Repairing Iraq

“If you break it, you fix it.” Unfortunately for the United States, this is the reality in Iraq. We invaded and destroyed the country’s infrastructure, and now we must put it back together. There is no choice.

That means that American soldiers are going to continue to die there. The loss of 16 helicopter crew members this week is just the worst instance of a pattern of violence that has existed since the invasion and will continue for a long time.

Perhaps it was wrong to invade Iraq. Certainly it was a mistake not to wait until the United Nations supported invasion. But the horror of Saddam Hussein’s regime cannot be overstated. Many, probably most, Iraqis are glad the Americans are there. And large regions of the country—the Shi’ite south, the Kurdish north—are relatively stable and returning to a healthy normalcy. President Bush is right: Progress is being made.

Much can be said that’s critical of the way the invasion has been conducted, beginning with the shameful way the Bush administration misled the American people about its supposed justification. And there have been grievous tactical failures, most notably in planning for the post-invasion reconstruction effort, and terrible personal errors, such as Bush’s irresponsible taunt, “Bring ’em on,” and his phony photo-op “Mission Accomplished” carrier landing. The president’s cocksure braggadocio has been an embarrassment.

But that doesn’t change the condition on the ground: We are in Iraq to stay, at least until the country has sufficient stability to run its own affairs and avoid civil war. A premature U.S. pullout would be disastrous, destroying our credibility and leaving the Iraqi people to the wolves.

The president needs public support, and he’s losing it. It’s time for him to level with us. First, he needs to stop trying to spin events, as he did last week when he said the escalated violence is a sign of the resistance’s "desperation." How stupid does he think we are? Second, he needs to be frank and honest about the requirements for success and set out a credible procedure and timetable for withdrawal. If he does so—and shows a little humility in the process—the American people will take responsibility for their country’s actions and support him in rebuilding Iraq.