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Economist.com: Why America Must Stay in Iraq


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Why America must stay

Nov 24th 2005

From The Economist print edition

http://www.economist.com/research/articlesBySubject/PrinterFriendly.cfm?Story_ID=5214118&subjectID=348966

America should keep its troops in Iraq until Iraqis ask them to go

WARS waged abroad are often lost at home; and that may be starting to happen with Iraq. Calls for American troops to withdraw are familiar in the Arab world and Europe, but in the United States itself such talk has remained on the fringes of political debate. Now, with surprising suddenness, it has landed at the centre of American politics.

On November 17th John Murtha, a hawkish Democratic congressman, suggested pulling the troops out of Iraq in six months, prompting an unseemly spat between the former marine colonel and the White House. Moves to set a timetable have been voted down, but the Republican-controlled Senate has voted 79-19 for 2006 to be “a period of significant transition to full Iraq sovereignty” and the Pentagon is mumbling about troop reductions. Meanwhile, some hundred Iraqi leaders at a reconciliation conference in Cairo backed by the Arab League talked about setting a timetable for withdrawal.

There is some politicking in this. In Cairo, the Shias and Kurds, who dominate Iraq's new order, were offering an olive branch to the sullen Sunnis, who used to run the show under Saddam Hussein. In America, Republicans are looking nervously at the 2006 elections. Democrats sense that George Bush is vulnerable—and that Iraq presents the best way to hurt him now that most Americans regret invading the country. Yet there is plainly principle too: Mr Murtha and millions of others maintain that America is doing more harm than good in Iraq, and that the troops should therefore come home.

This newspaper strongly disagrees. In our opinion it would be disastrous for America to retreat hastily from Iraq. Yet it is also well past time for George Bush to spell out to the American people much more clearly and honestly than he has hitherto done why their sons and daughters fighting in Iraq should remain in harm's way.

The cost of failure

Every reasonable person should be able to agree on two things about America's presence in Iraq. First, if the Iraqi government formally asks the troops to leave, they should do so. Second, the argument about whether America should quit Iraq is not the same as the one about whether it should have gone there in the first place. It must be about the future.

That said, the catalogue of failures thus far does raise serious questions about the administration's ability to make Iraq work—ever. Mr Bush's team mis-sold the war, neglected post-invasion planning, has never committed enough troops to the task and has taken a cavalier attitude to human rights. Abu Ghraib, a place of unspeakable suffering under Mr Hussein, will go into the history books as a symbol of American shame. The awful irony is that the specious link which the administration claimed existed between Iraq and al-Qaeda in order to justify going to war now exists.

Two-and-a-half years after Mr Bush stood beneath a banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished”, the insurgency is as strong as ever. More than 2,000 Americans, some 3,600 Iraqi troops, perhaps 30,000 Iraqi civilians and an unknown number of Iraqi insurgents have lost their lives, and conditions of life for the “liberated” remain woeful. All this makes Mr Bush's refusal to sack the people responsible for this mess, especially his defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, alarming.

But disappointment, even on this scale, does not justify a precipitate withdrawal. There are strong positive and negative reasons for America to see through what it started.

Flickers of hope

Iraq is not Vietnam. Most Iraqis share America's aims: the Shia Arabs and Kurds make up some 80% of the population, while the insurgents operate mainly in four of Iraq's 18 provinces. After boycotting the first general election in January, more Sunni Arabs are taking part in peaceful politics. Many voted in last month's referendum that endorsed a new constitution; more should be drawn into next month's election, enabling a more representative government to emerge. That will not stop the insurgency, but may lessen its intensity. It seems, too, that the Arab world may be turning against the more extreme part of the insurgency—the jihadists led by al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who blow up mosques around Baghdad and Palestinian wedding parties in Jordan (see article). Though few Arabs publicly admit it, Mr Bush's efforts to spread democracy in the region are starting to bear fruit.

So America does have something to defend in Iraq. Which, for Mr Bush's critics, leads into the most tempting part of Mr Murtha's argument: that American troops are now a barrier to further progress; that if they left, Mr Zarqawi would lose the one thing that unites the Sunnis and jihadists; and that, in consequence, Iraqis would have to look after their own security. This has a seductive logic, but flies in the face of the evidence. Most of the insurgents' victims are Iraqis, not American soldiers. There are still too few American troops, not too many. And the Iraqi forces that America is training are not yet ready to stand on their own feet. By all means, hand over more duties to them, letting American and other coalition troops withdraw from the cities where they are most conspicuous and offensive to patriotic Iraqis. Over time, American numbers should fall. But that should happen because the Iraqis are getting stronger, not because the Americans are feeling weaker. Nor should a fixed timetable be set, for that would embolden the insurgents.

The cost to America of staying in Iraq may be high, but the cost of retreat would be higher. By fleeing, America would not buy itself peace. Mr Zarqawi and his fellow fanatics have promised to hound America around the globe. Driving America out of Iraq would grant militant Islam a huge victory. Arabs who want to modernise their region would know that they could not count on America to stand by its friends.

If such reasoning sounds negative—America must stay because the consequences of leaving would be too awful—treat that as a sad reflection of how Mr Bush's vision for the Middle East has soured. The road ahead looks bloody and costly. But this is not the time to retreat.

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An interesting take from a traditionally liberal source.

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In spite of the massive misinformation that led to the war, the woefull lack of planning that went into the war and the continued spin regarding the status of the war, I continue to believe that we have no choice but to see it through. Bush # 1 encouraged the Kurds to rise up against Saddam Hussien and then did nothing when they got slaughtered. The hopes of a vast majority of Iraqi citizens depend on our resolve. We can't walk away.

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I agree with you Wskin44. What's more, I'm encouraged with Bush's latest document released which actually gives a roughed in picture of what victory will look like. I have been harping for months that the worst part of this whole mess was having no idea what victory looked like and under what conditions we will be able to start withdrawing troops in a "victorious" situation. At this point, we have long since past the in for a penny bit. We're in for billions.

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As usual, the Economist sees things more clearly than any domestic American publication.

I was not aware that the Economist is considered "traditionally liberal." They are pro-business, but pragmatic and result oriented. I guess it is in the eye of the beholder.

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I was not aware that the Economist is considered "traditionally liberal." They are pro-business, but pragmatic and result oriented. I guess it is in the eye of the beholder.

I don't think they are particularly liberal or conservative; however, having had this conversation with a couple members here, in whose eyes the Economist is slightly (or more) liberal (*shocker :)), I threw that line in there. I tend to think it's largely middle of the road, just like the Financial Times with which it shares a publisher.

Perhaps I should have written, "from a source, many of the conservative members of the Board think of as more liberal than conservative."

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The Economist is the bomb diggity, and it is usually viewed as middle of the road with a slight conservative edge. The editorials are most definately conservative, not as bad (and I know full well I am going slammed for this ;)) as the Wall Street Journal nutjob neo-fascist editorials, but certainly conservative nonetheless. And I agree with the Economist, we should stay in Iraq, fix what we broke, and in the meantime not let the Bush administration walk away unpunished for all their screw ups. Gotta love the Brits.

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We will probably save a lot of money if we just left now, but if there is a chance we can prevent what seems to be the inevitable then we ought to stay. The problem is we would have to stay there for years and years and pay more lives and hundreds of billions more to reach what most of us call a victory, Iraq as a liberal democracy standing on its own feet.

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I don't think they are particularly liberal or conservative; however, having had this conversation with a couple members here, in whose eyes the Economist is slightly (or more) liberal (*shocker :)), I threw that line in there. I tend to think it's largely middle of the road, just like the Financial Times with which it shares a publisher.

Perhaps I should have written, "from a source, many of the conservative members of the Board think of as more liberal than conservative."

You just passed the bar and already you are running for office by trying to hedge your comments. :laugh: Give it up. You can't please everyone. :)

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The editorials are most definately conservative, not as bad (and I know full well I am going slammed for this ;)) as the Wall Street Journal nutjob neo-fascist editorials

I read those editorials every morning along with the whole Op/Ed page; they are conservative certainly, but they never rise to the level of neo-fascist. In any case, though we're getting off topic here, the Op/Ed page of the WSJ is one of my favorite things that I get to read everyday. Sometimes it's great, sometime not, but it draws some really interesting contributors out of the wood work.

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Ok, I have not read every WSJ op/ed piece but as a general rule of thumb they strike me as giving bigotry and imperialism an intellectual grounding that is ahistorical in nature. I like to read the Economist editorials because they give me something to chew on, even though I think their conclusions are wrong. The WSJ presents some very dangerous ideas under the false guise of reason, so it is not their conclusions but their evidence that is wrong. The WSJ has some great science reports though, gotta give ups to them for that.

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You just passed the bar and already you are running for office by trying to hedge your comments. :laugh: Give it up. You can't please everyone. :)

it is worth noting that Iheart has always been 1000% PC.... not just since he's been a mod.

I think he might be the only member of ES with over 5000 posts who hasn't pissed anyone off :laugh: A helluva accomplishment if you ask me

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Ok, I have not read every WSJ op/ed piece but as a general rule of thumb they strike me as giving bigotry and imperialism an intellectual grounding that is ahistorical in nature. I like to read the Economist editorials because they give me something to chew on, even though I think their conclusions are wrong. The WSJ presents some very dangerous ideas under the false guise of reason, so it is not their conclusions but their evidence that is wrong. The WSJ has some great science reports though, gotta give ups to them for that.

Which editorials gave you a sense that the WSJ incorrectly reports on bigotry and imperialism? They are capitalist, through and through, but I've seen nothing that's lead me to believe that they are intellectually dishonest in the way you describe. There are instances, certainly, where they argue in ways that would be inappropriate for an article that appeared on the front page of the newpaper, but then again, that's why these writings are categorized separately from the rest of the paper.

I agree with you about the Economist though I think they are right more often than wrong.

What are the dangerous ideas that you are speaking of? I have full access to the WSJ so if you remember the title of one of the editorials, I'll be able to pull it up so we can discuss it further.

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it is worth noting that Iheart has always been 1000% PC.... not just since he's been a mod.

I think he might be the only member of ES with over 5000 posts who hasn't pissed anyone off :laugh: A helluva accomplishment if you ask me

I'd hope that it comes across as less like "PC" and more like "diplomatic." I've gotten into it with Ghost from time to time, but things have always concluded amicably--same thing with Bang in a thread about lawyers. I just try to write in such a way that my point comes across without condescescion--even though I'm usually right. :)

In any case, I appreciate the compliment zoony; and I hope you know that irrespective of whether you think of me as PC or not, everything I write is sincere.

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Every reasonable person should be able to agree on two things about America's presence in Iraq. First, if the Iraqi government formally asks the troops to leave, they should do so. Second, the argument about whether America should quit Iraq is not the same as the one about whether it should have gone there in the first place. It must be about the future.

I think this is absolutely accurate. I wonder if we could get 80% of Tailgaters to agree on these two things.

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I always buy The Economist when I travel to read on the plane, it is a great magazine and it is really exactly as AtB stated. . .conservative economically, but slightly liberal on social issues.

I disagree with some of this article though, because it is not clear to me that we are doing anything positive right now. The insurgency is increasing, the Sunni hatred is increasing, there are torture stories of the Sunni's being tortured but the Iraqi govt., it is slowly churning and disolving into a civil war.

The problem I have with the logic in The Economistis is what if it does turn into another Vietnam? When do you say this is not working, and we need to change the situation and what is going on? The problems with Iraq are numerous and widespread. The problem is that nothing is done to rectify the mistakes made, so they continue to be made. It's the way that we handled the post invasion that was the problem, and we haven't done anything to rectify the problems. . . at least I have not seen anything wherre they have decidely changed strategy midstream to rectify mistakes made.

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In spite of the massive misinformation that led to the war, the woefull lack of planning that went into the war and the continued spin regarding the status of the war, I continue to believe that we have no choice but to see it through. Bush # 1 encouraged the Kurds to rise up against Saddam Hussien and then did nothing when they got slaughtered. The hopes of a vast majority of Iraqi citizens depend on our resolve. We can't walk away.

Oh, for crying out loud! I am so sick of hearing this. Name any war in our nation's history that was entered into with a plan, and that plan remained intact after combat started!

It's as bad the "exit strategy" and "plan to win the peace" that many liberals lament us not having. They're all things that never existed before, until Democrats/liberals invented them as complaining points.

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