The Bush Administration's "stay the course" prescription for the Iraq War promises to keep us militarily engaged there for years to
come. Yet the Democrats in Washington have put forward no coherent alternative. Each day that we "stay the course" the death toll
mounts and we come no closer to a solution. It seems that we can't rely on our national leaders to get us out of this morass. It's
time for the American people to start formulating exit plans and pushing our representatives to consider them.
No matter what course we choose in Iraq, it's going to be a rough road. Iraq has been destroyed past the point of any quick fix and
is headed in the direction of becoming a failed state (one in which the central government has little practical control over much of
its territory and cannot perform basic functions such as education and security). Some foreign policy analysts predict that a civil
war will ensue if the U.S. troops pull out immediately; others say the likelihood of civil war increases the longer the occupation
continues. Despite disagreement by the experts, in poll after poll a solid majority of Americans are shown to support an immediate
or gradual withdrawal of U.S. Troops
How can we begin to tackle the seemingly impossible question of getting out of Iraq? Any solution will require a radical shift in
U.S. policymakers' thinking and strategy. First, they must accept that the U.S. is not winning militarily and will not win
regardless of how many troops we send or how long they stay. History has shown that an occupying power cannot beat a determined
insurgency that has the support of the local population. We must redefine our notion of victory. Rather than vowing to stay until we
have militarily defeated the insurgency, we must look for ways to get out with the least possible harm to everyone involved.
A workable exit strategy requires the type of bold initiatives that stretch our collective imagination. We have to re-think military
strategy, our definitions of "friends" and "enemies," our perception of the US's role in the affairs of other nations, and war
itself as a legitimate tool of foreign policy.
The first step in winding down the war is to scale back the activity of U.S. Troops Halt the door-to-door raids, pull out of
occupied cities and villages, and dismantle military checkpoints. Those activities, which result in deaths and arrests of Iraqis and
destruction of their property, only serve to create additional sympathy for the insurgency. The insurgency has shown a resistance to
being rooted out; it merely shifts locations in response to raids by U.S. forces.
Here are some additional bold suggestions for ending the war: Negotiate with insurgency leaders. Relinquish the fourteen permanent
military bases we've been constructing throughout Iraq. Ask the United Nations to take a leadership role in stabilizing the nation
as our soldiers leave - and provide the U.N. with the funding to succeed. Begin discussions with Iraq's neighbors, including Iran
and Syria, about peacemaking and regional stability. Yes, it's a tremendous about-face to consult with nations we've dubbed the
"axis of evil," but it's a necessary element of a responsible exit plan.
We can't continue shouldering huge costs for a losing war. The U.S. troops death total is about to surpass 2,000 and the Iraqi
death toll is in the tens of thousands and growing rapidly. The Iraq occupation has a pricetag of $5 billion a month; spending on
this tragic endeavor is about to pass the $200 billion mark. In the meantime, as the deficit grows, lawmakers in Washington demand
cutbacks in the budgets of desperately needed social programs. If the Hurricane Katrina disaster has shown us anything, it's that we
just can't have it all. We're spread too thin and we've chosen the wrong priorities: death and destruction over health and
There are lessons to learn from the Iraq War disaster. Foremost, it's that war is costly and must be avoided. It's time for our
nation to dedicate itself to a foreign policy based on international cooperation, mutual responsibility, and nonviolence. With such
a commitment we could make war obsolete.
We all need to partake in discussion and action to bring the war to an end. Join Michigan Peaceworks for a Roundtable Discussion on
Iraq War Exit Strategies on October 25th at 7 pm in the Schorling Auditorium of the University of Michigan School of Education.
Panelists include U-M Professor and "Informed Comment" blogger Juan Cole, Muslim community leader Nazih Hassan, military mom Deb
Regal, and Iraqi-American professor Ismat Hamid.
Phillis Engelbert is Executive Director of Michigan Peaceworks.