The war in Iraq is much more than the "dark cloud" that Terry Plumb sees hanging over U.S. domestic and foreign policy (Plumbline, April 6). That war -- judged by critics at home and abroad as illegal and immoral -- is more a black hole sucking in Iraqi and American lives and billions in wasted resources. There can be no nice and tidy diplomatic solution to this madness. Expecting one is nothing more than wishful thinking by those desperate for an end to it all. The only way out is to get out -- pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq now. Cut and walk.
For four long years, the Bush administration pursued a military victory in Iraq. When the impossibility of that finally dawned on the Pentagon, the administration urged the corrupt and incompetent government of Nuri al-Maliki to seek a political settlement. But relying on a puppet government proved as stupid and fruitless in Iraq as it did in Vietnam.
When all else fails, why not, as Plumb argues, give diplomacy a chance to work? First, where would these miracle workers come from? Countries are not exactly lining up to take on this mission impossible. Iran has as much influence in Iraq as any country, including the U.S., but why should it, even if the Bushites agreed, take on the role of saving the U.S. from the consequences of its reckless and unprovoked war? Other countries, in and out of the Middle East, are happy to see the arrogant giant bogged down in Iraq, stewing in its own juices. Erstwhile allies are among them.
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Second, civil wars fueled by religion are notoriously difficult to settle by diplomacy. Words fail religious fanatics who relish living and dying by the sword.
Third, it's too late to play the diplomatic card. The war is lost, and the political situation in shambles. The U.S. has no leverage. The highly touted surge has done nothing but buy time for Bush, who will end his presidency by handing off his failed policies to his successor.
With no clear central authority in Iraq, diplomacy would drag on for months, even years.
While the diplomats talked, the fighting and dying would continue. U.S. troops would be killed daily, adding 40 to 50 a month to a body count that now exceeds 4,000. The tab would be running at a cost of $50 billion a month. Ordinary Iraqis would struggle to survive amid the violence, squalor and misery. An estimated 1 million of them have died in the war, and at least twice that many have been displaced.
Gen. Petraeus describes the situation in Iraq as "fragile and reversible." The Pentagon brass seem as demoralized and frustrated as the politicians ... probably because there is no endgame and no plan -- or capability -- to create and implement one. Shiites (Iraqi army) are now fighting Shiites (Mehdi army) as Sunnis stand by waiting to join the fray as soon as they get their last American paycheck.
Conditions are worse
After five years, conditions in Iraq are worse than before the American invasion. There is less safe drinking water, less electricity, fewer schools and, incredibly, less security. No wonder an overwhelming majority -- about three-fourths -- of Iraqis believe their country would be safer and better off generally if U.S. occupation forces went home. They understand what Americans have just begun to realize: The presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is the major cause of violence there. It will not end until American forces leave and Iraqis take responsibility for their own affairs.
Plumb argues that the U.S. can neither afford to stay in Iraq indefinitely nor withdraw precipitously. Presumably he would keep U.S. troops there until there was peace among the tribal and religious factions and a stable central government. But if neither diplomacy nor military occupation can achieve these aims, what is the purpose of staying?
Torture, civilian deaths, homes destroyed and people displaced are consequences that demand an immediate end, not the protracted and uncertain process of diplomacy. But ending the war is not enough. Bush, Cheney and their neo-con cronies who planned the invasion and occupation must be held accountable for their criminal acts. Failure to do so will be a clear signal that the US has lost its moral footing and is simply another imperial bully throwing its weight around, doing whatever it pleases and ignoring the havoc it creates. We will have become our own worst enemy.
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