We were early opponents of the US invasion of Iraq. Nonetheless, once American forces were committed, we hoped that our concerns would be proven wrong. That has not been the case.
The United States must now begin an orderly withdrawal of our forces from this mistaken foreign venture.
The justification for the war was based on false or falsified information. What had been initially characterized by the Bush administration as an uncomplicated military operation has turned into a violent quagmire. Our leaders underestimated not only the insurgency, but also the deep-rooted ethnic divisions in Iraqi society.
There are no clear answers from the administration or the Congress on how long our forces will need to stay in Iraq, what the anticipated costs in human life and treasure will be, or even what would constitute success.
Instead, many of our policymakers seem resigned to an open-ended occupation. Former Defense Undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz has told Congress that we will be there for at least another 10 years. It is common to hear even some who voted against the war say, ''now that we're there, we have no choice but to stay."
We very much disagree. Calls to maintain the status quo echo the same rationale used to keep us in Vietnam. To those who contend that we would weaken our credibility if we withdraw, we believe that the nation's standing would greatly improve if we demonstrate the judgment to terminate an unwise course.
Our continuing presence in Iraq feeds the insurgency and gives the insurgents a certain legitimacy in the eyes of much of the world. We know from our own history that armies of occupation are seldom welcome.
There have been elections in Iraq, and yet it remains unclear whether the different political, ethnic, and religious factions want to work together.
One thing, however, is clear: Washington cannot determine Iraq's destiny. It doesn't matter how many times Condoleezza Rice or Donald Rumsfeld visit. It doesn't matter how many soldiers we deploy. The myriad factions in Iraq themselves must display the political will to demand a system of government that respects the diversity that exists in their country.
There are no easy answers in Iraq. But we are convinced that the United States should now set a dramatically different course -- one that anticipates US military withdrawal sooner rather than later. We should begin the discussions now as to how we can bring our troops home.
The United States should accelerate and pay for the training of Iraqi security forces with the help of Egypt, Jordan, and other Arab allies. We can begin drawing down American forces to coincide with the number of trained Iraqi forces. By that measure, we should bring 30,000 of our troops home now.
President Bush should consult with the current Iraqi government and other Arab nations about the necessity for an Arab-led security force to complement the Iraqis in the short term. Again, the United States should finance this effort.
We should also work with the United Nations to solicit ideas and assistance from the international community on how we can best disengage.
There are no guarantees that militarily withdrawing from Iraq would contribute to stability or would not result in chaos. On the other hand, we do know that under our occupation the violence will continue.We also know that our occupation is one of the chief reasons for hatred of the United States, not only in the Arab world but elsewhere.
Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of. After two years in Iraq and the loss of more than 1,600 American soldiers, it is simply not enough to embrace the status quo.
We are not suggesting a ''cut-and-run" strategy. The United States must continue to finance security, training, and reconstruction.
But the combination of stubbornness and saving face is not an adequate rationale for continuing this war. This is not a liberal or conservative issue. It is time for lawmakers in Washington -- and for concerned citizens across the nation -- to demand that this sad chapter in our history come to an end and not be repeated in some other hapless country.
The path of endless war will bankrupt our treasury, devour our soldiers, and degrade the moral and spiritual values of the nation. It is past time to change course.
George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic nominee for president, represented South Dakota in the US Senate. Jim McGovern (no relation) represents the Massachusetts 3d Congressional District.
© 2005 Boston Globe