Where to in Iraq?

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From the Publisher/Arnold G. York

There are times I feel the older I get, the longer I’m on this planet and the more I know, the less I really understand. All around me, particularly in the world of politics, I find myself surrounded by people who claim they know the way, have the answers, been to the top of the mountain and all has been revealed to them. Just follow them and they will lead us out of the forest.

It is often very comforting listening to them. They, of course, are totally full of baloney. The awareness that they are totally full of baloney is sometimes called cynicism. But more often it’s called maturity because it comes from having spent a lifetime in meetings listening to others spout forth about the true path that never came to be, and being old enough to remember all the other certainties that just sort of evaporated. Remember the unquestioned rubric that if Vietnam fell, all of South East Asia would go and the communist behemoth would sit astride the world? Anybody been to Southeast Asia lately? If you’ve been to Saigon you probably ate at a restaurant run by a former Viet Cong officer telling us about his cousin who lives in Orange County. The point is that history has a way of twisting and turning. Often what seemed so clear then seems rather silly now, and it makes me wonder why we did what we did and why all those young men and woman had to die.

Trying to figure out what’s real and what’s an illusion is always tough in politics and foreign policy, and when bullets are flying it becomes even tougher.

The president has entered that tough time, and although I’m no great fan of George W. Bush, I can appreciate the difficult position he’s in and the limited options he has available to him.

He’s got to make decisions, which requires he know what’s real and what’s not. Who can be trusted and who can’t? Who’s competent and who isn’t? Who are his allies and who are not? Making those kinds of judgments are not his strong suit, yet he still is being forced to make them. Bush 43 strikes me as a loyal man, but loyal to a fault. His inner circle-Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and maybe his dad and his brother, and the second circle of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Attorney General John Ashcroft and others- are all there for him. But the truth is, when it gets to this kind of a crisis, he’s fundamentally alone. History will judge him, not his subordinates. And every president comes to understand that.

So what should he know? Well, I’ve been to the mountaintop, at least in my head, and this is what I’d tell him.

1. Iraq is not really a country. A border on a map does not make a country. The area of Iraq is really three overlapping spheres of influence. The Kurds in the North, the Sunni primarily in the center and the Shiites in the south. There really is no national government, other than what Saddam Hussein imposed over the last three decades. It’s foolish to think we could impose one unless we’re prepared to do it the way Hussein did it, and we’re not.

2. The Iraqi Governing Council that we’ve created and tried to impose isn’t working and probably can’t work. It’s filled with people we handpicked because we thought they had a basis of support in the country. They obviously don’t. Governing Council member Ahmed Chilabi is our guy, and his skills consist of his ability to work the Pentagon and our intelligence services and have little to do with Iraq, which means the quicker we get people with the real power base into the new government, the quicker we can get out of Iraq. The problem is some of those people may be anathema to some of the Bush crowd, and that’s where he’s got to step in and be president. He’s got to decide, and he can’t please everyone.

3. Time is moving fast and he’s running out of it. He’s running out of time in Iraq, which is headed toward civil war, and he’s running out of support in America. Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Shiites are not some aberration. I believe they represent a substantial portion of Iraqi public opinion and they won’t wait.

4. If when we leave there is a void and then a civil war-so be it. We can’t stop it nor probably should we try. I see no point in more Americans getting killed to prevent a civil war or to keep a government in place that no one wants. Ultimately, the Iraqis will either kill each other or make peace, but it will be an Iraqi peace, not an American peace.

5. The idea that we could create an Iraqi army is a myth. They vanished on us in this Falluja campaign, and who can blame them. They didn’t sign up to get killed or to kill other Iraqis. They know that ultimately we’re going to leave, so why risk getting caught on the wrong side when retribution comes later? That means it’s our war to fight. And if we’re really going to fight it, we don’t have anywhere near the number of troops we need. So now we’ve got to start adding troops, which could only escalate the fighting. Ultimately, it’s a no-win war.

Lastly, people are going to talk about how our leaving would be perceived in the Arab world or, for that matter, the entire world. I simply don’t believe it matters. The day after we leave we’re still the most powerful country in the world, and the game goes on. In a few years we’ll be sipping drinks in Baghdad, sitting alongside the Tigress listening to some restaurant owner who was formally an officer in Saddam’s Republican guard tell us about his cousin in Los Angeles.

Let’s go home. We did our job. We rid the world of a terrible dictator. Now let’s pack up our troops and head out. The rest is up to the Iraqis.