Why shouldn't America just leave Iraq?
This has become the latest question that no true-blooded patriotic American must ask. It's in keeping with the emerging standard of contemporary debate: Discuss anything except the most essential issue of the day.
You might recall the previous question in this series: Why attack Iraq? The question touched upon our very character as a nation and our future as a moral force in the world. But the hawks deftly repositioned it as a litmus test of patriotism: Only a bad American would dare ask such a thing, they propounded.
Americans who pressed the question anyway were derided as heartless pacifists insensitive to the victims of Sept. 11, leftist traitors, vile liberals interested only in embarrassing President Bush or selfish elitists unwilling to fight tyranny and spread democracy far and wide.
Lost amid the ridicule was the fact that the administration had presented no hard evidence in answer to the question, Why attack Iraq?
Weapons of mass destruction? None have been found. A threat to America? No evidence of it. A blow against terrorism? Terrorist attacks continue apace. A direct connection to the Sept. 11 criminals? After 20 months of cultivating that very impression, Bush now blithely claims his administration never suggested such a thing.
Our reward for our unwillingness to debate that core question is 310 dead and more than 1,000 wounded American soldiers and a bill about to soar to $165 billion -- money that could have underwritten an awful lot of jobs, healthcare coverage and teachers' salaries in this country.
Why not just leave Iraq? has become the new how-dare-you-ask question.
The Bush administration assured us the Iraq invasion wasn't about oil or profits. We supposedly invaded to eliminate an evil, dangerous tyrant and give his people a chance at freedom and democracy. Hasn't that mission been accomplished? Saddam Hussein and his government have been toppled.
Why stay? Why not end this costly occupation and focus our energies where they should have been all along: On the battle against terrorism? Let the United Nations guide the rebuilding of Iraq and the establishment of democracy -- it seems to want the job. Our military presence is an obvious provocation to the terrorist element. Why not hand over security obligations to a multinational peacekeeping force?
Because the Bush administration's true purpose in invading Iraq had little to do with security, tyranny or democracy; it was to gain military, political and economic leverage over a key region of the Middle East. Bush won't give up control of Iraq until a government is established that will guarantee unfettered American access and influence.
Yet trying to discern a frank discussion of the ramifications of a pullout is like trying to hear a whisper in a subway train. The Senate seems poised to approve most if not all of Bush's $87 billion war budget request. Even anti-war Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean hasn't mustered the nerve to call for a troop pullout.
Why has the American public tolerated this regrettable evasion of the essential questions regarding Iraq? Undoubtedly because a fearless discussion could lead us to the most unpleasant of conclusions: that the Bush administration is engaged in a campaign of American neo-imperialism. Better to simply avoid the question than ponder that troubling hypothesis.
I'm not talking about packing up and leaving in 48 hours; the resulting vacuum would create unimaginable chaos. Rather, Bush could announce that America's job is done and expedite the transfer of responsibilities in Iraq to the U.N. Our soldiers could be home by Christmas.
An American departure would put more pressure on the Iraqi people to build a functional, democratic nation. But at some point, they'll have to shoulder the burden and accept the risks of shaping their own future.
The Iraqi people now have their chance to build a tyranny-free future. We should let them, and go home.
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