It's astonishing to still hear people posit that there's some victory scenario on the other side of additional time spent in Iraq. The only legacy for the American misadventures in Iraq, sadly, is a dishonestly brokered and manipulated invasion of a sovereign country. There is no victory anymore, if there ever was. Does victory include the death of tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqis? Does victory include the complete dismantling of basic security and infrastructure elements in the country? It seems every discussion of the Iraq debacle must contain an acknowledgement that of course the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein, because this is the principle accomplishment on which the operation rests. Fine; acknowledged. But that doesn't balance the damage that has been done. Iraq is not necessarily a better place now than before the invasion, except for certain freedoms. After all, what good is freedom without the security to enjoy it?
However, it's not just the reckless Republican administration and compliant 107th Congress that deserve scorn. The Democrats who rode into the 110th Congress on a mandate to get us out of Iraq have proven ineffective at best. Matt Taibbi wrote an excellent article in February's Rolling Stone highlighting the sorry story:
Solidifying his reputation as one of the biggest pussies in U.S. political history, Reid explained his decision to refocus his party's energies on topics other than ending the war by saying he just couldn't fit Iraq into his busy schedule. "We have the presidential election," Reid said recently. "Our time is really squeezed."
There was much public shedding of tears among the Democratic leadership, as Reid, Pelosi and other congressional heavyweights expressed deep sadness that their valiant charge up the hill of change had been thwarted by circumstances beyond their control — that, as much as they would love to continue trying to end the catastrophic Iraq deal, they would now have to wait until, oh, 2009 to try again. "We'll have a new president," said Pelosi. "And I do think at that time we'll take a fresh look at it."
Part of the reason the current administration, its allies in Congress, and its military appointees are so reluctant to entertain any withdrawal scenarios is because to do so would be to admit there are things they can't control but for which they are responsible. Pandora's Box has been opened, and the monsters cannot be stuffed back inside, try though they might. They can keep kicking the can down the field, but the problem is too intractable to keep promising that six more months will bring some miracle solution. The problem is too important to the futures of Iraq and the United States to keep worrying about political reputations. So, let's get past the blame and talk about what to do now.
The most compelling plan I've seen is titled, simply, A Responsible Plan To End The War In Iraq. Endorsed by Congressional candidates and military leaders, it faces the hard problems squarely and discusses the political and diplomatic choices necessary to move forward and get out.
The United States invaded Iraq in March 2003. Since then, nearly 4,000 American troops have lost their lives and nearly thirty thousand more have suffered serious injuries, while as many as a million Iraqis may be dead. The financial costs of the war to the U.S. economy will ultimately exceed $3 trillion.
More than a year ago, the American public demanded a new direction in Iraq by electing a new Congress, and the bipartisan Iraq Study Group (the Baker-Hamilton Commission) presented a set of recommendations for just such a new direction5. President Bush rejected the majority of those recommendations and proceeded—largely unchecked by Congress—on a course explicitly contrary to them.
Since that time, the current administration and its congressional allies have continued to use shifting rationales for extending our military involvement in Iraq with no end in sight. The American public has been presented with a set of false choices: a semi-permanent military occupation of Iraq versus a precipitous and destabilizing withdrawal. There is a deepening public desire for a new path forward and a cohesive military, diplomatic, and economic strategy that will end the war in Iraq while protecting American interests.
There are two strategic questions raised by our current dilemma:
- How do we bring American military engagement in Iraq to a responsible end?
There is no military solution to the problems faced in Iraq: the real progress that can be made requires diplomatic, political, and economic means. We must stop counter-productive military operations by U.S. occupation forces and end our military presence in Iraq.
- How do we prevent a repeat of the mistakes we’ve made?
The breakdown of checks and balances in our government led to bad decision-making which damaged America’s national security. Ending this war and preventing future situations like it requires that we restore these Constitutional checks and balances and fix the ways in which our governmental, military, and civil institutions have failed us.
Discussions of Iraq in the media have focused almost entirely on military operations and issues, but any real solution will require us to look at a broader set of problems. Beyond redeploying our troops, we must place equal importance on applying the full arsenal of non-military tools at our disposal. The American public must also re-engage in the discussions and decision-making about how to proceed.
I urge you to review this plan, to reject submitting to name-calling by those for whom too much blood is never enough, and to consider a time to return to committing America's resources to America's needs at home. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a compelling column two weeks ago about the costs of the war: $5,000 per second.
We’ve cut our casualty rates to the unacceptable levels that plagued us back in 2005, and we still don’t have any exit plan for years to come — all for a bill that is accumulating at the rate of almost $5,000 every second!
More important, while casualties in Baghdad are down, we’re beginning to take losses in Florida and California. The United States seems to have slipped into recession; Americans are losing their homes, jobs and health insurance; banks are struggling — and the Iraq war appears to have aggravated all these domestic woes.
A Congressional study by the Joint Economic Committee found that the sums spent on the Iraq war each day could enroll an additional 58,000 children in Head Start or give Pell Grants to 153,000 students to attend college. Or if we’re sure we want to invest in security, then a day’s Iraq spending would finance another 11,000 border patrol agents or 9,000 police officers.
Imagine the possibilities. We could hire more police and border patrol agents, expand Head Start and rehabilitate America’s image in the world by underwriting a global drive to slash maternal mortality, eradicate malaria and deworm every child in Africa.
All that would consume less than one month’s spending on the Iraq war.
Moreover, the Bush administration has financed this war in a way that undermines our national security — by borrowing. Forty percent of the increased debt will be held by China and other foreign countries.
Kristof ends his column, "I don't feel that I'm getting my money's worth." Do you?