Of course I'm liberal, I believe in liberty.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Iraq, Is There a Way Out?

I'm pretty hawkish as liberals go. I supported Gulf War I, Kosovo and Afghanistan and would have supported intervening in Rwanda and, perhaps, Sudan. But not Iraq. It isn't that I disagreed with the desired end result; the replacement of Saddam Hussein with Democracy while establishing a beacon freedom in the Middle East is a fine goal, just not a realistic one. Heaven knows if I had the same rose-colored glasses as worn by Paul Wolfowitz I would have been in favor of the war as well, but these neo-cons are idealists of the worst kind. Kevin Drum reminds us how far removed these guys were from reality with Wolfowitz' congressional testimony before the war:
Mr. Wolfowitz...opened a two-front war of words on Capitol Hill, calling the recent estimate by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki of the Army that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in postwar Iraq, "wildly off the mark." Pentagon officials have put the figure closer to 100,000 troops.

....In his testimony, Mr. Wolfowitz ticked off several reasons why he believed a much smaller coalition peacekeeping force than General Shinseki envisioned would be sufficient to police and rebuild postwar Iraq. He said there was no history of ethnic strife in Iraq, as there was in Bosnia or Kosovo.

He said Iraqi civilians would welcome an American-led liberation force that "stayed as long as necessary but left as soon as possible," but would oppose a long-term occupation force. And he said that nations that oppose war with Iraq would likely sign up to help rebuild it. "I would expect that even countries like France will have a strong interest in assisting Iraq in reconstruction," Mr. Wolfowitz said. He added that many Iraqi expatriates would likely return home to help.

....Enlisting countries to help to pay for this war and its aftermath would take more time, he said. "I expect we will get a lot of mitigation, but it will be easier after the fact than before the fact," Mr. Wolfowitz said. Mr. Wolfowitz spent much of the hearing knocking down published estimates of the costs of war and rebuilding, saying the upper range of $95 billion was too high....Moreover, he said such estimates, and speculation that postwar reconstruction costs could climb even higher, ignored the fact that Iraq is a wealthy country, with annual oil exports worth $15 billion to $20 billion. "To assume we're going to pay for it all is just wrong," he said.
Sigh... Is it possible to be more wrong than this?

However, I've also been in the "you break it, you buy it" camp, believing that now we are in we must win. Most of the negatives have already occurred, Bin Laden got his recruitment and propaganda machine, the U.S. lost its moral authority in the world, our military is completely tied up and unable to respond to any emergency, etc. I never thought this war was worth the risk, but now that we are there and suffered the negative we should win and reap the positive. But all that assumes the war is still winnable. Problem is, I'm not so sure it is. How do we get out gracefully while minimizing the damage to both ourselves and Iraq? Until today I hadn't had a clue.

But something changed today that may be just what we need and Bush should take advantage of a new development. According to this report leading Sunnis with end their boycott of the Iraqi elections if the U.S. provides a timetable for withdrawal:
Iraq's most influential Sunni group will abandon its call for a boycott of Jan. 30 elections if the United States gives a timetable for withdrawing multinational forces, a spokesman for the group said Sunday.

Members of the powerful Association of Muslim Scholars relayed their request to a senior U.S. embassy official at a meeting Saturday, the Sunni official said on condition of anonymity.

The meeting was confirmed Saturday by U.S. Embassy spokesman Bob Callahan, who said an unnamed senior embassy official in Iraq met with leading association members in an effort to persuade them to participate in the landmark election for a constitutional assembly.

Callahan described the meeting as an "exchange of views" but would not elaborate. He said U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte was not present.

It is extremely unlikely the United States would consider giving a timetable for a withdrawal.

In the election — the first democratic vote in Iraq since the country was formed in 1932 — the Sunnis are certain to lose their dominance to the Shiites, who comprise 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people.
Bush should take this compromise. Agreeing to a timetable now is far superior than the "declare victory and retreat" option somewhere down the line. We need the Sunnis to participate in the election for Iraqi Democracy to stand a chance. There is even some possibility that a U.S. withdrawal will end most of the fighting, though I'll admit my own rose-colored glasses may be involved in that assessment. But the fighting among Iraqi's should decrease with both elected Sunnis in power and no U.S. to pick on. Heck, in the worse case scenario the freely elected Iraqi government could always invite us back in if all hell breaks loose.

I don't see a whole lot of good ways out of Iraq, but this may be a unique opportunity for a less-bad way out. Bush should go for it.