If you are apt to believe the Bush administration – an increasingly dubious proposition these days – the reason we went into Iraq, in defiance of the United Nations Security Council and against the better judgment of most of our international allies, was to topple Saddam Hussein and round up all of his weapons of mass destruction. As it became more and more clear that Hussein’s cache of WMDs was mostly a fiction that he helped perpetuate, the Bush administration stressed the importance of “freedom” for the Iraqi people as the chief rationale for the massive invasion.
But what does it mean to give the Iraqi people “freedom?” Does it mean freedom of the press? If so, we are not off to a very good start. Does it mean that they will be free to vote for whoever they want to be their next leader? Clearly not. We have no intention of allowing someone with ties to Hussein’s Baathist Party to return to power, no matter how popular they might be. Likewise, we would shun any effort to install an anti-American cleric in the top job. We could not consider this whole venture a success if Iraq turned into a mirror of Iran with a band of fundamentalist mullahs calling the shots.
No, the people of Iraq are only free to do the things that we want them to do. That is what an occupying army does in a country. It’s not there to protect the people, but to control them. No wonder we have worn out our welcome so quickly, if we were ever welcome at all.
One year after the fall of Baghdad, the situation in Iraq looks worse than ever. News reports say more than 70 coalition troops have been killed since April 1. Bandits roam the streets at will taking hostages and threatening supply routes. The safety of our troops and civilian workers in Iraq has been seriously compromised. Military leaders in Iraq are once again seeking additional forces.
Rather than sending in more troops in a desperate effort to squash a popular uprising, we need to reverse course and start backing out of Iraq. Whatever grandiose goals the Bush administration had for a post-war Iraq just aren’t working out. Whether or not toppling Saddam was worth the lives of more than 600 U.S. troops and more than a $100 billion can be debated ad nauseum. But we can no longer afford to stay bunkered down there bleeding 5, 10, 15 casualties a day waiting for the Bush administration to come up with new face-saving excuses.
I don’t care if some people think this will make us look weak. The fact is that we are weak right now. The Bush administration has weakened our nation by bogging down most of our military in this Iraqi quagmire. They have weakened us by driving up the federal deficit and making us more and more dependent upon foreign creditors. They have damaged our relationships with a vast number of our traditional allies. Pulling out may look weak to some, but most will recognize it as a necessary course correction, with the next needed change following this November on election day.