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I believe in hope and the proposition that we can build a better world through our personal efforts. But I also believe that we must make a cold, hard appraisal of where we stand if we are to achieve change for the better. We cannot avoid the reality that we enter the New Year deeply bogged down in the quagmire of war.
As with all wars, the war in Iraq is neither simple nor predictable. We are learning once again that raw military power is not sufficient to prevail, even against an opponent vastly inferior in military strength. For those of us who lived through the war in Vietnam, it is both sad and distressing that that war was not sufficient to teach this lesson to the present leadership of the United States. As with Vietnam, there is a growing unease among the people of the United States about this “war of choice” in Iraq. More than 1,300 Americans have died there and many more have been injured for life. The number of Iraqi casualties is far higher, perhaps higher than 100,000. And there is no end in sight.
The Vietnam War ended when the people of the United States had enough and withdrew their support for the war. Gradually that is happening now, but the people of the United States want to believe their leaders when they say that the war is progressing. We are living in the bubble of a myth. The media has a critical responsibility for reporting on the war as it is so that the American people can make an informed choice about continuing to send their sons and daughters to die in the cities and on the roadways of Iraq.
We should not forget that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and that this is what the United Nations inspectors were telling us prior to the war being initiated in March 2003. If we want to understand why this war has gone so terribly wrong, we should not forget our failure to follow the law and procedures of the United Nations. Nor should we forget our tactics of “shock and awe,” nor the resulting dead and injured children of Iraq. I remember Ali Ishmael Abbas, the 12-year-old boy who lost his parents and other members of his family as well as his arms in a US bombing attack. Ali was not “collateral damage.” He is the Iraqi face of this war.
But what is the American face of this war? Is it Donald Rumsfeld, smug and arrogant, telling American soldiers that their protective armor is insufficient because “you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time”? It was Rumsfeld, along with George Bush, who chose the date and time of the war. The tragic miscalculation of consequences has not affected Bush’s confidence in Rumsfeld to continue as Secretary of Defense.
In war, it is generally not the leaders who are killed, nor their children. Rumsfeld and Bush remain in power, while Ali Ishmael Abbas will go through his life without his arms. More than 1,300 American parents will go through their lives without sons or daughters who have died for reasons unfathomable and subject to change. And millions of Iraqis have been personally affected by this war, with almost every family having lost someone or knowing someone who has.
The full consequences of this war are unknowable, but the very least we might have learned is that war should never be a simple choice of power, nor should it ever be a first choice. There is no goal more important for Americans in the New Year than ending this war and bringing home our troops. It will not end well for the United States, but the sooner we withdraw from Iraq the sooner the Iraqis can seek the normalization of their country and we can normalize ours.
We don’t have the right legally or morally to try to impose democracy abroad by force of arms, but we do have the obligation to attempt to maintain our democracy at home. Should we fail to extricate ourselves from the quagmire in Iraq, we will continue to provoke international terrorism, increasing the risk to the future of our own democracy and well-being.
DAVID KRIEGER is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and co-author of Nuclear Weapons and the World Court.