It Takes Planning?

As the U.S. military operation in Iraq drags from worse to worst (it was bad at its best), the phrase "exit strategy" is heard with increasing frequency. Although many claim that Mr. Bush was planning military action against Iraq from the moment of his inauguration, we never hear of an "entrance strategy," although some say that the events of 911 provided a wonderful excuse for bringing such a strategy into the open, provided we overlook the fact that 911 had nothing to do with Iraq or Saddam.

Anyway, it’s too late to be talking about an "entrance strategy." The buzz today is all about "exit strategy," and, at risk of appearing obtuse, I don’t get it. What’s to strategize about?

A friend related an unpleasant experience he had recently at a local mall. Becoming aware of an urgent call from nature, he dashed into the nearest restroom, only to discover, even as the door closed, that he was the cynosure of all eyes. Female eyes. Eyes of girls, ladies, and elderly matrons. He (being bright) quickly realized he had blundered into the wrong facility. At virtually the same instant, he decided that he needed an exit strategy. He ran a few plans past his imagination.

"Sorry, ladies," he’d say, flipping open — and shut — his wallet, as though it contained some sort of official ID, badge, etc. "I’m investigating reports of several canvas bags with labels "WMD" attached. It’s possible they are here. Have you seen any bags matching that description?" This, however, could lead to various questions which, off the top of his head, he might not be able to answer, like "Let’s see that badge again" or generalized hysteria, involvement of mall security, etc. Nope, some other, simpler, exit strategy was needed.

"Excuse me, ladies," he might try, again with the wallet business, "I’m on the trail of a woman wearing a dark dress, sunglasses, and with a scar on her cheek. It’s possible she came in here. Have you seen anyone like that?" But what if several of the ladies had seen a woman who matched that description perfectly? Then what?

Well, OK, let’s simplify, he told himself. "Excuse me, girls," (with a big smile), "I’m with maintenance. We believe there may be a gas leak in this area. Have you noticed anything?" But a maintenance man in a three-piece suit?

"Sorry, gals, but the men’s room next door is full of smoke, and the firemen suggested I come in here. Sorry." Nah, too easily proven false.

"Ladies," (with a serious, even solemn, demeanor) "I abhor discrimination in any form, and believe in the equality of the sexes. I see no reason to provide duplicate facilities here, and, as the Supreme Court has told us, separate but equal is unequal and unfair. In the name of the Constitution, democracy, and sexual equality, I plan to use this equipment. I trust you will understand." No, quite likely they wouldn’t understand, and he couldn’t see himself repeating that to a judge.

Then, suddenly, like a flash, he discovered the perfect exit strategy. "Sorry, ladies," he said, and left. Brilliant!

Would it be very much harder to leave Iraq? Our military surely have access to press, radio, and TV in that country. How about an announcement that, having removed Saddam (whom we leave to your legal system, dear Iraqis) and proven the non-existence of WMDs, we’ve done what we set out to do, and will be departing? Good by, and good luck. Start loading up the transports and flying home. Many would suspect that the reasons for our being in Iraq in the first place were not as stated, but so what? No one expects the government to tell the truth, especially when its own self-interest is involved. We could still maintain a presence in the Middle East by bribing — er, negotiating — for bases in Iraq, to complement those we have in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. We could make this so profitable for the new democratic Iraqi government that they would be happy to sell us oil — for dollars, not euros — at a favorable rate.

At any rate, a perfectly simple, effective "exit strategy" is to say "Goodbye" and open the door. Then leave!

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.