Plotting our escape from the war in Iraq

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I was thankful this Thanksgiving that an important conversation finally started.

Leaders of Congress have finally caught up to the rest of the world in seriously considering how long U.S. troops are going to remain in Iraq. Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha’s recent call for a complete troop withdrawal, while perhaps unrealistic using Murtha’s own timetable, has lit a fire under the arses of Americans and policymakers alike, if only for its bravado and idealistic view of war.

But I’m sending that hawkish man a Christmas card this year. His actions have allowed for other Democratic leaders in Congress, such as senators Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton, to make their own plays on Iraq. The more moderate Democratic leaders have not called for a complete troop withdrawal, as not many think that’s a feasible operation if the military looks to keep the Iraqi people away from a January civil war.

Instead, they’ve called for troop reductions and a timetable to get out of Iraq. Perhaps in the same way Bush administration nominee hyper-goofy Harriet Miers took a grandiose dive off the national stage to pave the way for U.S. Supreme Court Justice nominee hyper-conservative Samuel Alito to ascend to legitimate consideration, Murtha has given Democratic policymakers an opportunity to make troop reductions and a timetable in Iraq a legitimate and rational talking point. Coincidentally, both really are reasonable.

It’s hard to deny the politics of a war like this. The balancing act of which administration official will say troop reductions are likely and which are not is difficult to watch from afar – one day it’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the next it’s Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings or someone else. Early conservative critics of at least the execution of the war, not its motivations, like Arizona Senator John McCain have caught my attention in a way I truly cannot stand: I respect him way more than I do some of my favorite Democratic Congressional leaders. That’s more than dangerous.

But it’s even harder to deny the real humanity of a war like this. I fear that as serious discussion moves forward about troop reductions and withdrawal, some may claim that those actions jeopardize the well being of Iraqi civilians, who are literally hanging on for dear lives at the beckon call of the U.S. military. What will happen to them if we leave? Will the country move toward civil war? Will any of this be worth it?

I don’t know. Nobody knows. People think they do, but they’re liars. If we stayed for 40 years, the odds would be just as good as to prevent civil war as if we left in mid-2007. The definition of success in Iraq has changed so many times that to define failure there is almost impossible. Were we defending ourselves from the possible threat of weapons of mass destruction? Were we installing a democracy in the jihad-ridden Middle East in a fit of neo-liberalism led by Donny “Rummy” Rumsfeld ‘ Co.?

Was it both? Was it neither? Was it oil? Who knows! It’s like quicksand, and we’re sinking, but we’re not even sure if getting out alive should be priority No. 1.

People are catching on, however. Every few weeks, it seems, another country announces its own plans for possible troop reductions and withdrawals. Iraqi leaders just recently said that a troop-withdrawal timetable needs to be established, which contradicts most of the administration’s policy moves to keep a time limit off Iraqi soil.

In the meantime, just short of 2,100 Americans have lost their lives in a war that people are finally beginning to question. These troops will feel even more lost, more unsupported as Murtha’s conversation waves across the United States. It’s going to be important for “war critics” to be on the troops’ side in the next four or five months, as a decision or pseudo-decisions start to be made about the direction of this war.

Even more important is for Vice President Dick Cheney to stop calling select Iraq war critics “dishonest and reprehensible.” His ability to judge on the morals of politics and on matters of policy ended somewhere between when his office “outed” a CIA operative and when it worked for months on misleading an entire country into a needless war.

Now that we’re there, though, we might as well finish up. But like any project, we need a plan, and Americans have no reason to trust this administration with a plan that involves the Iraqi people or conflict.

Ryan Denham can be reached at editor@csun.edu.