"The troops will march in; the bands will play; the crowds will cheer; and in four days everyone will have forgotten. Then we will be told to send in more troops. It's like taking a drink. The effect wears off, and you have to take another."
That was historian Arthur Schlesinger reflecting his concern about sending more troops into Vietnam, but he could just as well have been talking about Iraq.
Five years ago, the statue of Saddam was pulled down, the people celebrated the end of tyranny, more troops were sent, and the killing became relentless. We had to take drink after drink, as Schlesinger said, and send unit after unit to fight in a country that we assumed would welcome our invasion and embrace a democratic form of government.
Five years and our soldiers are still getting killed relentlessly, daily, and there is no democracy; there are only IEDs and anarchy. So far, 3,600 American soldiers have died, and more than 67,000 Iraqi civilians have lost their lives. And we are beside ourselves with worry and grief.
In early 2002, on the eve of the Iraq invasion, a report written by Middle Eastern expert Kenneth Katzman for the Congressional Research Service noted there was concern "Saddam's removal could lead to the fragmentation of Iraq and not necessarily produce a stable regime that is attuned to U.S. values and U.S. interests."
As a two-week debate over a major military bill begins in Congress, President Bush says he wants to continue to see if the surge of soldiers he sent can do the job, and he wants to wait until September to see the results. But we're impatient; we've heard his promises before. We believed the weapons of mass destruction stuff, we believed Mission Accomplished, we believed when we saw the Iraqi people participating in elections.
But things have reached such an impasse that often we don't know who the enemy is: Is it Sunni insurgents? Shiite militia? Al-Qaida in Iraq? Iran-backed troops?
This really is Vietnam all over again, with all the attendant misinformation about how well the war is going. It is a hopeless war and an embarrassment for American diplomats.
Barack Obama is right when he says any solution to the war will be "messy." There is no elegant way out, and as Congress debates a military reauthorization bill this week and Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan puts forward a bill to begin troop withdrawal in 120 days, it behooves our legislators to look back at Vietnam and realize that the world will not come to an end if we leave Iraq. Political pressure must continue to end this misconceived, misguided war.
'They have had their chances' As more Republicans criticize the president's intransigence, the most notable being Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, Republican leader of the Foreign Relations Committee, the Democrats should have a surer footing in their efforts to begin the withdrawal of combat troops. That is what the American public wants -- 56 percent, according to Pew Research. The more troops we throw at the problem, the worse it gets: A progress report on Iraq states that although some of the violence has been quelled in places such as Anbar province, the Iraqi government still does not have its act together.
"We are about to receive yet another report telling us that Iraq's political leaders have not met a single goal they set for themselves to demonstrate any kind of progress towards stability. Not one goal," Obama said in a speech in Des Moines on Tuesday. "Well, they have had their chances, and George Bush has had his -- we cannot keep our troops in the middle of a civil war that Iraq's leaders refuse to end. It's time to bring them home."
But Democrats need to stop arguing among themselves about who voted to authorize the war, who apologized about his vote and who opposed it from the start. Obama makes much of his anti-war stance before he was elected to the Senate, but who knows what pressures would have been imposed on him if he had been in the Senate at the time the vote was taken? Hillary Clinton did vote to go into Iraq, but she makes no bones now about the need for withdrawal. Whether or not she apologized for her vote is moot. As Lyndon Johnson once said, "We can draw lessons from the past, but we cannot live in it." We need to figure how to go forward and disengage.
Democrats must support Levin's proposal; they need to show backbone and consider cutting off some of the funding -- just leaving enough to maintain security troops in Iraq -- if it's the only way to counteract the ostrich-like tendencies of Bush. Most importantly, they need to stop worrying about voter backlash. No one wants to vote for a bunch of wimps. Just ask Jimmy Carter.
© 2007 The Chicago Sun-Times