Bring 'em homeDavid Hoppe

I voted for Dennis Kucinich in last week's primary election. I'm not sure what the final tally was - let's just say there were enough of us to populate a very small town. I am not partial to hopeless gestures. I am not even a big Dennis Kucinich fan. I voted for him because he is the one guy in the Democrats' field who has been saying, all along, that the U.S. has to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible.

I harbor no illusions about the political impact of my vote. In the scheme of things it probably meant nothing. Most people who even bothered to look at the results in the Democratic presidential column probably didn't bother reading past the names of Edwards and Dean. Kerry, of course, finished first.

Given the fact that the race to run against George Bush Jr. has been settled for weeks now, my voting for Kucinich meant nothing to anybody but me. But I felt like I had to do something and, last week, blacking out the bubble next to Kucinich's name was it.

I am not partial to hopeless gestures. I am not even a big Dennis Kucinich fan. I voted for him because he is the one guy in the Democrats' field who has been saying, all along, that the U.S. has to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible.

It seems to me it's time more people started saying the same thing: The U.S. has got to get out of Iraq.

One person, in particular, better start saying it: John Kerry.

On the night of the primary last week, I happened to see Kerry answering questions being posed to him by a group of teachers. The questions were supposed to be about education, but one of the teachers couldn't let her opportunity to talk about what matters most right now pass. She asked Kerry how he differs from Bush when it comes to Iraq. Kerry started by saying he's different because he wouldn't have gone to war the way Bush did. Then he said he would "internationalize" the war, meaning he would convince other countries to "share the burden."

This sounded like an improvement by degrees. It's not close to being good enough.

I didn't always think this was the case.

Like a lot of people, John Kerry included, I used to believe that since we were in Iraq we had an obligation to clean up the mess we had created there - to help restore a viable government, functioning infrastructure and something like a civil society. The reasons for doing these things were both moral and pragmatic. Having destabilized a totalitarian regime, it was important for us to do whatever we could to make that country stable again so that it wouldn't, in effect, become a second Iran.

But the things that need to happen in Iraq, if they are to be sustainable for even a short period of time, cannot be unilaterally imposed from the outside. To work, there has to be a significant measure of local support.

This is not happening, nor is it likely to happen.

It doesn't matter whether the brutalizing of Iraqi prisoners is an isolated case. What matters here is that Iraqi people have yet another reason to feel victimized by the United States. One can only guess how many Iraqi families, at this point, have lost loved ones to our "friendly" fire. In short, our credibility there is blown.

This means that none of the things we had hoped for from Iraq - including its transformation into an effective platform for a U.S. military presence in the region as well as a source of oil - are likely to be attainable without an even more awful cost in blood and money.

John Kerry should know this. What he fails, so far, to understand is that unless he offers a real alternative to George Bush, several things will happen. The first is that people who voted for him in the primaries will feel betrayed. Others will be driven toward the only antiwar candidate on the ballot, Ralph Nader. More still, especially the young, may not vote at all. And finally, George Bush may steal the initiative himself. As Charles Heyman, a senior defense analyst for Jane's Consultancy Group, wrote last week in the London Times: "It begins to look as though there is going to be a rather messy political solution to the whole affair, possibly brokered by the United Nations. Expect to see an agreement where both sides can claim some sort of victory, followed by a rather hasty withdrawal of coalition troops at some stage in the next six months."

John Kerry once asked his elders how they thought it would feel to be the last soldier to die in Vietnam. He, of all people, should be asking the same question now about the men and women serving in Iraq. How many more will have to be broken or killed before this war is declared over? Historians of the Vietnam War will tell you that conflict could have been ended in 1968 without an appreciable difference in the outcome - except that around 25,000 Americans, and God knows how many Vietnamese, would have been spared and walking among us today. John Kerry says he supports the troops? Then he should tell them - and us - that he'll bring them home.

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