We must withdraw our military from Iraq, the sooner the better. The reason is simple: Our presence there is a disaster for the American people and an even bigger disaster for the Iraqi people.
It is a strange logic to declare, as so many in Washington do, that it was wrong for us to invade Iraq but right for us to remain. A recent New York Times editorial sums up the situation accurately: ``Some 21 months after the American invasion, United States military forces remain essentially alone in battling what seems to be a growing insurgency, with no clear prospect of decisive success any time in the foreseeable future.''
And then, in an extraordinary non sequitur: ``Given the lack of other countries willing to put up their hands as volunteers, the only answer seems to be more American troops, and not just through the spring, as currently planned. . . . Forces need to be expanded through stepped-up recruitment.''
Here is the flawed logic: We are alone in the world in this invasion. The insurgency is growing. There is no visible prospect of success. Therefore, let's send more troops? The definition of fanaticism is that when you discover that you are going in the wrong direction, you redouble your speed.
In all of this, there is an unexamined premise: that military victory would constitute ``success.''
Conceivably, the United States, possessed of enormous weaponry, might finally crush the resistance in Iraq. The cost would be great. Already, tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, have lost their lives (and we must not differentiate between ''their'' casualties and ''ours'' if we believe that all human beings have an equal right to life.) Would that be a ``success''?
In 1967, the same arguments that we are hearing now were being made against withdrawal in Vietnam. The United States did not pull out its troops for six more years. During that time, the war killed at least one million more Vietnamese and perhaps 30,000 U.S. military personnel.
We must stay in Iraq, it is said again and again, so that we can bring stability and democracy to that country. Isn't it clear that after almost two years of war and occupation we have brought only chaos, violence and death to that country, and not any recognizable democracy?
Can democracy be nurtured by destroying cities, by bombing, by driving people from their homes?
There is no certainty as to what would happen in our absence. But there is absolute certainty about the result of our presence -- escalating deaths on both sides.
The loss of life among Iraqi civilians is especially startling. The British medical journal Lancet reports that 100,000 civilians have died as a result of the war, many of them children. The casualty toll on the American side includes more than 1,350 deaths and thousands of maimed soldiers, some losing limbs, others blinded. And tens of thousands more are facing psychological damage in the aftermath.
Have we learned nothing from the history of imperial occupations, all pretending to help the people being occupied?
The United States, the latest of the great empires, is perhaps the most self-deluded, having forgotten that history, including our own: our 50-year occupation of the Philippines, or our long occupation of Haiti (1915-1934) or of the Dominican Republic (1916-1924), our military intervention in Southeast Asia and our repeated interventions in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.
Our military presence in Iraq is making us less safe, not more so. It is inflaming people in the Middle East, and thereby magnifying the danger of terrorism. Far from fighting ''there rather than here,'' as President Bush has claimed, the occupation increases the chance that enraged infiltrators will strike us here at home.
In leaving, we can improve the odds of peace and stability by encouraging an international team of negotiators, largely Arab, to mediate among the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds and work out a federalist compromise to give some autonomy to each group. We must not underestimate the capacity of the Iraqis, once free of both Saddam Hussein and the U.S. occupying army, to forge their own future.
But the first step is to support our troops in the only way that word support can have real meaning -- by saving their lives, their limbs, their sanity. By bringing them home.
Howard Zinn is author of the best-selling A People's History of the United States.
© 2005 Miami Herald