News & Opinion » Columns

Urban journal - 12.07.05


Time for us to go

It's taken me a while to reach this point, but I've stopped wrestling with myself: I'm with Congressman John Murtha. It's time to start leaving Iraq.

We shouldn't have attacked Iraq. Many of us knew that, and argued against the war plan. Once in, though, there didn't seem a logical way to leave. How could we abandon the Iraqis?

Frankly, we abandoned them the moment the Senate irresponsibly gave the Bush warriors the green light. Now, we have to move, as quickly as we can, to stop the pain.

I was impressed by Murtha's pull-out stand, to be sure, but I was still conflicted. My turning point: An NPR interview with retired Lieutenant General and former National Security Agency director William Odom, aired December 2 on Morning Edition.

The United States is "sitting on a powder keg," said Odom. "By staying in there, we make the situation worse."

If we leave, asked NPR's Steve Inskeep, won't Iraq dissolve into chaos?

"You will have chaos no matter if we pull out now or we pull out eight or 10 years from now," said Odom.

The war, insisted Odom, was a terrible mistake from the outset: "From a strategic viewpoint," he said, "it was not in our interest to invade. It was in Al Qaeda's interest for us to invade, because it made Iraq safe for Al Qaeda. It was in Iran's interest for us to invade Iraq, because overthrowing Saddam was something they fought for eight years to do and failed."

"Once we crossed the boundary," said Odom, "we were doing the work of our enemies."

Al Qaeda is despised by many Iraqis, he said, and if we leave, it will be "run out of the country." Kurds, Shiites, and Iranians: all hate Al Qaeda, said Odom. "The Bathist party detested Al Qaeda until we invaded and they found them convenient partners in the insurgency."

"Staying in keeps us in there training these terrorists, giving them opportunities to attack us," said Odom. And after they learn, he said, they can go to other countries and commit terrorist attacks.

There'll be no democracy in Iraq, Odom insisted, no matter how long we stay. "That was a misguided goal when we went in," he said. "It doesn't become more sensible because it's asserted with more vigor today."

Instead, he said, Iraq will have either "a Sunni-Bathist-secular tyranny" or a "Shiite-IslamicRepublic tyranny."

Odom predicts that if we leave soon, car bombings and other terrorist tactics will decline, replaced with "militia versus militia" fighting, "as you've seen in Lebanon and other kinds of places."

"You're saying just let it happen?" asked Inskeep.

"We don't have an option," said Odom. "That's going to happen if we stay another 10 years. We have caused things to move on a particular track that we cannot reverse."

"The first rule when you try to get out of a hole," said Odom, "is to stop digging. We are digging vigorously."

Ours will not be a pretty exit. Undoubtedly, as Odom predicts, there is pain and suffering ahead for Iraqis, as there was under Saddam Hussein. And undoubtedly, 30 years from now, critics will say that we abandoned the Iraqis, that we could have won the war, that if we had stayed and fought rather than cut and run, the Iraqis --- and much of the Middle East --- would be living in democracy. Clearly, Odom doesn't believe that.

But it's probably moot; we won't be leaving Iraq. Not under the Bush administration. Even more depressing than Odom's interview is Seymour Hersh's article in the December 5 New Yorker. Hersh quotes an unnamed Pentagon adviser who says Bush "is not going to back off," regardless of pressure from Congress and the public. "This is bigger than domestic politics," the source told Hersh.

A former senior administration official "spoke extensively about the connection between the president's religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq," wrote Hersh. Bush, said the official, has said that God put him in office to fight terrorism, and that his re-election was "another manifestation of divine purpose."

That is a terrifying delusion. And here's more: Hersh says the president will indeed start pulling some US troops out of Iraq: ground troops. They'll be replaced by air troops, according to Hersh's sources in the Pentagon.

That would reduce the number of American casualties. But it would increase the number of civilian casualties. And Iraqis would determine the targets, writes Hersh, leaving the door wide open for warring factions to call in air strikes not only on insurgents but on one another.