editorial (2006-52)

Withdrawal with Honor

Peace in Iraq may not be attainable in our time

Withdrawal with Honor

The 2006 elections improved the prospects of the United States’ orderly withdrawal from Iraq at some point in the future. How distant that point is may not be determined anytime soon, but the defeat of some of the most intractable congressional hard-liners and the return of Congress to Democratic control has President George W. Bush backing away from the “course” he has been staying. The president is showing signs of confronting reality, no longer having a choir aligned firmly on his side to preach to. Pray he keeps on looking to the real picture.

That doesn’t mean that the president has come to understand the history of the Middle East and the impact of factors far beyond his control, but it does mean that he has reached the conclusion at last that U.S. forces are not winning a war he started by sending them into Iraq with the stated purpose of removing a bloody dictator and establishing a democratic state there. Let’s forget the subterfuge of eliminating weapons of mass destruction or fighting a war on terror there. Those precepts never held water. They were no better than bogus claims in forming a rationale for an invasion.

So, to get down to the remaining task he has set before us of restoring peace in Iraq through sponsoring democratic elections and shoring up national security. That’s not altogether impossible, but it seems unlikely to occur in the next year or even two, leading up to the 2008 U.S. presidential election.

It will probably be up to the next president to extricate us from Iraq, and conditions don’t offer our next leader any happy choices. Does anyone believe that order will be restored in Iraq by that time, giving us the valid reason for withdrawal? The argument is not whether we will be able to assist Iraqis in ending a civil war there. There is no civil war there between or among competing armies; there is a continuing, indeed growing, spate of murderous violence that creates chaos among people to whom issues of religion and property and power are nearly as old as their separate cultures.

The chances for a settlement of the issues that divide Iraq seems as improbable today as it did at the war’s inception. There are too many factions, too many arms in the hands of civilians, too much in the way of factional loyalty among members of the police and the army and too much oil territory to fight over

The disputes that were held in check by a ruthless dictator, Saddam Hussein, are spilling out in every direction. It appears that Hussein’s penchant for killing Iraqis by the hundreds of thousands was the only thing that kept them from killing each other,

There is vague talk of a ceasefire among warring Iraqis as 2006 draws to a close. That would be an encouraging development if it were to come about, but who in Iraq has the power to control the wildly varying factions? Certainly not the Iraqi government, which has been incapable of exerting any muscle to reduce the bloodshed.

It’s even questionable whether the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, reputed to head the largest and best-armed militia in the country, could enforce a countrywide ceasefire.

Feared by Iraq’s Sunnis and by many peace-loving people on all bands of the religious spectrum, al-Sadr is certainly welcome to try. If he were to succeed in curbing violence, he should be invited to a conference table shared by the United States, the present Iraqi government, and representatives of the Sunni side. Predicting whether a round of talks would get anywhere is risky, but it would surely be worth the effort.

One of the constraints that President Bush has put on himself and this nation is his unwillingness to authorize talks with anyone whom he considers an enemy to his ideals. It is time to drop that shield against open discussion among the principals in the situation in Iraq.

Bringing in the Syrians and the Iranians, as the Baker-Hamilton task force report suggested, would not constitute bad policy.

It would be a shame if we had to wait until Bush is out of office to get constructive talks started over how to get ourselves in a position to pull all or most of our troops and our allies’ troops out of Iraq.

That would seem to mean another two-year delay in getting anywhere with regard to our tenuous position as an impotent occupying force there.

Perhaps the new Congress can get a majority together to force Bush’s hand in the direction of reason. To “cut and run” is not the favored option, but to cut our losses and withdraw with some semblance of honor and some hope for the peaceful future of Iraq is what we should be seeking. We can not gain that goal alone, no matter how Bush, the decision-maker, chooses to see it.