Time To Leave

Last week’s anniversary of the start of the Iraq War prompted loads of discussions. For some reason, journalists love anniversaries, though of course they are highly selective in which anniversaries they take note of.

Out of these discussions always comes the administration’s ploy, which is that if you don’t have a solution, then don’t criticize the problem. That’s clever sophistry. The administration starts a war on false pretenses, completely botches the aftermath, gets bogged down in a guerrilla war, so now it says to the critics, "OK, you fix it."

Well, since I’m proud of my consistent opposition to this war, I will freely admit that I don’t know how to fix Iraq. I do, however, know how to fix our involvement in Iraq. That is for the American people and their elected government to recognize the truth: We, the United States, cannot fix Iraq now or ever. We can pay bribes and cajole and threaten, but in the end, the fate of Iraq is now in the hands of the Iraqis, and there is nothing we can do about it.

Three months after the election, the Iraqi politicians cannot agree on a government. Eventually, they will, but even when they do, it will be a sham. The ministries don’t work, according to people knowledgeable about the situation. The army is still essentially in our hands, not in the hands of the Iraqi government. Thus, you will have a corrupt government claiming to represent three factions, with inoperative ministries, no power to enforce the laws and no money with which to repair the infrastructure.

Therefore, what the United States should do is say goodbye and leave. It’s silly to say that if we leave there will be chaos. There is chaos now. It is silly to say that Iraq will become a haven of anti-Americanism. It is today. President Bush lives in a dream world that bears little resemblance to the world outside of his head.

Democracy cannot be transplanted, especially not at the point of a gun. Iraq has never been a democracy. It has always been ruled by a dictator or an authoritarian central government, either self-chosen or imposed by a foreign power. That gaggle of Iraqi politicians squabbling over how to divide the loot and the patronage is certainly not going to create a democratic government.

Furthermore, people don’t have an innate craving for democracy. The end result of government, a wise man once said, is a family eating their evening meal in peace in their home. That’s what the Iraqi people are craving right now. They want security. They want the electricity back on. They want the sewage and water plants to function. They want jobs. After they get all of that, then they might want to make speeches or vote for politicians.

How can the president claim we have made progress when, three years after our rule began, Baghdad has less electric power, less oil production and a whole lot less security than it had under Saddam Hussein? Attacks have increased, not decreased. Americans are still confined to their heavily fortified "Green Zone," completely isolated not only from Baghdad but also from Iraq. American casualties have lessened somewhat because most of our troops are confined to their heavily fortified bases.

Another truth we have to recognize is that the military can destroy, but it cannot build. Our military has done what the president asked it to do. It destroyed the Iraqi government. Now it’s time for the soldiers to come home. What now has to be done in Iraq has to be done by Iraqis.

Whether they can do it, I don’t know. If they are not in a civil war already, they are on the razor’s edge of one. There is a tipping point in the affairs of humans. Nobody in America, North or South, wanted a war in 1860, but we blundered into one. The same tragedy might befall the Iraqis. If it happens, there is nothing we can do about it, whether we leave or stay, so the wise thing to do is leave now.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.