Lyndon Johnson would tell anyone who would listen that he did not know how to get out of Vietnam. The result is a memorial wall in Washington, D.C. with the names of some 50,000 or more servicemen and women who died in a war this nation unequivocally lost. Four Presidents wrestled with the questions of whether to get into that civil war and then how to get out.
In the end, having failed to leave years earlier, our departure was ignominious. In failing to leave for political reasons, Richard Nixon compounded that ignominy in blood.
I wonder how many more of our soldiers will die in Iraq while President George W. Bush tries to find a way to leave as events in that nation and the Middle East conspire against him. There is no good way. There is only leaving.
By “leaving” I mean withdrawing our troops to a level that will vastly reduce the day-by-day loss to improvised explosive devices, snipers, and suicide bombers. That’s not the way our military is constituted to fight a war. That’s an internal guerrilla action intended to determine control of Iraq while ridding it of the American military presence. It is the needless sacrifice of young men and women in uniform for the notion that America cannot recover from leaving.
If we could recover from the devastating homeland attack of September 11, 2001, we can do so by swiftly, but deliberately departing Iraq.
History teaches us that we can and do make peace with our former enemies. Not long ago, President Bush was in Vietnam meeting with them.
We have, in fact, accomplished much in Iraq, not the least of which was removing a brutal, psychopathic dictator from power, along with his two equally vile sons, and the coterie of thugs around him. We have overseen two elections there. We have helped train and equip a new army and some semblance of a police force.
It is time to leave. We are now witnessing the irrationality, the endemic and historic veniality of the Middle East where most “political” issues are decided with a gun. The transition of power in the Middle East, a region of dictators and monarchies, has always occurred by assassination or military coup.
The notion that America could export or impose democracy on a region where Islam and its Sharia law is the only recognized form of government is false. Islam is not just a so-called religion; it is a form of political power and control administered by Koranic clerics, not elected representatives.
It has been this way since Muhammad invented it and since his death in 632 A.D. His death was followed by a schism in Islam between the majority Sunnis and the minority Shiites who, only in Iraq and Iran, are the major element of the populations of both those nations. We are watching an ancient struggle for the soul of Islam play out in Iraq and we are watching Iran seek nuclear weapons for the very same reason.
The likelihood is that the entire Middle East and parts of Africa will remain in turmoil for years, if not decades, to come. If it saps or destroys Islam’s militaristic intention to dominate the world, the West will be the ultimate winner.
The United States cannot be the policeman of the region. It can, however, provide military protection to those Islamic states that provide us with the oil we require to function. That is why we liberated Kuwait in the early 1990s. We can and must protect the Saudis, along with the other Gulf States. We may, given unforeseen events, have to intervene in the Maghreb, the northern tier of Africa that is also Islamic.
We have a moral and practical obligation to protect the only true democracy in the region, Israel, against Islam.
The moral justification for removing Saddam from control was valid. The fact that Iraq sits atop the second largest reserves of oil in the region is equally valid. That oil is the true reason for the conflict as Sunnis and Shiites battle for its control while the Kurds gird to protect their oil fields as well.
In terms of our military involvement, the United States can leave Iraq. The time to do it is now. I do not want to listen to future historians tell us that Bush, like Lyndon Baines Johnson and Richard M. Nixon, was repeatedly asking his advisors for an “exit strategy” while more of our soldiers died.
In the words of the aircraft carrier banner from which Bush announced the successful capture of Baghdad, “Mission accomplished.” For now.