Helen Thomas: Cut our losses in Iraq and get out
by : Helen Thomas
Sunday July 3, 2005 - 01:32
WASHINGTON — President Bush should cut our losses and pull out of Iraq before more Americans — and Iraqis — are forced to make the ultimate sacrifice.
If he does, he would be a hero and save lives.
Instead, his reaction to the present fiasco in Iraq seems to be "full speed ahead."
The president could gracefully withdraw from Iraq by asking the United Nations to take on a peacekeeping role in Iraq.
If we were to pull out, as we should, the United States would be required to open its doors to scores of Iraqis who would no longer be safe in their homeland because they had collaborated with the U.S. occupation. We took in the Vietnamese who allied with us in that war, after the North Vietnamese took over South Vietnam.
U.S. troops departed Vietnam when the American people no longer supported our continued presence in a no-win war. The comparison with our involvement in Iraq is irresistible.
Americans have not hit the streets to protest but a prolonged unpopular war is bound to evoke widespread protests.
In an AP-Ipsos poll released a week ago, some 53 percent of people surveyed say the United States made a mistake going to war in Iraq in March 2003. That is the highest number who have said the war was a mistake since the invasion.
Even the benign Congress might stir itself and say enough is enough.
In a prime-time speech Tuesday night at Fort Bragg, N.C., home of the 82nd Airborne Division, Bush said the U.S. sacrifice of remaining in Iraq "is worth it, and it is vital to the future security of our country."
He is asking other Americans to do what no one in his inner circle was willing to do during the Vietnam War. For example, Vice President Dick Cheney won five Selective Service deferments to stay out of the Vietnam War. As he famously put it, "I had other priorities."
The president said, "The violence in Iraq is being carried out by ruthless killers who are converging on Iraq to fight the advance of peace and freedom."
Well, he’s got that right. The Associated Press had a story out of Baghdad earlier this week that quoted U.S. military leaders as saying that the vast majority of suicide attackers in Iraq are foreigners — mostly Saudis and other Gulf Arabs, with North Africans also streaming in to carry out deadly missions.
Bush said, "There is only one course of action against" the insurgents: "To defeat them abroad before they attack us at home."
Bush’s remark led Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., to wryly observe that Bush is suggesting that he "really staged an elaborate trap to lure in thousands of terrorists into Iraq so they could be destroyed there and not here in the streets of the United States." Reed said he worried that this "elaborate trap" might really have been an "ambush that we walked into, unprepared."
You have to have a very short memory not to recall that the president’s main pitch to invade Iraq was because it had an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. After two task forces scoured Iraq, we now know that was a bogus reason but it gave him the leeway to attack the oil-rich Gulf nation.
After months of trying to avoid mentions of Iraq, the president and his team apparently realized recently that the American people weren’t buying the silent treatment, as witnessed by his slump in the polls.
That led to his Fort Bragg speech, which amounted to a pep talk to the nation.
"There are difficult days ahead," Bush said. "We have more work to do, and there will be tough moments that test America’s resolve."
"As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down," Bush said.
It was a "stay the course" Vietnam-style speech like those voiced so often by Presidents Johnson and Nixon. At least Bush didn’t claim that there was a "light at the end of the tunnel."
His speech offered no new strategies and no hope for an end to the bloodshed.
There are precedents for the United States to retreat from danger zones. In 1983, President Reagan withdrew from Lebanon after 241 servicemen were killed when their barracks was bombed near the Beirut airport.
President Clinton also pulled out of Somalia in 1993 after 18 U.S. soldiers were killed.
Neither president suffered any lasting public repercussions. In fact, the country heaved sighs of relief.
Bush should follow suit and leave Iraq to the Iraqis under a protective U.N. umbrella.
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