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Marlin Dick at Axis For Peace 2005 conference

I could be writing this on any day, but on this one, 35 young Iraqi men were killed by a suicide bomber in Baghdad. They were lined up to apply for jobs in the police force, meaning that the U.S.-led occupation cannot provide security for the people it wants to stabilize the country.

Another 75 bodies were reported to have been found this day, most presumably the victims of grisly executions. Since the U.S. is 10 times as big as Iraq, this would be like 1,100 Americans killed on a single day, in acts of political violence.

Let’s do some more math. The latest civilian casually estimate in Iraq, or the number of people who have died or been killed since the war began (to depose Saddam Hussein, if I remember correctly) is 655,000.

This figure seems a little high to me, since it would mean an average of more than 500 people a day. Say it’s only 110 a day, on average, or 1,100 in the U.S. Like the day I’m writing this. This day alone would translate into nearly half of the American casualties of 9/11.

We experienced 9/11 once, five years ago. We have been causing it three times a week to Iraq for 31/2 years. Three times a week, every single week, month after month and year after year. Sept. 11, three times a week.

Our disaster in Iraq — after the war against Saddam Hussein’s regime ended successfully — has taken place because we are occupying, and not helping Iraq after decades of repression, wars and sanctions. The war that was waged ended in April 2003 and our post-Saddam occupation has been a well-chronicled failure on administrative, military and political fronts.

We have fought several "final" battles for Fallujah. In the most immediate form of Iraq’s crisis, the country has slipped into civil war while we were in charge.

What should the U.S. do?

A recent New Yorker article describes the military’s opposition to the policy of the Clinton years, and its desire to avoid "operations other than war." This describes Iraq today — a war (undeclared by Congress) began in March 2003 and resulted in the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime the next month. In May, Bush declared victory, or "mission accomplished" — although the mission was to find weapons of mass destruction.

If the authorities break into your house on the pretext that you are hiding explosives, and then fail to find them, what happens? In Iraq, the intruder has decided to stay anyway, to do other things, like promote democracy in the region (failed) and stabilize the country (failing).

It didn’t work in Vietnam either

Stabilization is what the Vietnam mission was called. We weren’t fighting a war to bring down North Vietnam, but to prop up South Vietnam. Today’s talking points use a new word — stand up instead of prop up — but little else about the policy is different. It didn’t work in Vietnam and it’s not working in Iraq.

The civilian, military and intelligence chiefs who oversaw the first part of our Iraq adventure have received Congressional medals of honor. Their performance — bad intelligence, insufficient troops, failing to provide security or a decent economy, de-Baathification — has led us to where we are now.

Tommy Franks, George Tenet and Paul Bremer are gone and their replacement, with the seeming decline of Dick Cheney and actual departure of Donald Rumsfeld, is a James Baker-led advisory group, which is irrelevant. The Democrats’ interest in a draw-down of troops seems like fine-tuning, not a policy change. But it’s a complex time, since several different options are being defended: more troops, fewer troops, withdraw gradually, stay the course until victory, etc.

The answer is simple: We need to leave Iraq now. We could even have peace, but no one in the Washington establishment appears to be interested in actually constructing a coherent policy. We could take all the billions we’re wasting on the carpet-bagging of companies like Halliburton and ensure that the Iraqis get it. This would relieve the dire economic situation and give fewer unemployed people less of an incentive to join criminal or terrorist gangs.

Instead of a series of lecture points we trot out to Iraqi politicians and the leaders of neighboring countries, we could oversee political settlements. This would require gathering Iraq’s neighbors, and negotiating with our current Public Enemies No. 1 and 2, Iran and Syria.

In the past, we have called on them to use their influence to stabilize Iraq — since we acknowledge that they have influence, and since we don’t intend to destroy that influence, we must be prepared to make a deal.

Of course, much of the tension in the Arab world could disappear if we, or the international community, did something useful like spend enough money the right way or halt the staggering levels of arms sales to the region. A settlement of the Palestine-Israel conflict is another piece of the puzzle, which isn’t very complicated. But like a puzzle, it just needs a comprehensive solution; half-way measures won’t work.

These days, two big words often come up in discussions of Iraq: democracy and terror. By leaving, we will certainly increase the chances for the former and reduce the strength of the latter. Iraq’s civil war is due to our own bumbling, so we should ensure that it stops: no aid if there is chaos, or a partition into sectarian-ethnic states.

Our occupation should end on purely moral grounds. We have increased terror and hurt our standing around the world. We have failed the economy, history, infrastructure and people of Iraq. It’s time to leave.