Editorial Demands Grow for U.S. Pullout of Iraq

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By: E&P Staff

The editorial pages of many American newspapers have long been harshly critical of the conduct of the war in Iraq, but very few major papers have ever called for a U.S. withdrawal any time soon. The Washington Post has strongly opposed the idea, while The New York Times has started moving in the pullout direction. But the Los Angeles Times — which had backed the “surge” — took the strongest stand yet on Sunday, in an editorial titled simply, “Bring Them Home.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, in a conservative state, the Roanoke (Va.) Times also called for a pullout, explaining that it, too, was reversing course on its support for the war.

The L.A. Times observed, “This newspaper reluctantly endorsed the U.S. troop surge as the last, best hope for stabilizing conditions so that the elected Iraqi government could assume full responsibility for its affairs. But we also warned that the troops should not be used to referee a civil war. That, regrettably, is what has happened.”

It concluded that “the longer we delay planning for the inevitable, the worse the outcome is likely to be. The time has come to leave.”

The Roanoke paper stated, “Though President Bush seems psychologically incapable of the act, it is time for everyone else in the United States to recognize the inevitable: The occupation of Iraq is an utter, irredeemable failure. We cannot win there militarily or politically.

“Further expenditure of blood, lives, and treasure will gain the United States nothing. Nor will it gain anything for the Iraqi people, who have seen only chaos and bloodshed from this intervention.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette declared on Thursday, “All Congress needs to do is show some courage and stand up to President Bush. Its ultimate service to our forces would be to see that no more of them lose their lives in a pointless war — a great service indeed.”

The Sun of Baltimore, which had already back a pullout, now advises that “since the Iraqi parliament plans to take July and August off, Congress could suggest to the president that American troops do the same. It would be a start, at least.”

At the Portland (Maine) Press Herald on Sunday, editorial page editor John W. Porter explained the paper’s recent change of heart on the war (it now backs withdrawal) this way: A major in the Army reserve had made the observation, in chatting with a reporter for the paper, “Every day is Groundhog Day.” This, of course, refers to the movie, “Groundhog Day,” in which Bill Murray wakes each morning to find himself stuck in the same day.

“Groundhog Day,” Porter wrote, referring to Iraq. “One day indistinguishable from the next. No change. No progress. Just the grind of it.”

An excerpt from the L.A. Times editorial, available at www.latimes.com, follows.
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Whatever the future holds, the United States has not “lost” and cannot “lose” Iraq. It was never ours in the first place. And however history will judge the war, some key U.S. goals have been accomplished: Saddam Hussein has been ousted, tried and executed; Iraqis have held three elections, adopted a constitution and established a rudimentary democracy.

But what now? After four years of war, more than $350 billion spent and 3,363 U.S. soldiers killed and 24,310 wounded, it seems increasingly obvious that an Iraqi political settlement cannot be achieved in the shadow of an indefinite foreign occupation. The U.S. military presence ? opposed by more than three-quarters of Iraqis ? inflames terrorism and delays what should be the primary and most pressing goal: meaningful reconciliation among the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

This newspaper reluctantly endorsed the U.S. troop surge as the last, best hope for stabilizing conditions so that the elected Iraqi government could assume full responsibility for its affairs. But we also warned that the troops should not be used to referee a civil war. That, regrettably, is what has happened.

The mire deepens against a backdrop of domestic U.S. politics in which support for the ill-defined mission wanes by the week. Better to begin planning a careful, strategic withdrawal from Iraq now, based on the strategies laid out by the Iraq Study Group, than allow for the 2008 campaign season to create a precipitous pullout.

With four out of five additional battalions now in place, there is no reason to believe that the surge will help bring about an end to what is, in fact, a multifaceted civil war. The only bright spot is in Al Anbar province, where Sunni tribal leaders have joined U.S. forces in the fight against foreign Al Qaeda fighters. They deserve our continuing support. But as long as civil war rages in Iraq, even the post-surge force of 160,000 troops cannot achieve more than marginal progress….

But an important element needs to be taken off the table: American blood. The U.S. should immediately declare its intention to begin a gradual troop drawdown, starting no later than the fall. The pace of the withdrawal must be flexible, to reflect progress or requests by the Iraqis and the military’s commanders. The precise date for completing the withdrawal need not be announced, but the assumption should be that combat troops would depart by the end of 2009. Iraqi political compromise is more likely to come when Washington is no longer backing the stronger (Shiite) party. U.S. troops could then be repositioned to better wage the long-term struggle against Islamic extremism.

We are not naive. U.S. withdrawal, whether concluded next year or five years from now, entails grave risks. But so does U.S. occupation. The question is how best to manage the risks.

First, there is the grim prospect of a bloodbath in Iraq. But the best way to forestall slaughter is political reconciliation, not military occupation. Second is the worry that Al Qaeda will establish a beachhead in Al Anbar. Yet Iraqis have already turned against the foreign fighters. Third, the neighbors may meddle. Alarmists fear an Iranian proxy state in Baghdad; southern Iraq is already allied with Tehran. But Iraq’s neighbors are more likely to be helpful once withdrawal is assured, and instability is not in their interests, especially without a U.S. occupier to bleed.

Having invested so much in Iraq, Americans are likely to find disengagement almost as painful as war. But the longer we delay planning for the inevitable, the worse the outcome is likely to be. The time has come to leave.

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