Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Iraq Dilemma

We need to get out, but dare we leave behind a failed state?

Colin Powell's "China Shop" principle on invading Iraq has by now become a well worn cliche, but the principle holds true nonetheless: "You break it, you own it."

Powell warned George W. Bush about the danger of breaking Iraq well before the invasion, but Bush dismissed Powell's counsel and broke Iraq anyway. Now we own it. That is the essence of the nasty mess in which we now find ourselves.

Taking stock of our unwanted property is discouraging: The constitution writing process in Iraq is in shambles, with the Shiites and Kurds unwilling to compromise with the Sunnis. The U.S. death toll nears the 2000 mark. The insurgency is well entrenched and more deadly than ever. Shiite militias rule the south. The U.S. military is stretched almost to the breaking point and desperately wants to begin a discrete exit, but still needs to appear resolute. President Bush says that as Iraqi forces are able to stand up, U.S. forces will stand down, but the number of Iraqi forces able to fight without U.S. assistance is dismally low. The President's approval ratings are in the toilet, and Americans are drawing parallels between Iraq and Vietnam.

Meanwhile the people of Iraq are caught in a violent maelstrom of bombings, assassinations and instability. The electricity won't stay on and the oil won't flow. More than two years after Bush's strutting about under a "Mission Accomplished" banner, Iraq is in chaos. In 2004 the CIA described three possible scenarios for the future of Iraq; one of them was that the country would descend into civil war. That outcome seems as likely as ever.

This is the place that we broke and now own.

President Bush still insists in equating the war in Iraq with the war on terror. He is correct in but this one respect: If Iraq becomes a failed state--a very real possibility--then it will surely be a hotbed of terrorist activity after the model of Afghanistan in the 1990s. As such, it will constitute a much greater threat to the United States than it ever was under Saddam Hussein. That is the real dilemma of Iraq: We've made a mess that we can't clean up, but in walking away we will leave behind a place from which future threats against the U.S. will continue to fester.

In this way Bush's misbegotten war has cost us dearly in not only blood and treasure, but indeed our very security.

Copyright (C) 2005 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved


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