President Bush should enjoy his victory celebration while he can. He will soon face the most determined antiwar movement since the 1960s.
The Iraq situation is becoming more and more reminiscent of the Vietnam disaster. American troops mostly stay in heavily fortified barracks. When they do venture out, their sweeps don't achieve durable pacification. Militants and young men of fighting age are long gone by the time American bombardments start.
The Iraqi casualties include women, children and old people, and the American casualties keep mounting. After the U.S. troops move out of an area, they leave in their wake new sympathizers and recruits for the insurgents. And the provisional Iraqi government is even less capable of maintaining order than its Vietnamese counterpart was.
It was Howard Dean's antiwar campaign last year that infused energy into rank-and-file Democrats. Antiwar sentiment among Democrats has been kept politely under wraps pending Election Day, but it hasn't gone away.
Democrats will now be liberated to mount full-blown protests, and Republicans will be on the defensive.
It was several years before opposition to the Vietnam War became a politically potent mainstream protest. This time, a new and mainstream antiwar movement will mature almost overnight.
MoveOn.org tried to help get John Kerry elected. Now it will be reborn as a grass-roots antiwar movement. Unlike the Vietnam protests, this one was mainstream from the beginning.
The Iraq occupation is one of the worst American blunders ever, as countless experienced diplomats and former intelligence officials keep pointing out.
There is no political support in either party to put in the number of troops necessary to secure the place. We can't even seal Iraq's borders, let alone hunt down insurgents. Our very presence is a recruiting poster for every
kind of anti-American militant.
Prominent critics of the war are counseling an early withdrawal. The Cato Institute, a prominent conservative and libertarian think tank, advocates a U.S. pullout.
Hawks insist that America, having made an epic blunder, must nonetheless stay the course, lest Bush's mistaken description of Iraq as a center of world terrorism mutate into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The hawks are right about the risks, but doves are right that the United States needs to exit.
The exit strategy, however, must include a long-term stabilization process, lest Iraq face anarchy and civil war or, worse, an Iraq-Iran regional alliance, perhaps with nuclear weapons. In this respect, Iraq is far more dangerous than Vietnam, where, to paraphrase Sen. George Aiken, we could declare defeat and go home without jeopardizing global security.
Bush's policy has turned Iraq into a far more dangerous place. That's why we need to combine a U.S. exit with an international stabilization effort. This policy shift would have been easier to achieve for John Kerry, who favored a
more multilateral approach. But even Bush will now face heavy pressure, Republican as well as Democratic, to cut American losses.
In Bush's second term, the neocon architects who got Bush and America into this calamity will likely lose influence. In Ronald Reagan's second term, the ferocious anti-Soviet rhetoric softened, traditional foreign policy realists took over and Reagan pursued detente. One hopes the same thing will happen with George W. Bush.
Bush has borrowed Kerry's proposal for a great-power summit. It's a good beginning -- but don't expect Europe to bail out Bush unless some humble pie is eaten.
A serious exit strategy would require the United States to finance much of the cost of a multinational peacekeeping force of at least a quarter-million troops, as well as economic reconstruction money, plus a major role for the United Nations. Can Bush swallow that?
He'd better. Most Americans will ultimately conclude: Better their boys than ours, particularly since Iraqis are much less likely to shoot at an international force. It's American presence that's the regional lightning rod.
Bush should also appreciate the fact that an early U.S. exit is better domestic politics and better Middle East politics. If he doesn't, he will face a massive popular movement to remind him, as well as growing defections in his own ranks.
The United Nations managed the Iraq situation far better than the Bush administration has, and the American people are getting very weary of this war. As his reward for winning reelection, Bush faces a suitable consequence for having gotten us unto this mess. He must now find a decent way out.
[The writer is co-editor of the American Prospect.]