'Stay the Course!' — Is Not Enough

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In the aftermath of the suicide bombing of the Mosul mess hall, we are being admonished anew we must stay the course in Iraq. But “Stay the course!” is no longer enough.

President Bush needs to go on national television and tell us the unvarnished truth. Why are we still there? For some of Bush’s countrymen, there is a sense of having been had, of having been made victim to one of the great bait-and-switches in the history of warfare.

The president, his War Cabinet and the neocon punditocracy sold us on this war by implying Saddam was implicated in 9-11, that he had a vast arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, that he was working on an atom bomb, that he would transfer his terror weapons to Al Qaeda. We had to invade, destroy and disarm his axis-of-evil regime. Only thus could we be secure.

None of this was true. But the president won that debate and was given a free hand to invade Iraq. He did so, and overthrew Saddam’s regime in three weeks. “Mission Accomplished!”

That was 20 months ago. What is our mission now? When did it change? With 1,300 dead and nearly 10,000 wounded, why are we still at war with these people?

The president says the enemy is “terrorism” and “evil,” and we fight for “democracy” and that “freedom” which is “God’s gift to humanity.” All very noble.

But why should Americans have to die for democracy in a nation that has never known it? Democracy in the Middle East is not vital to our national security. For though the Middle East has never been democratic, no Middle East nation has ever attacked us. And should we catch a nation that is supporting terror against us, we have the weapons to make them pay a hellish price, without invading and occupying their country.

The only nation in the 20th century to attack us was Japan. And Japan lashed out, insanely, in desperation, because we had cut off her oil and convinced the British and Dutch to cut off the vital commodities she needed to avoid imperial defeat in China. We were choking the Japanese empire to death.

We might all prefer that Arab nations be democratic. But that is not vital to us. If they remain despotic, that is their problem, so long as they do not threaten or attack us. But to invade an Islamic country to force it to adopt democratic reforms is democratic imperialism. If we practice it, we must expect that some of those we are reforming will resort to the time-honored weapon of anti-imperialists, terrorism — the one effective weapon the weak have against the strong.

Yet, if our goals appear gauzy and vague, our enemy’s war aims appear specific, concrete and understandable. They seek our expulsion from Iraq and the eradication of all “collaborators.” And the tactics they are using are the same as those the FLN used to drive the French out of Algeria.

To us, democracy may mean New England town meetings. To the Sunnis, democracy means a one-man, one-vote path to power for the Shias, 60 percent of Iraq’s population, who will dispossess them of the power and place they have held since Ottoman times. Why should people to whom politics is about power — “Who, whom?” in Lenin’s phrase — not fight that? And why should we fight and die for a Shia-dominated Iraq?

Before addressing his countrymen, the president needs to ask and answer for himself some hard questions. Who told him this would be a “cakewalk”? Who misled him to believe we would be welcomed as liberators with bouquets of flowers? Who led him into a situation where his choice appears to be between a seemingly endless guerrilla war that could destroy his presidency, and walking away from Iraq and watching it collapse in mayhem and massacre of those who cast their lot with us? Why have these fools not been fired, like the CIA geniuses who sold JFK on the Bay of Pigs?

It is not just President Bush who is in this hellish mess. We’re all in it together. But the president needs to know that if he intends to use U.S. military power to democratize the Middle East, Americans — 56 percent of whom now believe Iraq was a mistake — will not follow him.

Finally, the president must answer in his heart this question: Exactly how much more blood and money is he willing to plunge into a war for democracy in Iraq, and at what point must he decide — as LBJ and Nixon did in Vietnam — that the cost to America is so great that we must get out and risk the awful consequences of a mistaken war that we should never have launched.

Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail], former presidential candidate and White House aide, is editor of The American Conservative and the author of eight books, including A Republic Not An Empire and the upcoming Where the Right Went Wrong.

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