit admission that we miscalculated, and it leaves Iraq to an uncertain future. But there is little chance of making Iraq a shining example of democracy in the short term.

The second alternative is the better course for the Democrats to embrace. It lets them build on their criticisms of Bush for invading on insubstantial reasons, and for failing to predict the reaction to our occupation. It gives them a message that is practical in the difficult circumstances we now face.

Howard Dean was in a stronger position than most Democrats on Iraq, because he was critical from the outset. Nonetheless, Democrats should take the pulse of the public and realize there is little to be gained by keeping quiet on Iraq policy. They might even find allies among Republicans in Congress.

X John B. Quigley is a professor of law at Ohio State University. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services




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