‘St. Pete Times’: Now Is Time to Exit Iraq

By: E&P Staff

Taking a stronger stand that it has in the past, the St. Petersburg Times declared in an editorial today (as the headline put it), “Time has come to end Bush’s failed Iraq war.”

The paper, noting the events of the past days, observed,
“It was the week some had hoped would mark a turning point in the fractious debate over the Iraq war. The turn was discouraging. It left little hope that the war will end any time soon….

“Nothing the Congress and the public heard last week changed the choice we face as a nation – either continue with Bush’s ill-defined and open-ended military commitment to Iraq, or begin an orderly and strategic withdrawal of U.S. combat troops in concert with a full-scale diplomatic surge in the region. We strongly come down on the side of those, including a majority of the American people, who believe it’s time to start winding down the war and for the United States to put the responsibility for that miserable country’s future where it belongs, in the hands of the Iraqi people and their leaders.

“The United States is 4 1/2 years into this disastrous war at a cost so far of nearly 3,800 Americans killed, thousands more horribly wounded and almost $1-trillion in national treasure. Yet, the president refuses to acknowledge that his way has failed. If there were ever any doubts, Bush’s speech made it clear that he has no strategy for ending this war, much less winning it.”

An excerpt follows.

Americans should not be under any illusions about how and when this war will end or that there are any good choices left. Regardless of which side prevails in Washington – and Bush appears to have the political advantage for now – there almost certainly will be a substantial American military presence in Iraq on the day his successor takes office. And even if the next president is a Democrat who moves quickly to end the war, U.S. engagement in Iraq and the region will not end.

When you get past the sound-bites and antiwar rhetoric of the leading Democratic presidential candidates, they are outlining positions that could leave the United States involved in Iraq for years. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York would leave a residual U.S. force to fight terrorism and protect the Kurds in northern Iraq. Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina has said he would keep some troops in the region to respond to Iraqi genocide and to provide border security. And Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois said last week he would withdraw all U.S. combat troops and leave behind a force of unspecified size to battle terrorists, train Iraqi soldiers and protect American interests. They need to be more specific, as do the Republican presidential candidates.

It is in America’s interest to change course in Iraq, the sooner the better. However, that is not likely to happen unless voters send a unequivocal message to Washington in next year’s presidential and congressional elections that they want this war to come to an end. As the campaign goes forward, Democrats need to offer clear alternatives to the Bush policy, including a military and diplomatic strategy for managing what everyone acknowledges could be even worse sectarian violence in the aftermath of a U.S. withdrawal.

That is the debate that the country needs at this point, not another round of bitter wrangling over timetables and benchmarks that the commander in chief has indicated he would ignore. Last week’s congressional hearings appear to have bought Bush at least enough time to hand off the Iraq calamity to his successor. But that extra time to continue a war that never should have been started will come at a high cost in American lives, with only the dimmest prospect of success.

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