America's mistake


George McGovern and Jim McGovern

We were early opponents of the U.S invasion of Iraq. Nonetheless, once American forces were committed, we hoped that our concerns would be proved wrong. That has not been the case.

The United States must now begin an orderly withdrawal of American forces from this mistaken foreign venture.

The justification for the war was based on false or falsified information. What had been initially characterized by the Bush administration as an uncomplicated military operation has turned into a violent quagmire. America's leaders underestimated not only the insurgency, but also the deep-rooted ethnic divisions in Iraqi society.

There are no clear answers from the administration or Congress on how long U.S. forces will need to stay in Iraq, what the anticipated costs in human life and treasure will be, or even what would constitute success.

Instead, many U.S. policy makers seem resigned to an open-ended occupation. The former deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz has told Congress that America will be there for at least another 10 years. It is common to hear even some who voted against the war say, "Now that we're there, we have no choice but to stay."

We very much disagree. Calls to maintain the status quo echo the same rationale used to keep American forces in Vietnam. To those who contend that America would weaken its credibility if it withdrew, we say that the standing of the United States would greatly improve if it demonstrated the good judgment to terminate an unwise course.

The continuing U.S. presence in Iraq feeds the insurgency and gives the insurgents a certain legitimacy in the eyes of much of the world. Americans know from their own history that armies of occupation are seldom welcome.

There have been elections in Iraq, and yet it remains unclear whether the different political, ethnic, and religious factions want to work together.

One thing, however, is clear: Washington cannot determine Iraq's destiny. It doesn't matter how many times Condoleezza Rice or Donald Rumsfeld visit. It doesn't matter how many soldiers America deploys. Iraq's myriad factions themselves must display the political will to demand a system of government that respects the country's diversity.

There are no easy answers in Iraq. But we are convinced that the United States should now set a dramatically different course - one that anticipates U.S. military withdrawal sooner rather than later. America should begin the discussions now as to how it can bring its troops home.

The United States should accelerate and pay for the training of Iraqi security forces with the help of Egypt, Jordan, and other Arab allies. America can begin drawing down its forces to coincide with the number of trained Iraqi forces. By that measure, 30,000 U.S. troops should be brought home now.

President George W. Bush should consult with the current Iraqi government and other Arab nations about the necessity for an Arab-led security force to complement the Iraqis in the short term. Again, the United States should finance this effort.

Washington should also work with the United Nations to solicit ideas and assistance from the international community on how America can best disengage.

There are no guarantees that militarily withdrawing from Iraq would contribute to stability or would not result in chaos. On the other hand, America does know that under U.S. occupation the violence will continue - and that the occupation is one of the chief reasons for hatred of the United States, not only in the Arab world but elsewhere.

Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of. After two years in Iraq and the loss of more than 1,600 American soldiers, it is simply not enough to embrace the status quo.

We are not suggesting a "cut and run" strategy. The United States must continue to finance security, training and reconstruction. But the combination of stubbornness and saving face is not an adequate rationale for continuing this war. This is not a liberal or conservative issue. It is time for lawmakers in Washington - and for concerned citizens across the United States - to demand that this sad chapter in American history come to an end and not be repeated in some other hapless country.

The path of endless war will bankrupt America's treasury, devour American soldiers, and degrade the moral and spiritual values of the United States. it is past time to change course.