The Common Good

Three Ways to 'Stop the Course' in Iraq

Sojomail - November 29, 2006


"My position is, unless we are caring as much for the vulnerable outside the womb as inside the womb, we're not carrying out the full message of Jesus. ... They began to think this might threaten their base or evaporate some of their support, and they said they just couldn't go there."

- Rev. Joel Hunter, explaining his resignation as president-elect of the Christian Coalition, after realizing he would be unable to broaden the organization's focus to include issues such as poverty and the environment. (Source: The Washington Post)

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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

Three Ways to 'Stop the Course' in Iraq

Everyone now agrees. The mid-term elections were a clear referendum on the war in Iraq. The results are in – the American people want an alternative to the disastrous course of President Bush's deadly policies. Voters rejected Bush's war by inflicting a crushing defeat on his party and turning over the leadership of Congress to the Democrats. It was as stunning a message, and defeat, as we have witnessed in politics for many years.

In the weeks before the election, as October became the bloodiest month for American casualties in almost two years with 106 deaths, the president decided to stop saying, "stay the course." With almost as many Americans dead in Iraq as we lost on September 11, with 20,000 more maimed and crippled, and with estimates as high as 600,000 Iraqi casualties, a change in language seemed appropriate. But the president made it clear, even in the days just prior to the election, that a serious change in course was not being considered by his administration. He fully backed the war policy, enthusiastically supported its architects (Rumsfeld and Cheney in particular) and kept insisting on "victory" in Iraq. But the people voted against George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld – and their war. Democracy prevailed against the war in Iraq. Americans have had enough of the denial of reality, the deceptions (in a war built on lies from the beginning), the incompetence, the corruption (and all of the Bush/Cheney pals who became shameless war profiteers), and, most importantly, the "senseless slaughter" of our young people (as I heard one evangelical pastor in Ohio put it one week before the election). Bush and Rumsfeld just kept saying the same ridiculous things over and over again, but the American people said something very different at the polls – just keep quiet, and stop it. Bush said, "stay the course," but the people said, "stop the course." Within hours, Rumsfeld was gone, and Bush began to sound almost conciliatory and open to change. Amazing.

Bush's former Defense Secretary's unique combination of arrogance and incompetence had caused deep public revulsion. The rejection of Rumsfeld became bi-partisan, and even occasioned a rare public revolt in the military. Bob Woodward's book, State of Denial, documented in astounding detail how George Bush, with Rumsfeld and Cheney, had been denying the realties of the war since the beginning – to the American people and even to themselves. Again and again, ideology trumped reality, and those who attempted to bring up disturbing facts – or even serious questions – to the war's policy makers were summarily dismissed. So right after the election, George Bush's partner in the crime of Iraq had to go. Soon after, even Henry Kissinger (one of our leading experts on failed wars) admitted that there would be no "victory" in Iraq. In this year's midterms, the public's message to Bush, Rumsfeld, Chaney, and all the neo-cons led by Bill Kristol was absolutely clear – you are wrong, your war is wrong, and we want you to end it.

There are no more enthusiastic and self-confident pep talks from the White House now. There is only a totally failed strategy, an insurgency fueled by an occupation, and a civil war that has put young Americans in the crossfire of religious and political hatred. And there is only death, for Americans and for Iraqis. American deaths now number nearly 3,000, and the killing of Iraqis seems to get worse by the week. We must also deal with how American morality has been destroyed by this war; its collateral damage now includes our international standing and respect. And let's be clear: according to The New York Times, a National Intelligence Estimate warned that the war in Iraq has increased, not lessened, the threat from terrorism. My children and yours are far less safe, not more, because of Iraq.

Most alarming to many of us was the way George Bush brought his faith into this war. The only thing worse than ignoring the facts is investing your ideological blindness with religious certainty. Religion is meant to provide deep reflection, not easy certainty. But George Bush's religion didn't lead to reflection, humility, or repentance in Iraq; only to the never-questioned resolve of a zealot. Not only did he ignore the deep concerns of former military leaders and foreign policy experts, this self-described man of faith consistently defied the strong opposition to the war in Iraq from so many religious leaders, at home and around the world. But while Bush's religion didn't cause him to change the course of his war in Iraq, the American people finally have. And now it is up to us, the Congress, and even the White House to stop the course.

The only moral and practical course now is to change U.S. policy, starting with an open, honest, and full national debate about one question – how to extricate U.S. forces from Iraq with the least possible damage to everyone involved – Americans, Iraqis, all their Middle Eastern neighbors, and a world longing for security. To achieve real security, we must defeat the agendas of both the terrorists and the militant neo-conservatives who seek endless war in response to terrorism. It is the neo-conservative's domination of American foreign policy that has so severely damaged our integrity around the world. We need a national debate on both how to get Americans out of Iraq and how to stabilize that devastated nation – neither of which can happen without the involvement of the international community, including Iraq's neighbors who have so much at stake in the outcome.

Everyone in Washington is now waiting for the recommendations of the Baker/Hamilton Commission, the bipartisan group authorized to come up with desperately needed new directions for U.S. policy, and whose recommendations will come in December. The Commission report will be the beginning of our needed national debate. For that debate to be successful, I believe the United States must agree to three things:

  1. Reject all plans for permanent American military bases in Iraq.
  2. Give up any unique claim on Iraqi oil.
  3. Agree to substantially fund the re-building of Iraq without any special relationship to the contracts to do the job.

That's just taking responsibility for all the horrible damage we have done. Only after we have done so can we search for the practical and honorable ways to leave Iraq while seeking to help ensure its security and the political resolution of its future. Neither "staying the course" nor "cutting and running" is morally responsible or politically practical anymore, and a new course must now be found – given the rapid deterioration in Iraq, as soon as possible.

We must hope and pray that President Bush will heed the voice of the people in this last election and become a key participant in the national debate of how best to get out of Iraq – how to correct the mistake of his war. The first thing he should do is to stop saying the things he again said in Estonia this week – that there really isn't a civil war in Iraq, and al Qaeda is just stirring up sectarian conflict. More denials of the realities in Iraq while merely blaming outside terrorists is as ridiculous as it is embarrassing. Stop it! Just stop it! Such statements travel around the world and make the president sound like he wasn't paying attention on November 8.

We the people, through the Congress of the United States, must have that national debate. Hopefully this debate will include the White House, but if necessary, we must have it in spite of the administration. The American people have now spoken and must now change the course of the war in Iraq. Conducting that national debate must be one of the first orders of business for the new Congress – a real debate of the sort that the Bush administration failed to allow before, but now must politically accept. George Bush says he is responsible for this war, and he is. But we are all now responsible for stopping this war.

The House and Senate must lead the national debate on the war in Iraq, and seek alternatives to the flawed and failed policies that will just continue to kill more people. The lives of many Americans and Iraqis are at stake. We cannot afford to wait two more years.

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