Time to Get Out of Iraq

Posted: Aug 15, 2005 12:00 AM
In previous columns I have been adamant that we must remain in Iraq. There was, foremost, the need to respond to global terrorism. For much of Clinton’s term, for example, terrorists were allowed to attack American interests without fear of serious repercussion. They bombed the World Trade Center, destroyed US embassies in Africa, and attacked the USS Cole, killing hundreds of Americans. Clinton’s rousing response: hurl a few missiles at an empty training site in Afghanistan. A lack of popular support for war—due to a lack of popular understanding—was a straightjacket that he never cared to escape. Terrorists knew this. And so they escalated their assault on our way of life, culminating with the 9-1-1 attacks.

The liberation of Iraq was part of a broader effort to seriously confront the greatest threat to world security: rogue states capable of obtaining long range weapons of mass destruction. This meant showing the world that America would not be a passive target. In the broader sense, it meant trying to transform the middle east into something other than an incubator of hate.

This broader mission was hauled along by nostalgic visions of the Marshall Plan, or America’s decision to rebuild Europe and Japan following World War II. The Marshall Plan was quite new. It went beyond traditional notions of geography and history and embraced a new to vision: using free trade and democracy to create a series of interlocking relationships that end war. In many ways, it birthed history’s first democratic empire. It also exemplified what is great about this country—a democratic ideal, a sprit of greater good. And it worked, not just to make the world safer, but to make it better. I don’t think there can be any argument about this. The success of America in the post war period represents the triumph of democracy and modernity over feudal disunity.

When President George W Bush unleashed hell on Iraq he no doubt had in mind visions of global rebuilding. The administration thought that months after the invasion, the streets of Baghdad lined with Iraqi citizens waving American flags. They also thought that US inspectors would uncover weapons of mass destruction. This is why they ducked their head and plowed through the international scorn. They fully expected to supplant the horror of war with images so patriotic that they would make the strong global opposition to the war seem short sighted.

It was a grand idea. But somewhere along the way we were misled by the image of the middle east we wanted, instead of the middle east that exists. Iraqi citizens are not waving American flags. They are strapping bombs to themselves just for the opportunity to detonate a few American servicemen with them.

The deterioration of Iraq serves as an unmistakable reminder of the flawed manner in which we carried out this mission. A global democracy works only when countries trust one another. America’s insistence on burrowing into Iraq without substantial proof that they possessed weapons of mass destruction frayed that trust, and will inevitably sew problems into our foreign relations missions for decades to come. It also served as a touchtone, uniting our enemies. The longer we stay, the more people will come from all over the world to fight us—not to fight for Iraq, but to fight against the United States.

During a recent press conference Donald Rumsfeld insisted that the insurgency lacks a galvanizing mission. That it is predicated merely upon brutal acts of violence, and therefore cannot sustain itself over the long haul. He has a point. He just misses it. The Iraqi insurgency isn’t about Islamic fundamentalism. It’s not even about fighting for independence. People have poured in form around the world to support them in the struggle to reject America’s superiority. As Samuel P. Huntington observed in The Clash of Civilizations: “The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.”

And indeed, the struggle not to be lorded over by America has proved quite galvanizing. Every day insurgents strap bombs to their bodies and detonate themselves in public squares. Get it? The insurgents are not trying to defeat us. They are willing to die, just to take some of us with them. We cannot win this kind of war of attrition. US soldiers are dying at a rate of one per day. Meanwhile the rest of the world is having trouble supporting the United States. You cannot lead in a global democracy, if people do not trust you. It is undeniable that we went about this in a very flawed manner. We need to admit that. We cannot solve the problem of terrorism by asserting our will on the world. Meanwhile, the deterioration of Iraq continues, serving as a sad reminder of the failed promise of this mission, and the need to pull out.