Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Let's admit we made a mess and clean it up

By GEORGE STEGER Midwest Voices

“To cut and run or not to cut and run.” That is the question as the November elections bear down upon us. But is it really a valid question? Or just another throwaway slogan designed to relieve voters of the necessity to think?

It’s about as helpful as that other slogan constantly foisted upon us: “Stay the course.” What course? Is there a plan at all? We’ve been given one snow job after the other in this fruitless and counterproductive war in Iraq. Each one has simply made the situation worse there.

The big question as we approach November is not whether we should stay or not; it’s how we can best fix the ever-expanding mess we’ve made in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. Even the war we fight legitimately in Afghanistan has become more difficult and costly.

So what is the fix? That’s the real question before the voters. Neither U.S. political party has dared to look much beyond the status quo. Here’s a potential “new course,” rough and painful, but at least a place to begin:

•Ask the Iraqi government to ask us formally to leave (or ask them to call a referendum and let Iraqi voters vote us out — they most certainly would).

•Set a date for departure with the Iraqi government — within a year.

•Accede to the partitioning of the country into its native Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parts.

•Enlist United Nations and NATO support for the employment of international forces, including some from the Middle East, to police the temporary partition.

•Prepare a “Marshall Plan” kind of program aimed at the economic recovery of Iraq, with the Group of Seven world’s richest nations providing the loans.

•Initiate a U.S-led program of trade engagement and foreign direct investment in Iraq and in other key Muslim regions in the Mideast, such as Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon and Jordan, with the aim of creating a free-market zone there.

•Though we would remain a staunch ally of Israel, make clear that U.S. foreign policy is not a mirror image of the Israeli one and that future U.S. policy in the Middle East will no longer rubber-stamp violence as a solution for every Arab-Israeli confrontation.

It should be clear to every American by now that what we have been witnessing in Iraq for the past three years is a failed strategy. We bought into it because we were afraid. As the election approaches, the same tocsin of fear begins to sound, and we are being urged again to “stay the course” of violence that has led us so far only toward the prospect of more violence and wider conflict.

There is a saying in some Army circles these days “to those who have a big and fancy hammer, everything looks like a nail.” That’s how we got into Iraq, when other, more patient solutions would have served us better. We have unprecedented military power, and our armed forces are proud and dedicated and well-trained. But force has just not worked in Iraq; the more we use, the worse it gets.

So, as in Vietnam, our troops’ sacrifices are appearing more and more to be in vain. Even Charles Krauthammer, that arch neoconservative himself, admitted in a column a few weeks ago that the government of Iraq is failing and if it fails, we will not win in Iraq. If that is true, then, as Krauthammer suggested, “it is unconscionable to make one more American soldier die for a cause that cannot be salvaged.”

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