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Archive for December, 2006

Course Ahead Should Be to Closest Exit

[Originally published in The Valley News.]

The Iraq Study Group’s report has made it quite clear that we are unlikely to find a way out of the Iraq quagmire that will satisfy the architects of our invasion. Even though researched and written by bipartisan subgroups, the conclusions and recommendations of the ISG paper have been attacked robustly, mostly by the far right and the Neocons, who clearly see some benefit in not changing course in Iraq — perhaps because they conceived, approved, promoted, sold and implemented it.

President Bush told us that he would carefully consider all the report’s recommendations, while acknowledging for the first time that we need to change course. Yet it would appear that he is still married to the amorphous concept of “winning.” In that context, he has said that the Iraqi security forces need to “stand up” and that the Iraqis need to accept responsibility for their own welfare. That is quite true, but in today’s Iraq, it probably represents a catalyst to more civil war rather than a path toward the kind of democratic state that might alter the region.

It is an unfortunate fact, one highlighted by the ISG report, that there is no silver bullet for Iraq. In fact, there is no viable option available to Bush other than getting out of Iraq with the goal of minimizing the damage inflicted on us and on our interests. Every other option has a string of disadvantages sufficient to warrant its rejection. The president is talking about a surge in troop levels while the Pentagon initially said that wouldn’t work. He talks of “standing up” the Iraqi army and police to provide security, but those organizations are riven with secular and ethnic divisions, making them unusable in resolving the ongoing civil war. The Jordanians, who have been training Iraqi police and troops, have been afraid to provide them with live ammunition for target practice, fearing they would shoot each other!

Bush finds himself in an untenable position. As a result of the Republican losses in the November elections, he now admits he needs to change our policy. Yet, if he chooses any new policy that leads anywhere other than to total victory, he will be conceding that the old policies were wrong and unworkable. Taken to its logical conclusion, he would be admitting that we never should have invaded Iraq in the first place and he is constitutionally incapable of doing that.

The new policy in Iraq will not be new, but rather a desperate attempt to vindicate the old, unworkable policy. We are gambling our resources, our troops and our military establishment to justify a failed policy. However much Bush wishes to avoid the process of admitting he is clinging to a failed policy, he has to realize that he is working in the aftermath of the November elections, which were essentially a referendum that rejected his Iraq policy and lost his party control of both the House and the Senate. One suspects that the postponement of his announcement of a “new plan” until January is the result of his inability to find a viable course of action.

So he hopes to find an answer, but wishing won’t make it so, not even for a president. The situation in Iraq is intractable. It almost certainly will play out according to some mysterious and unpredictable indigenous process over which he has no control. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the United States will benefit in any way at its conclusion. Not only is our simple presence in Iraq causing immeasurable harm there, it is doing us great damage in our struggle with terrorism and in our relationships throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world. We are losing friends and gaining enemies.

Our departure will cause major problems in Iraq and perhaps in the Middle East, but those will be national and regional problems best addressed by Iraq and its neighbors. Sadly, our presence there is the primary impediment to a real solution.

To continue this adventure — and continue accepting our mounting human, political and financial losses — is the height of folly.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in the Middle East, East and West Europe and as chief of the counterterrorism staff. He lives in Williston, Vt.

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