Jewish World Review Nov. 24, 2003 / 29 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764
The Guantanamo solution
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | While Americans are patient with George Bush, even with the incessant drip of deaths, they will not be willing to put up with many more months of combat casualties. To ask them to do so would be to strain our resolve and sap our strength. It would squander the determination Sept. 11 left in our national soul to see the war on terror to its conclusion.
The difference between Iraq and Vietnam is that the Asian war lasted for a decade and consumed 58,000 American lives while the Iraq conflict has lasted for only a few months and tragically killed 330 U.S. troops. To let this bloodshed drag on for many more months would be to risk the same national alienation that marked the Vietnam era.
The solution is, of course, to turn over the administration of Iraq and its government to Iraqi hands as soon as possible. President Bush is correct in demanding of Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, that it be done quickly. He is right for ordering that the turnover begin even before elections can be held. But he is wrong to insist that the U.S. forces stay, en masse, until democracy is created.
The ultimate answer is to withdraw most American troops from Iraq even before perfection sets in - while preserving a base in the Baghdad area with 30,000 or so American troops to keep an eye on the troubled country. This base should be self-contained, as is the U.S. outpost in Cuba at Guantanamo, with troops never venturing into the surrounding country. It should be possible to develop a sufficiently secure perimeter under these conditions to stop ongoing casualties.
Should things get worse in Iraq or the Baath Party leaders come back into power, the United States could easily intervene. Otherwise, let the Iraqis decide their own fate. Iraqis have been killing one another for centuries, and we should not make it our mission to restore a perfect peace.
Nothing will help Bush's reelection chances more than the withdrawal of significant numbers of troops from Iraq before Election Day. With a good economy and troops coming home, what is the opposition to use against him but the memory of a recession and questions about whether we should have decided to fight the war initially? Memory makes a terrible basis for a political campaign.
In his 2000 presidential campaign, Bush was quite clear in his opposition to nation-building. He argued that it squandered our resources, stretched our military too thin and undermined our combat readiness. He was right then, and his argument bears special weight now. If nation-building, at no price, was wrong in his view in Bosnia, how can it be right now in Iraq at a huge cost of American lives?
Presidents must always make sure not to become stuck in a situation where events spin beyond their control. Harry Truman in Korea, Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam, Richard Nixon in Watergate, Jimmy Carter in the Iran hostage crisis, the first George Bush in the recession and Bill Clinton in impeachment all serve as examples.
The president must not become stuck in Iraq. He needs to avoid a commitment to a utopian ending and settle for what is possible within pragmatic limits.
It was very important to topple Saddam Hussein. It is crucial that his ilk not be allowed back in power in Iraq. However, it is not nearly as important that Iraq become a model for the Middle East. We all wish it were so, but the price in lives may be too high for us to tolerate.
The Guantanamo solution protects our vital interests at no cost in American lives, even as it contemplates an imperfect end to the Iraq war. Bush's invasion is amply justified by the fact that one of the most horrific leaders since Hitler is now removed from power. An ongoing U.S. military presence in the region will ensure that he will continue to be deprived of the power to torture, maim, gas and kill his countrymen.
Only in fairy tales do the protagonists live happily ever after. Wars are messy, with endings that are less soothing. But it is not worth the price in national treasure or combat casualties to seek such a conclusion.
Good enough will have to do.
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