The public call by Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha, a 37-year Marine Corps veteran who has been generally pro-military and hawkish, for a prompt beginning to withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq has been a catalyst for what was bound to happen anyway: a national debate or discussion on what to do about Iraq and perhaps about U.S. foreign policy in the near future.
The president’s declining poll numbers and the increasing number of Americans — now a majority if the polls are to be believed — who believe the war was a mistake made it inevitable.
Is there a chance it can be civil and substantive, without name-calling and personal attacks? And can it be about the future rather than the past?
Discussions of wars and how to end them are inevitably about life and death. Insofar as the debate over Iraq carries implications for the future foreign policy of the United States, it will affect this country’s posture in the world and ability to negotiate the inevitable crises and problems overseas.
And attacks in Europe, Indonesia and elsewhere suggest that the problem of jihadist terrorism will not go away soon and could manifest itself in this country again.
So a great deal is at stake.
Shouts of “Bush lied, people died” on one side and accusations of cowardice or lack of patriotism on the other will not help us.
A few suggestions:
Those who support the war and the administration would do well to acknowledge that despite the number of schools and hospitals built and the possible (polls vary) desire of most Iraqis to see Americans stay longer rather than leave soon, the occupation has not gone well. A brutal insurgency has not abated, and American and Iraqi lives are lost every day. Is this because the U.S. does not have a strategy to defeat the insurgency, or suggest its strategy should be adjusted? Is it possible that the presence of U.S. troops is more an aggravation and impetus for violence rather than a calming influence?
These are serious questions that deserve consideration more serious than sound bites or talking points.
On the other side, those who have opposed the war from the beginning (us among them) or have come to oppose the war would do well to acknowledge that whether the initial invasion was justified or not, it has created a situation that offers no easy options.
Would an expedited pullout of U.S. troops lead to more chaos and killing in Iraq rather than prompting Iraqis to get serious about their country’s future and reject violence? Will a withdrawal be seen as a defeat that prompts terrorists to ever more ambitious acts of violence? Will U.S. credibility be damaged to the point that U.S. public and private interests overseas are affected deleteriously?
These are also serious questions that deserve sober consideration.
Both sides would do well to acknowledge that while they may believe a U.S. pullout would a) increase chaos or b) have a calming effect, in fact nobody knows for sure. The future is notoriously unpredictable. All sides could use a little humility.
That said, let the discussion begin (or continue at an accelerated pace). The future of the United States as a free society is at stake, and all Americans have an interest in having as many options as possible on the table.