Less than four years into the Vietnam conflict, roughly 3,000 U.S. troops had been killed in action. Over the next eight years, 55,000 more American soldiers died and the conflict ended in defeat for our country.
We stand at a similar precipice today in Iraq. Unfortunately, instead of learning from the mistakes of the past, President Bush is pushing a double-or-nothing attempt to make Iraq into a western-style democracy. His troop ‘surge’ proposal would place an additional 20,000 soldiers in Iraq. Their mission: a vaguely defined goal of providing ‘security’ for the Iraqi government to conduct its business in the hopes that democracy can flourish.
With 140,000 troops now on the ground and 160,000 in past years, the sectarian violence has continued to rage unabated. What 20,000 more troops bring to this situation is questionable at best. Shiite and Sunni Muslims are in the midst of a power struggle for control of their country. It is a civil war and our soldiers are caught in the crossfire. We are refereeing an ideological war that has been waged both hot and cold for centuries.
The Iraqis have the ability to end the fighting tomorrow. It is up to them whether to continue the bloodletting or to lay down their arms and participate in a civil society. Unless or until that decision is made, there will be no end to the violence and our military efforts to hold the fractured nation together will be fruitless.
Instead of the Bush/McCain military ‘surge’ the U.S. should begin a diplomatic ‘surge’ in Iraq. Efforts to bring other nations from the region to the negotiating table must occur. These are the players with the most at stake concerning Iraq’s future. Combined with a phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq, this represents the best of the bad options we have left.
Throughout this entire Iraq debacle, the Bush Administration and their allies have put military might before diplomatic initiative. From shortchanging UN weapons inspections to an abject failure to create an exit strategy, the administration has been locked into a theory that democracy can be created from the barrel of a gun. It is this “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality that has gotten us where we are today. Having thoroughly tried that route for the past four years, it is time for a real change of course. Redeploying our troops and going back to the kind of focused diplomacy that won us the Cold War without a single shot fired in active combat is that new direction.