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What's the right course in Iraq now?

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Posted: Friday, June 24, 2005 10:00 pm

Can it be that this war in Iraq is all a big misunderstanding? Whoops, our bad?

We were dismayed recently to hear American weapons inspector Charles Duelfer explain why Saddam Hussein was hiding his weapons of mass destruction program from the U.N. It wasn't because he didn't want the U.S. to catch him with illegal germs, gases and bombs. No, said Duelfer, Saddam was hiding the fact he didn't have them, hiding them from the Iranians who he thought might invade Iran.

Apparently he didn't think the U.S. would invade. Did he think we were too smart for that? Or did he think we were too gutless? Who knows? Anyway, Saddam miscalculated as badly as we did.

And by that "we" I guess we have to admit that means "we" at the paper, too. Aided by a president and a CIA that apparently knew no more about the Iraq's WMD situation than newspaper folk in Lodi, we were persuaded that Saddam's blatant attempts to block weapons inspectors were a sign of his guilt and his imminent threat, not his impotence.

So now what?

For better or worse, we've taken the plunge. We are gambling we can turn Iraq into a peaceful democracy.

We've made some progress on the democracy part. The peace part has been very deadly and devilishly difficult -- mainly because more than a billion Muslims see us as a relentless enemy.

They see our decades of support for Israel as complicity in the oppression of Palestinians. And they see our culture -- our movies, our clothing, our extra-marital sex and our freedom for women -- as a corrupting influence on their culture. Those factors alone angered extremists enough to fly airliners into the World Trade towers Sept. 11, 2001.

Our invasion of Iraq just dug the hole deeper. Never mind that we oversaw an election that allowed majority Shiites to control a government that was once a dictatorship run by Saddam, a minority Sunni. We are seen as the bad guys by enough Muslims that they are sending hundreds, perhaps thousands of their sons and daughters to fight a suicidal war.

The miscommunication and misjudgment is worse now than ever. We need to rethink what we're doing in Iraq.

If we really, honestly believe we can beat the insurgents at their game and create an effective democratic government in Iraq, fine. If we, as a nation, believe that will make for safer borders and a better chance for peace in Israel, let's stay the course. Maybe the bloodshed is worth it.

But we should take a lesson from the miscalculation surrounding Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. We fought in Vietnam for years because we felt we couldn't appear weak. We thought retreat would just encourage the communists. There's no reason to pursue that thinking again in Iraq.

Nobody today believes the U.S. is weak militarily. Nobody thinks President Bush is gutless.

So let's not be afraid to ask ourselves some hard questions:

• Does it make sense to try to outlast a fanatical enemy defending its own turf?

• Is it really true that pulling out of Iraq will encourage terrorism?

• Or is terrorism more encouraged by the perception we are acting like the enemy of Islam?

• Can we pull our young soldiers out of harm's way without inciting a bloodbath by the minority Sunnis against the majority Shiites and minority Kurds?

• Will changing course in Iraq make the situation in Israel irredeemably worse or relieve the pressure by militants on the new Palestinian Authority?

We just observed Memorial Day, a day when this nation reflects on the sacrifices of our troops in battle. Now of all times we should have the intellectual honesty to ask ourselves why we ask for those sacrifices.

People make mistakes. Good people admit them and rethink their position.

-- The Lodi News-Sentinel.



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