Out of Iraq

A conservative's case for ending the war. Now.

Sometimes, it's sucky being right.

In the summer of 2001, in two Washington Law and Politics magazine columns, I predicted an imminent terrorist strike. Later, I supported the invasion of Afghanistan and the Bush Doctrine, including pre-emption and "regime change"—if these were used rationally and sparingly.

They have not been used rationally and sparingly. I saw it coming, and in the spring of 2002 became one of America's first mainstream conservatives to oppose the Iraq venture and the Bush/neocon agenda. Quietly at first. Then in a Sept. 11, 2002, Seattle Weekly article titled "An Anti-War Movement of One."

Three years later, it's still pretty lonesome. No effective antiwar movement has emerged. Perhaps what's left of the left, despairing of a people as docile and as over-spun as ours, didn't care or dare to make the effort. Perhaps they've been waiting for the polls to trend downward sufficiently and permanently, so that the Blame America First crowd and the "One More Chardonnay, Then We March" brigades might once again flaunt their peculiar combo of self-loathing and self-righteousness.

No matter. No sustainable antiwar movement will emerge. Other issues, from Supreme Court nomination slugfests to how best to wreck Social Security, plus whatever scandals happen along, will matter more. Not to mention the 2006 elections and a Democratic Party grimly intent on flaunting its impotence. Mr. Bush is blessed with an ample supply of diversions.

Still, maybe being lonesome ain't so bad. At least the war's supporters no longer criticize me for giving aid and comfort to high-viz PC leftos, Jane Fonda wanna-bes, all-purpose pacifists, and sundry Botoxed and Viagra'd clowns who missed the last helicopter out of the 1960s, or wish they had. Their collective public absence makes it easier to be serious about why this war is wrong.

I opposed the Iraq war for reasons other than the clear and present lack of a clear and present danger. This was one lousy idea militarily, politically, and economically. Yes, we took the real estate, although few Americans understand how big a bullet we almost had to dodge. It wasn't all those chem/bio weapons they didn't use because they didn't have them. It was that our logistical system was shaking like the Alaskan Way Viaduct during an earthquake. Had Saddam's army not conveniently disintegrated, had that armored dash to Baghdad not been so brilliantly executed, "Comical Ali" might not have been quite so funny.

Nor was there much humor, or sanity, in the postwar theory of why we had to stay. "Hard Wilsonianism," some called it, making the world safe for democracy, this time with adequate muscle. "Democracy Dominoes," others chanted. Just render Iraq a good little American knockoff, then watch the whole bloody Umma morph into a liberal theme park

It hasn't happened. But maybe, from the administration's perspective, it doesn't matter. To borrow an old D.C. proverb: "Nothing succeeds like the right kind of failure."

We're staying in Iraq. In his Fort Bragg speech in June, before a controlled and grimacing audience of those who know how their valor and devotion have been used, President Bush made it clear, once again, that Iraq has been assigned its meanings, roles, and missions in our reality. That it might not be working in their reality is irrelevant. We decide what matters, and what's real.

We're staying in Iraq because we're staying in the Islamic world. We've tied our future to its secular redemption by any means necessary. Strife serves us well if, as neocon Michael Ledeen once put it, our purpose is to "cauldronize the Middle East." Fighting is merely part of the rent we pay, rather like that lease we recently signed on Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. Think of it as a 99-year time-share.

Meanwhile, the insurgents most likely want us to stay. They know they can't defeat us. But they certainly can bleed us. Death and maiming. Three hundred billion dollars by year's end in direct costs; maybe coming up on a trillion, total. The U.S. Army is imploding and can't replace its ruined people and gear, while the Navy and Air Force are letting people go because they're running out of ships and planes—on a basic defense budget of over $400 billion a year.

To borrow from Thomas Jefferson: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that our enemies can count."

But who are our enemies? In Iraq, whose government recently signed a defense cooperation agreement with Axis of Evil charter member Iran, they're a microcosm of what we face globally. Jihadi. Amateur adventurers ("Come kill Americans; it'll be great fun"). Iraqis embittered by the occupation. Professional fighters with no other skills or desires. And all those with more to lose than to gain from freedom. The Bush administration has crowed that the influx of foreigners means that, hey, now we've got 'em all in one place. Not exactly. It does mean that thousands of fighters will return to their own and other countries as skilled terrorist operatives and instructors.

We went into Iraq to teach the world a lesson. It didn't work. It won't. Perhaps now we should let the people of Iraq do the teaching, and say to them:

"We freed you from a hideous tyrant. We helped you to rebuild your economy, your society, your security forces. We gave you three years to think about what you really want. Now we're leaving. Let's see what you do with your freedom."


Philip Gold is a Seattle-based writer. His most recent book is Take Back the Right: How the Neocons and the Religious Right Have Hijacked the Conservative Movement. Gold can be reached at aretean@netscape.net. Regular old Mossback Knute Berger is on vacation.

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