Why we should begin to leave Iraq

“Stay the course” is not a plan for Iraq — especially because no one can even define the course we are urged to stay. Republican sloganeering covers up a failure built on intellectual quicksand and policy flip-flops.

“Stay the course” is not a plan for Iraq — especially because no one can even define the course we are urged to stay. Republican sloganeering covers up a failure built on intellectual quicksand and policy flip-flops.

Today, President Bush is asking the military to perform a task he previously argued was wholly inappropriate. When, in October 2000, he said, “I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation-building,” Bush was attacking President Clinton’s successful multilateral efforts in the Balkans, not yet knowing that he would both completely flip-flop and fail where his predecessor succeeded.

Bush’s policy stumbled on those tricky little nuances he so disdains. There are indeed circumstances when using the military to build nations is likely to fail, as with Iraq, while other situations, like those in the Balkans, increase the probability of success.

Unlike the president, Democrats understand that our chances of success in Iraq improve if we begin to remove our forces now but worsen if we maintain the permanent, open-ended commitment endorsed by the GOP.

We should begin redeployment because:

• While U.S. troops can depose brutal dictators, history demonstrates the impossibility of a foreign power’s imposing democracy on warring factions by military means. We did impose democracy on Germany and Japan, but those were relatively homogeneous societies whose total surrender after an exhausting war meant a complete end to fighting. Even still, on a per-capita basis, we stationed more troops in those countries than we do in Iraq.

• Bush and his Republican allies are creating a culture of dependence in Iraq — dependence on American military might. As long as Iraq’s government has the crutch of American troops on which to lean, it will postpone the difficult steps it must take to wrest control of the country’s own destiny. Iraqis themselves understand this growing culture of dependence. Seventy-three percent believe that if U.S. troops left Iraq the level of cooperation between factions in the country would increase.

• The continuing American presence may well be increasing the level of violence rather than contributing to the military defeat of the insurgents. Nearly half of Iraqis (47 percent) actually approve of attacks on U.S. personnel, with almost a quarter strongly approving of violence directed against U.S. troops. Few condone attacks on their own security forces (7 percent) or against civilians (1 percent).

Despite the best intentions of our troops, their presence may do more to incite violence than to quell it. Again Iraqis understand their own circumstances quite well; 61 percent say inter-ethnic violence would decrease if U.S. troops departed.

For these reasons and more, ordinary Iraqis, along with their elected leaders, want us to leave. Frankly, that should be enough to warrant redeployment. Seventy percent of Iraqis want U.S. forces to be gone within 18 months, whereas only 29 percent come close to endorsing the Bush view, saying American forces should only be reduced “as the security situation improves.” Those who suffer most from the absence of security want us to begin to depart because they believe our withdrawal will enhance their own safety.

Iraqi reconstruction would best be handled by multilateral agencies. That is what Iraqis want, and it would be better both for them and for us. But neither the United Nations nor its members will provide significant assistance as long as the U.S. military commitment remains open-ended. We can only begin to entice others to share the burden by providing incontrovertible evidence that we are leaving.

The American military presence in Iraq is retarding rather than advancing the goals of stability and security. Staying the course impedes progress toward completing the mission.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982, including Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryBringing the American election experience to Democratic Republic of the Congo Some Dems sizzle, others see their stock fall on road to 2020 The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Mass.) in 2004.