Editorial Roundup for Wednesday — November 23, 2005

• War in Iraq: Time to begin marching out


War in Iraq: Time to begin marching out

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 21

If the war in Iraq would capture Osama bin Laden and dismantle al-Qaida, it would be worth the sacrifice. But the war is inspiring new al-Qaida recruits and training them for action, and Osama is nowhere to be found.

If the war were helping persuade the people of the Middle East to choose freedom and modernity over medieval values, religious fanaticism and terror, it would be worth the sacrifice. But the war has alienated Muslims who see the war as an infidel invasion of their heartland.

If President George W. Bush’s idealistic vision of a democratic Middle East were attainable by invading a sovereign nation, it would be worth the sacrifice. But almost everyone, except for the president, has given up on that fantasy.

If our invasion of Iraq would unify the warring political and religious factions within the country, or bring stability, peace and prosperity to its citizens, it might be worth the sacrifice. But with final elections looming, there is no sign of an end to the internecine struggles.

If American soldiers weren’t dying at the rate of 1,000 a year, it would be worth the sacrifice. But having hundreds more of our young men and women blown up for an illdefined mission and unattainable goal is a travesty.

If the war in Iraq were making the United States safer from terror, it would be worth the sacrifice. But the war has sapped the strength of the most powerful military force in the world, tarnished our image of decency with the shame of Abu Ghraib and raised questions about the veracity of our leaders.

America’s national interest is not served by continuing the war, but by ending it. We share the sentiment ex-pressed by the Senate last week that 2006 must be a year of transition during which Iraqis take more responsibility for their own security and American troops begin to come home.

The United States cannot withdraw precipitously for fear of raising the the heat of the already simmering civil war. It would be dishonorable, and disastrous if we cut and run, leaving the country free of a tyrant, Saddam Hussein, but in many ways worse off than when we arrived. Nor should we set a precise timetable for withdrawal, lest it signal insurgents that their moment is at hand.

But President Bush should begin to withdraw large numbers of U.S. troops in response to Iraqi progress in setting up a government and training more troops. A majority of the 150,000 U.S. troops should be out of Iraq by the end of 2006.

A phased, but brisk, withdrawal might deepen the civil war in Iraq. But the lives of 1,000 or 2,000 or 3,000 more Americans and the limbs of 10,000 or 20,000 or 30,000 more are too precious to be wagered on the long shot of a democratic Iraq. If Iraq is to be democratic, Iraqis will have to make it that way.

If we are to prevail in the global struggle against terror, we must devise a global strategy in concert with other nations in terror’s grip. But this time, the strategy must be based on accurate intelligence and a clear understanding of the enemy — not on ideology, politics or fear.

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