BAGHDAD, IRAQ: A group of US Army First Armoured Division soldiers survey the scene where a car bomb exploded in front of a hotel killing at least four people on January 28, 2004. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
NOTE: I wrote the following column sometime in July or August of 2007, and emailed it to Keven Ann Willey, who headed the editorial board at the Dallas Morning News. I was trying to land a gig as a columnist and opinion writer at the News at the time. It was one of two columns that I wrote to provide samples of my current news writing skills for her. I didn’t get the gig, but every time I run into this piece (in my computer files), I have a chance to tell myself that I was pretty much on target. I hope you agree. Here it is for your perusal.
Message for Hillary, Barack
The message that I repeatedly hear during your latest debates tells me that both of you, if elected to lead our country during the next four or more years, are ready to almost immediately begin to pull our troops from Iraq.
My suggestion: Don’t do it. Eventually, yes. But, not right away.
Just in case you aren’t aware, America is the de facto policeman of the world. We’ve been that in the past and we continue to be that today. And many civilized nations around the globe, the ones that would rather opt to look the other way than to face trouble, would like us to continue to be that forever. As long as it doesn’t affect them – or their political friends.
The world’s cop? That’s America. We went after the gig and we got it.
Of course, if you were to insist on your election rhetorical promises, I would like to add to my suggestion: Exit strategies are a bummer. Most of the time, it is the end of the line. A step in the unwanted direction, if you will. A save face kind of action. A statement: Our time has run out.
In everyday life, exit strategies are often the unexpected detours on the paths of good intentions. Failed business ventures, failed marriages. Failed relationships.
On the positive side, exit strategies are also built into plans of individuals and public or business entities to determine the next steps to be followed after a set of actions take place. Once such and such objectives are achieved, “I will look for another job,” might say the young, thriving manager seeking higher-level responsibilities. Once the goals of the new venture are met, “we will return to the drawing board to develop new ideas,” we might be told by the group working out of the box in a cutting edge corporation. The strategies are part of the plan. The next step is built into them. Success is the determining factor.
Not so with war. Unless we completely annihilate the enemy – which is not what civilized nations do in our modern, politically correct world – the victors are usually left holding a lose-lose bag of complications that were not anticipated. And there are no spoils. Only infrastructure that requires rebuilding. And destroyed relationships.
Towards the end of the Vietnam conflict, President Nixon and his advisors came up with “Peace with honor,” an exit strategy designed to help us save face as we gave in to the communist North. Within a few years, the South fell. Our former allies ended up with no peace, we ended up with no honor.
Turn the clock forward to Iraq. Shortly after the beginning of the current conflict there, we deposed Saddam. Although unable to confirm the existence of weapons of mass destruction – the excuse we had to place our soldiers in harm’s way – our President, after flying shotgun and landing on a carrier, declared that the war in Iraq had been won. He was wrong. Close to five years later, war is still being waged there. And instead of being the saviors, we are now the enemy.
As we got rid of Saddam, we unleashed the uncompromising and divisive groups that the ruthless dictator had kept dormant – by many counts, irrational, religious and ethnic zealots who are now fighting each other for control of their country. And their oil.
After more than 3,000 of our own soldiers – and more than half a million Iraqis, according to some sources – have perished during our attempt to bring democracy and peace to Iraq, we find ourselves asking whether the time has come to leave that convoluted battleground.
From this vantage point, I only see two reasonable political, slash, military options as we examine the unending violence that has ravaged this Middle Eastern nation, especially after we went in there to supposedly save it from Saddam.
Option one: Maintain our built-up military presence there and continue to attempt to bring the insurgent factions into submission. To be successful, we must force the current Iraqi leaders to form a coalition government that better represents the rights of all the people. Our stance needs to be coupled with a tough, determined campaign aimed at disarming civilians and other non-military Iraqis.
Option two: Leave. And let the Iraqis fend for themselves.
Collateral damage, option one: We will continue to place more of our young in harm’s way for a dubious cause. The odds are that this ethnically and religiously split nation – united by French and British mandates after World War I – will not be put together again, unless another ruthless despot like Saddam rises from the distraught masses and manages to take over the reins of the country – with our blessing.
Collateral damage, option two: America, the lone superpower, the policeman of the world, fails to win a mini-war again. And if we leave, who is going to protect Iraq’s oil wells, to insure that they continue to quench our energy needs?
Exit strategies are a bummer.