Last week I attended the local vigil in support of Cindy Sheehan organized by moveon.org at the behest of my neighbor. About 100 people showed up here in Raleigh, which was more than I would have expected. Even though I sympathize with Cindy Sheehan, who is trying to deal with the fact that her son died for a cause that she doesn’t beliieve in, I was a bit ambivalent about the vigil, because I’m not a committed member of the “leave Iraq now” camp.
To me, the gravest indictment of the Bush administration is it has put this country in a situation that suggests no sensible, feasible next steps to move forward toward ending the war or actually making things better for Iraqis. Despite the fact that I follow the news diligently, I honestly have no idea what’s going on in Iraq, other than that the government is trying to write a constitution and lots of people are dying.
Here’s what I can say for sure. There are lots of armed camps in Iraq, and none of them can keep the peace. Some of them are actively trying to subvert the peace. Counting offhand, we have the coalition forces, the new Iraqi military and police forces, various militias affiliated with political movements, and of course the insurgency, which includes former Baathists, al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists, and who knows who else. Oh, and then there’s the mercenaries and the criminals.
It seems to me that the fundamental problem is that neither the occupation forces (us) or the government of Iraq or the two working together are strong or cohesive enough to clamp down on all of the other armed groups to create anything resembling a stable society. This is complicated by the fact that many of the people in Iraq’s governments are affiliated with varioius militias, and the fact that the Iraqi military and police are rife with people who aren’t loyal to the government.
So the question becomes how to fix the problem. It seems to me that the most rabidly pro-war camp doesn’t have a solution to offer other than keep doing what we’re doing. That course of action has failed over the past two years. We need to try something else. The most rabidly anti-war camp recommends that we simply pull up our stakes and leave. Setting aside the moral responsibility we have for abandoning the Iraqis to a civil war, I don’t even know whether this would save us lives in the long term. The blowback from leaving Iraq to descend into anarchy could stay with us for decades.
The “set a timetable” camp seems to be growing. I guess the idea is that if you give the Iraqis a date upon which we will leave, you placate some of the insurgents whose goal it is to kick America out of Iraq, and you force the Iraqis to get serious about figuring out how to protect themselves. The downside, of course, is that if the Iraqis aren’t ready to protect themselves when we pull out, it could very well lead to civil war.
Fewer and fewer people seem to be saying that what we really need is more troops. In a fantasy world, putting a few hundred thousand more troops into Iraq for peacekeeping would be the ideal solution. There’s no political will to draft Americans to do this job, though, and the Bush administration isn’t going to do what it takes to get foreign troops either. I think that if the goal is a stable, independent Iraq, this course would be the most likely to get us there. Too bad it’s not going to happen.
So what are we left with? I guess if I were elected to the Senate tomorrow, my recommendation would be to set a timetable. I don’t love that idea, but it seems to me that it’s the least bad option among those available to us.