Leave Iraq now; don't wait until 2008 election day

After nearly four years of living in what can be charitably described as a state of denial, everyone in Washington, from President Bush to the Baker Commission to incoming defense secretary Robert Gates, to outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to the study group assembled by Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has finally admitted that pretty much nothing is going right in Iraq.


Our president, who froze the whole process of planning and fighting a war by declaring that he was "staying the course" even when the course was obviously wrong, finally abandoned those words, if not his dogged pursuit of "victory" in a place which has denied victory to a string of foreign invaders dating back to Alexander the Great.

The Baker Commission issued its report—which primarily recommended that we begin talking with Iraq's friends and enemies next door and Iraqi-izing the war by handing things over to Iraqi forces before we begin pulling out in time for the 2008 presidential election—on a day when 10 American troops were killed on the roads of Iraq by improvised explosive devices.

All things considered, it was too little, too late and too long a wait if you have a son or daughter serving a third or fourth combat tour in Iraq—something that few, if any, of the above referenced politicians and wise men have contributed to the war effort.

Gates, whose nomination to replace Rumsfeld in the Pentagon's top job is being rushed through the Senate at the speed of light, told the Senate Armed Forces Committee we're neither winning nor losing in Iraq and could offer them no path to victory.

The senators, clearly enamored of Bob Gates because he isn't Don Rumsfeld, had no hard questions for the nominee, and in a rare show of bipartisan unanimity voted 24-0 to send his nomination to the floor for swift approval.

The senators and much of official Washington clearly want Gates in and Rumsfeld on a Greyhound bus bound for oblivion as soon as humanly possible. The disgruntled Rumsfeld leaked his own Iraq report, dated two days prior to his firing, admitting that things weren't nearly as rosy as he'd been pretending they were.

While those who have nothing more at risk than their personal pride and the arrogance of power published reports and made statements devoid of any real answers, young American soldiers and Marines were being wounded and killed at an appalling rate on the dangerous streets and roads of Iraq.

This week, the American military death toll in Iraq crossed the 2,900 mark, with well over 20,000 wounded.

All the politicians paid the customary lip service in praising the troops and commending them for the terrible sacrifices they must continue to endure while the wrangling and dithering over a futile war goes on with no end in sight.

How can they look at themselves in the mirror every morning?

Some even suggest sending additional U.S. forces to Iraq—20,000 to 30,000 more to try to clean up Baghdad, or as Sen. John McCain suggests, 100,000 more to achieve a victory of some kind.

What are they thinking?

The time to use overwhelming force, according to the Caspar Weinberger-Colin Powell doctrine, is when you launch an invasion. Ratcheting up later is just so 1965, and so hopeless a gesture when the situation has already gone to hell.

Let's get a few more things straight right now.

There's no victory waiting for President Bush in Iraq, and nothing that his father's friends say or do can save him from an ignominious end to his presidency in two years and two months, or from the judgment of history.

There will be no convenient and successful negotiation of a "decent interval" with our enemies Iran and Syria to cover our withdrawal from a war that we should never have started.

There can be no successful Vietnamization in Iraq—standing up more and better Iraqi army and police units and handing control over to them—when all we're doing is arming and training more recruits for the civil war that clogs the streets of Baghdad with the corpses of the victims of a Sunni-Shia bloodbath.

What we need to do is what none of the commissions and their reports dared to suggest: Begin withdrawing American forces from Iraq right now. Not in 2008. Not after the American death toll has crossed 5,000. Not just in time for a presidential election.

If you worry about the future of Iraq, don't. It will remain what it's always been: a violent, angry land of warring tribes only occasionally beaten and bludgeoned into submission by a homegrown despot like Saddam Hussein.

If you worry about added turmoil and instability in the Middle East, pull some of those departing American forces back to Kuwait and leave them there on standby. Then redirect thought, energy and effort into salvaging Afghanistan, finding Osama bin Laden, saving Lebanon, negotiating peace between Israel and its enemies, rebuilding the U.S. Army and Marine Corps and, oh yes, ending the uncivil war between Republicans and Democrats.

There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but there's only one way to leave Iraq: Load our people up on their trucks and tank transporters and Bradleys and Humvees and head for the border. Now.



Joseph L. Galloway is former senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Readers may write to him at: P.O. Box 399, Bayside, Texas 78340; e-mail: jlgalloway2@cs.com.