Washington Can’t Handle the Truth About Iraq

If opinions about what to do in Iraq could be untangled from views of the Bush administration, it might be possible to have an honest debate about the consequences of a rapid American pullout.

Instead, we are treated to glib remarks even from some of the nation’s foremost politicians. “There is no military solution,” Senator Hillary Clinton said on the night before the testimony. “That is why I believe we should start bringing our troops home.”

It was a dispiriting non sequitur from a woman who is known as one of the more realistic voices in the Iraq debate. There is indeed no exclusively military solution. But that doesn’t change the fact that American troops are an essential part of any attempt to get Iraq back on its feet, since they appear to be needed to provide the security that might allow political progress to gain traction.

The thinking of other leading Democrats seems to trundle along even more predictable and flawed lines. The progression seems to be: Bush is bad; Bush doesn’t want withdrawal; therefore withdrawal is good.

In a Washington Post op-ed on Saturday, presidential candidate Bill Richardson exhibited an abundance of wishful thinking.

Mr. Richardson asserted that “only a complete withdrawal can … break the deadlock that has been killing so many people for so long.”

But it is not “deadlock” that has been killing people. It is gangs of heavily armed religious fanatics and assorted other thugs. To suggest that a U.S. withdrawal would lead those groups to come to some kind of amicable understanding is risible.

Those who favor an immediate American withdrawal from Iraq bridle at being described as “irresponsible.” That is fair enough when Republicans throw out the term as a thinly disguised code for “cowardly” or “traitorous.”

But at a much more fundamental level, the U.S. does indeed have responsibilities toward Iraq. They do not just begin and end with Colin Powell’s famous injunction that “you break it, you own it.”

The U.S. sought to create a new, free Iraq. Millions of Iraqis joined with it in that project, at mortal risk to themselves. They were badly let down by America’s blunderings and botches.

But to abandon them too hastily, too selfishly or too thoughtlessly would be the greatest betrayal of all.