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Issue Date:  December 15, 2006

Iraq report step in right direction

The Iraq Study Group Report is many things: the realist response to neoconservative adventurism, a devastating critique of a miserably failed policy, and a call for diplomacy and politics to supplant arms as the key weapon in the arsenal of the world’s only superpower in the planet’s most volatile region.

Yes, it is all of those things. And more.

The bipartisan American political establishment has sued for peace. “The ability of the United States to shape outcomes is diminishing,” said the 10-member commission. “Time is running out.” Indeed.

The war is lost. Now the endgame.

Here’s the best case scenario: “Our most important recommendations call for new and enhanced diplomatic and political efforts in Iraq and the region, and a change in the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly. We believe that these two recommendations are equally important and reinforce one another. If they are effectively implemented, and if the Iraqi government moves forward with national reconciliation, Iraqis will have an opportunity for a better future, terrorism will be dealt a blow, stability will be enhanced in an important part of the world, and America’s credibility, interests and values will be protected.”

The worst case scenario: a full-blown civil war escalating into widespread conflict in which regional powers (Iran, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, the Gulf States) exploit sectarian divisions in their oil-rich neighbor.

It’s a far cry from what we and the Iraqis were promised.

“In Iraq,” the president told an American Enterprise Institute audience a month before the U.S.-led invasion, “a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world -- and we will not allow it. This same tyrant has close ties to terrorist organizations, and could supply them with the terrible means to strike this country -- and America will not permit it.”

He continued, “We will provide security against those who try to spread chaos, or settle scores, or threaten the territorial integrity of Iraq. We will seek to protect Iraq’s natural resources from sabotage by a dying regime, and ensure those resources are used for the benefit of the owners -- the Iraqi people.”

In November 2003, before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the president offered his vision: “Iraqi democracy will succeed -- and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Tehran -- that freedom can be the future of every nation,” the president declared. “The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.”

All of this, every word, we now know was wrong. Terrible lies, invincible ignorance, gross misjudgments, amazing incompetence? It hardly matters now.

“Sixty-one percent of Iraqis approve of attacks on U.S.-led forces,” said the Baker-Hamilton report. They want us dead.

History, the president has said repeatedly, will vindicate his decision to invade a country that posed no threat to the United States. He’s wrong about that too.

It is more likely, in fact, that history will look back at our late-20th-century and early-21st-century American forays into the cradle of civilization as equal parts hubris born of twisted idealism (“the New World Order” and the “global democratic revolution”) and the desire to maintain a free flow of a resource -- oil -- the West needs to maintain itself. No less a supporter of Bush II’s war than New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman said as much in the run up to the most recent conflict. “Is the war that the Bush team is preparing to launch in Iraq really a war for oil?” asked Friedman. “My short answer is yes. Any war we launch in Iraq will certainly be in part about oil. To deny that is laughable.”

Yet we hardly acknowledge as a culture how deeply our dependence on Middle East oil shapes our approach to the world, twisting our logic and driving us to senseless wars.

The recent congressional elections demonstrated a determination by the public to move away from the extremes, effectively rejecting the flawed rationale for the war in Iraq and the arrogance that made it possible.

The dismissal of the war’s architect, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and the arrival on the scene of the Iraq Study Group, represent a further expression of the sentiment. The responsible middle has issued a stinging bipartisan assessment of the war to date and options on where to go from here that will require a far more realistic approach to Iraq than the administration has been willing to take.

“Our nation’s military forces should remain in Iraq only as long as their presence contributes to a responsible transition,” Bishop William Skylstad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement released last month. “Our nation should look for effective ways to end their deployment at the earliest opportunity consistent with this goal.”

That sentiment was echoed by the Baker-Hamilton Commission, which said that such a “responsible transition” can occur by the first quarter of 2008, at which point most U.S. combat troops could be recalled. We think it should be done faster, but we’re grateful that those viewed as responsible mainstream members of the American elite have set a de facto deadline.

“Violence and arms can never resolve the problems of man,” Pope John Paul II said as the United States began its invasion of Iraq.

He was right.

National Catholic Reporter, December 15, 2006

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