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November 24, 2006

A Chance to Save Lives

Roy Meachum

More civilians have died this November, already, than during any month since the American invasion.

You might not have noticed; so few people pay attention to Iraq these days. It is a forgotten war, happening some place else. With six days to go, this easily could put a quietus on Washington's attempts to play down the all-out civil war taking place out there.

Months before George W. Bush and his allies, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, ordered the tanks to roll over the Kuwait border, I had written that an American interference in Iraqi affairs was doomed to fail.

Years later Henry Kissinger has said the same thing. The former secretary of state's pronouncement that the U.S. cannot win in Iraq comes too little and too late. I'm left to ponder the irony that I, a country columnist, made the identical point before Iraqis and coalition forces began dying. How many? No one really knows.

England's Cambridge University issued a study last month that claimed over a half-million Iraqis have lost their lives. U.S. fatalities are reaching toward the 3,000 mark and that figure does not include about 20,000 wounded, some horribly. No one knows for sure how much money has been wasted on the White House's ill-advised adventure. Certainly hundreds of billions, some gone to line contractors' pockets.

Few people will probably recall that Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz reassured the American public that Iraqi oilfields would pay the bill. For that received wisdom, President Bush named Mr. Wolfowitz to head the World Bank. (You did a heckuva job, Paulie!)

With no hope of military victory, the administration and its allies continue to solicit generals' opinion. How much sense does that make? That's how we wound up spending too long on Vietnam's deadly path. As with Southeast Asia, the Middle East is entirely a political problem. There are not enough young men in the United States to subjugate the entire region. We never won "the hearts and the mines" in the Vietnam War; we have even a lesser chance in Iraq.

Generals tend to equate victory on the battlefield with winning everything; it doesn't happen. Expanding the current conflict by sending more U.S. troops has the potential of bringing the entire Islamic world into the fray.

Washington should be grateful that Syria and Iran have offered to help mediate the conflict; as Iraq's next-door neighbors they could, at least, take the burden off America. Between the two nations the immediate effect could severely reduce the so-called "insurgency." The word covers a movement that rises against a legitimate government. Iraq has none such.

By the way, the New York Times, among other media, have labeled Iran Shiite and that is true. On the other hand, Syria's control does not rest in Sunni hands. The ruling party is Alawite, another branch of Shi'ism. Damascus, in sympathy with its brother Shiite state, supported strongly Teheran when Saddam Hussein mounted, with U.S. assistance, an onslaught on Iran. Diplomatic relations were restored only this week; they had been broken for over 25 years.

Allowing Iran and Syria to exercise their good offices in attempting to bring peace would, at the very least, ruffle White House suits; it would be fought by the military brass, whose members still harbor the belief we could have staged a victory march in Saigon. Not in their wildest dreams!

The uniforms continue to harbor the sort of racism that prompted the politicians to consider Iraqis as folks who would welcome U.S. forces as liberators. Mr. Cheney conjured visions of French reaction to the allies chasing the Germans home, in 1944.

The fatal flaw in the decision to invade Iraq rested in the total disregard for the people directly affected. As more women, children and men die as the result of the invasion, the U.S. has no choice but to follow Richard Nixon's example: Declare victory and pull everybody out.

Iran and Syria stepping forth provide a kind of insurance that the massacres might be kept on the level we're seeing now. The bonus to this country: No more young Americans killed and deformed. The sectarian massacres will almost certainly be continued, at least for a while.

But the killings will no longer be America's responsibility. Of course, we will still get blamed and for years to come. But getting out now, in the Nixon model, will at least save lives, including some of our own youngsters.

What a nice holiday gift for thousands of families.


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