This summer, opposition to the war in Iraq reached the tipping point—and tipped. A Gallup Poll in July showed the highest-ever level of opposition—62 percent say the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq, the first time that number has topped 60 percent.
During the Senate debate in July, Republican senators began falling like dominoes—Chuck Hagel, Richard Lugar, George Voinovich, Pete Domenici, Olympia Snowe, even John Warner began looking for a way out. The Republican defections are bolstered by public opinion. Columnist Robert Novak wrote about Sen. Hagel: "As the first in a succession of Republican senators to be critical of Bush's Iraq policy, Hagel feared the worst when he returned home to conservative Nebraska for Fourth of July parades. Instead, he was pleasantly surprised by cheers and calls for the troops to be brought home." And the Democrats seem to be getting stronger in their willingness to follow the public mandate against this war that gave them a congressional majority in 2006.
Adding to the tip: U.S. casualties topped 3,600, with those wounded or emotionally scarred almost as countless as the stories about returning veterans not receiving the help and attention they need. Almost all the burden of this war has been borne by working-class families whose sons and daughters chose military service—not by the families and children of the elites who fabricated the case for it, grossly mismanaged its prosecution, and politically force its continuance.
A new Congressional Research Service study reported that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now cost $12 billion per month. When that monthly price tag is compared to the $10 billion per year it would cost to educate the world's 800 million children under age 6, the contrast opens up a real debate on what truly makes for national and global security.
THE TROOP "SURGE" has failed to bring the stability and security it promised; the progress report on Iraqi political benchmarks remains completely unsatisfactory. Nobody even pretends any longer that American young men and women are not dying daily in the cross-hairs of a civil war. Meanwhile Iraq has become an unlivable country, bleeding itself to death in a tribal sectarian conflict waged by its so-called political leaders and not just by its violent insurgents.
Yet President Bush trots out the same old arguments: If we leave there will be a bloodbath; if we leave al Qaeda wins; if we don't fight the enemy there, we will fight them here.
There are legitimate concerns that when the U.S. leaves, Iraq will erupt in an orgy of violence. We must recognize that possibility is real. But we must also realize that there already is a bloodbath—total Iraqi deaths are now estimated as at least 75,000, likely many more.
As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote, "the last best hope to break the stalemates in Iraqi politics will come if Congress forces Iraqi politicians to peer over the abyss at the prospect of their country on its own. If Congress makes it clear that the U.S. is heading for the exits—and that we want no permanent bases in Iraq—that may undercut the extremists and lead more Iraqis to focus on preserving their nation rather than expelling the infidels."
But George W. Bush seems morally and intellectually unable to accept the reality of Iraq—and has from the beginning. Dick Cheney has been revealed convincingly by a chilling Washington Post series as the real power in the Bush administration, and as a man who lives in secrecy, darkness, and illegality. Cheney is the archetypal ideologue and zealot who deliberately distorts the truth through the sheer exercise of power, which becomes his only real end. The consequences of the Bush denial and Cheney distortion of reality have produced a rogue regime in Washington, D.C. We are in the hands of irrational men who know not the truth, and the blood on their hands makes them even more dangerous. The ugliness of Iraq is the moral consequence of their political leadership.
Ending the occupation of Iraq would make us safer and allow a true focus on the real threats of terrorism. The ongoing occupation remains al Qaeda's biggest recruiting tool. But the damage is deeper than just strategic. Because of Iraq, America is losing its soul and its standing in the world. Regaining our moral compass and reputation in the world will be the first order of business for a new president.
The war in Iraq should never have been fought, cannot be won, and must now be ended. And because the White House will not do what is necessary, Congress must force the end of the war in Iraq in the best way possible. As the Republican defectors realize, the war in Iraq will not be ended without congressional leadership and initiative. It must not wait until the next administration, as Bush has suggested in the worst case of "passing the buck" we have seen in generations. The Democrats and the growing minority of Republicans must fashion the plan to withdraw from Iraq, where the only way forward is the way out. That plan must then be forced on Bush and Cheney.
And a necessary part of a U.S. withdrawal is an acknowledgement of the damage we've done and a commitment to work with the international community in the reconstruction and resettlement of Iraq. Having intervened in Iraq, we now have the political and moral responsibility to assist the Iraqi people to secure and rebuild their country, as well as honoring the sacrifice of men and women in uniform by supporting the families of those who have died and the tens of thousands of veterans who have suffered physical or psychological wounds.
In the additional legislative battles this fall and in the upcoming presidential primaries, our message must be clear: Bring all U.S. troops home safely on a timetable that begins now. They are caught in the middle of a civil war where the U.S. occupation is the problem. The solution to Iraq is political, not military. The war was wrong, and it's time to do our best to right the wrong.
This brutal, ugly, and wholly unnecessary war may finally be coming to an end. And the role of the church could and should be decisive in making it so. I hear no more voices who still say this is a "just war." Many of us don't believe it ever was and feel that the nonviolent path of Jesus has again been vindicated. But regardless of past positions, we should all now agree that this unjust war must be ended as an obligation of faith.
Jim Wallis is editor-in-chief of Sojourners.