Bring ’em home

Here we are, nearly six years after 9/11, up to our eyeballs in two wars, with more than 3,600 American soldiers dead, not to mention countless Iraqi and Afghan soldiers and civilians, and we learn—from our own government, no less—that we’re not much safer today than we were on Sept. 10, 2001.

That was the news last week, when the Bush administration released its latest National Intelligence Estimate. Read it and weep: Al-Qaeda is as strong as ever and poised to strike this country again; the Iraq war has bolstered al-Qaeda by firing up jihadis all over the Middle East; and America’s good friend Pakistan, the recipient of billions of dollars in U.S. aid money, is now al-Qaeda’s safe haven.

What a mess. George W. Bush has gotten us into a horrific quagmire. It’s time to change course.

The president’s faith in the possibility of national unity in Iraq is a pipe dream. As Sen. Richard Lugar, a Republican, has wisely noted, “few Iraqis have demonstrated that they want to be Iraqis.” The Kurds want to maintain autonomy in their northern province, and the Shiites and Sunnis want to fight over the rest of the country.

As the Washington Post reported on July 17, recent “war games” exercises conducted by the U.S. military found that three scenarios were likely to unfold if the U.S. withdrew: Majority Shiites would drive Sunnis out of remaining mixed neighborhoods into Anbar province; civil war between rival Shiite groups would break out in the south; and Kurdistan would solidify its borders and invite the protection of U.S. forces. In other words, Iraq would splinter into three countries.

Would there be greater bloodshed than currently? Probably, though how much and for how long are hard to know. In the current situation, however, the violence will continue indefinitely.

In such a context, the best thing the U.S. can do is minimize losses and focus on the achievable. We can protect Kurdistan’s pro-Western democracy. We can enlist Iraq’s neighbors in developing a plan to avoid regional meltdown. And we can pull back our troops to protect Iraq’s borders.

Otherwise, though, we need to start the difficult process of bringing our soldiers home.