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  No Easy Exit
by J. F. Kelly, Jr. [writer] 1/12/07

In at least one respect, President George W. Bush is a fortunate man. He is surrounded by military experts, not only the real ones in uniform, but the amateurs in Congress and in the press corps, not to mention the legions of retired generals working for think tanks and defense contractors. Trouble is, the daily advice, both solicited and unsolicited, he receives on how to prosecute our military efforts in Iraq ranges from get out now to stay forever if that is what it takes to achieve victory or success.

J.F. Kelly, Jr.

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

But what exactly do the terms victory and success mean and how will we know when we have achieved them? When will we know that the troops have accomplished their mission, at least to the degree that we can declare victory and start drawing down? Some say never. However, our Iraq campaign, now lengthier than our involvement in WW II, clearly cannot go on indefinitely given the declining support for it among Americans. Our troops should not be placed in that position. Refereeing a civil war and engaging in police action between rival armed gangs is bad enough. Doing it without support for their mission from a majority of the folks back home is asking too much. They are not complaining, of course; they’re too professional and disciplined for that but they should not be put in that position.

The troops performed their primary mission brilliantly, defeating Saddam Hussein’s forces, driving him from power, capturing him and turning him over to the Iraqi government for trial. It is not their fault that the country descended into lawlessness, sectarian violence, vendetta and civil war. Blame that on the Iraqis themselves and the blind hatred between Shiites and Sunnis that transcends any feelings of nationalism. Blame also our government’s naive belief that the Iraqis so yearned for democracy that they would put aside religious hatred and revenge and join together to build a model democracy in the very undemocratic Muslim Middle East. It is, instead, security they yearn for mostly. We failed to provide it and the Iraqi police seem incapable of dispensing it in an evenhanded manner. The people will, therefore, turn to their own gangs and militias for it.

What to do now? Will more troops help? Should ultimatums and deadlines be issued to the Iraqi government? Should we cut and run? The principal arguments against the latter are: (1) we have invested far too much blood and treasure to quit now; (2) it would be viewed as a defeat, the U.S. would suffer tremendous loss of credibility and we would never again be trusted by our friends or feared by our enemies and (3)Iraq would descend further into chaos allowing the majority Shiites to butcher the minority Sunni, prompting Saudi Arabia and other predominately Sunni nations to intervene to protect the Sunni and Iran to intervene on behalf of the Shiite government.

While I do not favor precipitous withdrawal, we learned in Economics 101 about the fallacious “sunk cost” argument, i.e., we have spent too much to pull out now. This, of course, is the gambler’s ultimate undoing. Every new decision needs to be based on current facts and odds, not how much has been spent. Those are sunk costs and should have no bearing on future decisions. This is tough to accept when part of that sunk cost is our over 3000 fallen warriors plus the many wounded. They, of course, are heroes whatever the politicians decide to do next. They did their duty.

With respect to the loss of American prestige, the trust of our friends and the victory claims of our enemies, this is all background noise. We must ultimately do what is in our best interest regardless of what our friends or enemies think or make of it.

As the world’s only superpower, we don’t have the luxury of letting others decide what is best for us. The buck stops with us in that regard. And whatever our enemies may claim, they know that they can never defeat us militarily. We must, therefore, use our strengths to our advantage and avoid being drawn into police and counter-insurgency actions where the terrorists have all the advantages while we try to play by polite rules of war, no longer entirely relevant in a war against religious fanatics.

Finally, the consequences of an abrupt withdrawal would be destabilizing for an already unstable region. I hesitate to use the overly-applied term “disastrous”, because Iraq is already a disaster of its own making. I personally believe that it will remain a disaster however long we stay except perhaps for the semi-autonomous Kurdish north and the relatively peaceful Shiite south. I continue to believe that a three-way partition or loose federation with some scheme for sharing oil revenue offers the best hope for that divided and troubled land, whatever Iraq’s neighbors or our State Department may think.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush has two more years as Commander-in-Chief to try to make lemonade out of these lemons. It would be helpful to our troops and to our international reputation, not to mention our chances for some sort of favorable outcome, if we could stop fighting among ourselves, put politics aside and unite behind this twice-elected president and wartime leader for the good of the country. We can believe, if we choose, that going into Iraq or staying there was a mistake but that doesn’t change the fact that we are there and there is no easy way out. CRO

copyright 2007 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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