The day of the first presidential debate, television served up pictures of the 38 children who died in an explosion in Iraq and their grieving mothers. The blood of those children is on George W. Bush's hands for starting this ill-advised war, and on the hands of all of those who continue to support the war, including John Kerry. The ''insurgents'' killed the children, but the failure of the Bush administration to provide security in Iraq also killed them.
It is absurd to say that the world is safer now that Saddam Hussein is in custody. In fact, there are thousands of terrorists today who did not exist before the invasion of Iraq. Certainly, Iraq is not safer. The only solution is to admit we made a terrible mistake -- as we did in Vietnam -- and withdraw our troops. This will be a humiliating defeat, but then, so was Vietnam, and the nation survived. The elder George Bush is said to have advised his son to develop an Iraq exit plan before the invasion. He did not, and those children died because he did not.
Not knowing any history, Americans seemed doomed to repeat its mistakes. A major lesson of history is that one cannot put down an insurgency when the people of a country are sympathetic to it. The British learned that in the American Revolution. They learned it again in Ireland and India. But there is no memory of the casualties among Americans (more than 2,000) and Filipinos (tens of thousands) in the Philippines insurgency after the Spanish-American war, a nasty imperialistic campaign.
Then in Korea we learned that the United States cannot fight a long land war in Asia without losing the support of its own people. In Vietnam, just 20 years later, we learned again that lesson, and the lesson that you can't defeat with a puppet government a dedicated guerrilla army to which the people are sympathetic.
In Iraq we are making all the mistakes: land war in Asia, puppet government, insurgents enjoying considerable sympathy, and no exit strategy. How could the administration have been so stupid! The president is not smart enough to know any history. Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld presumably are smart enough, but apparently they don't read history. They both tried after the World Trade Center attack to start the Iraq war then. The neo-conservative clique around them, which is in fact making policy, read books -- even history books -- but they had other agendas.
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Sen. Kerry proposes to have all the troops home in four years! How many more Iraqi children will die in four years? How many more American families will lose sons, fathers, husbands, brothers, sisters, wives, daughters and sisters in four years?
The president says it sends the wrong message to put a time limit on withdrawal. He doesn't seem to be able to articulate what the right message is. Perhaps columnist Robert Novak is correct when he hints that after he wins the election, the president will cut and run.
I hope Kerry wins because he may change his mind once in office (nothing wrong with changing your mind) and because he will at least clean out the vipers' tangle of neo-conservatives who talked the president into the war. Moreover, Kerry is not likely to reinstitute the draft or to get us into another ''regime change'' war in North Korea and Iran. I remain doubtful, however, that American voters will turn out a wartime president, even one as incompetent as Bush is.
There are arguments against withdrawal from Iraq. We will lose prestige and credibility around the world? The thunderous silence after Bush's United Nations speech shows just how much credibility the United States currently possesses. The Iraqis will fight a civil war? They already are. Turkey and Iran will be drawn in? They're welcome to it. The radical Islamists (mostly Saudis) will claim a great victory? They sure will, and we gave it to them when we decided to invade Iraq. We will lose the Iraqi oil? Ah, so that's why there's a war?
If you support the war; if, with the president and Kerry, you want to ''stay'' the course, the next time you see the bodies of children strewn about a street in Iraq, ask yourself if their blood is not on your hands.