ollowing the elections in Iraq in January, President Bush warned, "Terrorists and insurgents will continue to wage their war. There's more distance to travel on the road to democracy." Whatever road we're on in Iraq, it's become littered with more and more bodies, and it remains uncertain just where that road will really lead or how much longer U.S. military forces must travail upon it.
One quite likely destination is civil war, no matter what U.S. forces may do or how long they may stay. One grim reality may be that Iraq's natural state is not that of one nation. The country was cobbled together in the first place. To crib Yeats, things may fall apart and the center will not hold. Sunnis may hunger too much for a return to power, Shiites for revenge and Kurds for a homeland.
Perhaps civil war can be trumped by the rapid formation of a strong central government, but at what cost to Sunnis or Kurds?
Dozens of Iraqis were killed by insurgent attacks Wednesday and again Thursday. As of this writing, the death toll from insurgent attacks for May was well over 400. The number of Americans killed in Iraq has quietly climbed to at least 1,611.
It's foolhardy to set some body-count trigger for U.S. withdrawal, or our adversaries only will be encouraged to kill faster to hasten a U.S. departure.
An arbitrary timetable setting out an "exit strategy" is just as likely to be incorporated into a strategy to simply wait us out. We face a cultural disadvantage where patience is involved.
Because of the slaughter and oppression Saddam Hussein visited on those who dared oppose him in his time of weakness following the 1991 Gulf War, a simple U.S. withdrawal has been deemed untenable, even unconscionable. But, with Saddam in custody and his hierarchy largely destroyed, would what might take place in the vacuum of a U.S. withdrawal be worse than what we've visited on the Iraqi people to date?
It may well be time to wonder whether the U.S. military presence in Iraq is what's holding the center or what's making things fall apart. Once left to stand on its own, will any Iraqi government coddled by U.S. military force ever be considered legitimate by the majority of the Iraqi people, and the broader Arab world?
Then again, having now imposed our will upon Iraq by military force, the United States may never be able to leave.
Remember that liberating the Iraqi people was a kind of "Plan C" for the invasion, once the imminent threat of weapons of mass destruction and the allegations of Saddam's intimate connection with terrorists dissolved.
When Americans beat the drums for war in post-9/11 shock, did they realize it was a cadence to which their grandchildren might have to march?
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER EDITORIAL BOARD MAY 15, 2005
© 1998-2005 Seattle Post-Intelligencer