Bring 'em home
Last year, John Kerry failed to give voters a real alternative about what to do in Iraq. The same John Kerry who, in the 1970s, asked congressmen to put themselves in the shoes of the last soldier to have to die in Vietnam, talked about the war in Iraq with less urgency. On Iraq, he offered himself as a smarter, more effective version of George Bush Jr.
It didn't work.
Bush won the election, leaving Kerry, after the fact, protesting that he and his colleagues who voted to authorize Bush's war had been misled. Kerry's running mate, John Edwards, has gone so far as to say that he made a mistake when he voted to give Bush the power to make war.
In the past month, John Murtha, an early supporter of the war and the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, stunned his colleagues by calling for a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq - the same position that caused Ohio's Dennis Kucinich to be ridiculed by politicians and Beltway pundits during the Democratic primaries.
And last week, Jonathan Tasini, an outspoken labor movement activist, said he would challenge Hillary Clinton in New York's Democratic primary on a progressive platform calling for U.S. troops to be brought home. "Senator Clinton is out of step with the values of a majority of New Yorkers," Tasini said. "While a majority of New Yorkers support an end to the war, Senator Clinton has repeatedly voiced her support for a war that continues to accumulate unacceptable costs ... "
But Sen. Clinton's unwillingness to take an unequivocal stand against the war has been shared by many leaders in the Democratic Party, including Evan Bayh and Joe Biden, two senators who, along with Clinton, have presidential aspirations in 2008. Indeed, until the last few weeks, Democratic Party leadership has been so closely aligned with Bush that the liberal magazine The Nation published an exasperated editorial declaring that it would refuse to endorse any Democrat who failed to take an anti-war stand.
For those of us who have been against the war in Iraq from the very beginning, who were able, through our own, independent sources of "intelligence" to find assertions that Saddam was a collaborator in Sept. 11 and an imminent threat with his own stockpiles of WMDs too doubtful to warrant an unprovoked attack, the tough-it-out posturing of elite Democrats has been confounding. Little better have been the Dems who have adopted a "we broke it, we bought it" attitude. People are dying. Our country's vital interests are being undermined. The world is being made more dangerous on a daily basis. It is clear we need to change, not stay, this course - no matter whose imperial ass gets uncovered.
But as clear as the need for American withdrawal is to some of us, others remain unconvinced. These folks offer a number of arguments which Michael Schwartz, the faculty director of the Undergraduate College of Global Studies at Stony Brook University, recently assembled in a Top 10 list. His entire text can be found at www.tomdispatch.com; I will try to summarize it.
Schwartz points out that Iraq is not getting better under U.S. occupation. Water, energy delivery, schools, hospitals, highways and oil production are all in worse shape now than they were before our invasion. Although elections have been a positive change, the Shiite/Kurdish coalition that won power promised to enforce a timetable for American withdrawal - a promise that has since been broken. Now, according to recent polls, about 70 percent of Shia Iraqis (or about 60 percent of the total population) favor U.S withdrawal. Broken promises and numbers like these suggest that the achievement of true democracy in Iraq is a pipedream as long as the U.S. remains an occupying force.
As to the argument that U.S. withdrawal would leave Iraq open to terrorist domination of Iraqi society, Schwartz writes, "The longer the U.S. stays, the more the Islamic terrorists there will gain strength; the sooner the U.S. leaves, the more quickly the resistance will subside, and - with it - support for terrorism."
Schwartz thinks the feared cost to our country's reputation of a retreat from Iraq might do more good than harm. The U.S. needs to be wary about sending troops abroad. "We would be much better off, I believe, with the multipolar world that many Americans advocate (and this administration loathes the very thought of), in which no single state could impose itself on others ..."
Schwartz goes on to note that a good whipping only incites terrorists. "Every serious scholar who studies terrorism agrees on this essential point: Terrorism arises from the misery that many people are forced to live in or in close proximity to."
This doesn't excuse terrorism, but it suggests a more effective way of fighting it. A U.N. report recently said that for $50 billion a year we could eradicate famines and mass starvation the world over. Compare those numbers with the $400 billion a year we spend on the defense budget, the $200 billion for the war in Iraq (so far) and the $80 billion now spent on the Department of Homeland Security.
"If the U.S. withdrew from Iraq," Schwartz writes, "it could fund an entire program to alleviate global suffering with but a modest portion of the money it saved, and start to reduce terrorism instead of increasing it."