Support for the war in Iraq seems to be dwindling by the week as the general public loses faith in the administration and it’s reasoning for going to war in the first place. Forgetting the most vocal minorities at either side of the political battle, average citizens are beginning to seriously question why we are fighting in Iraq, what we are supposed to be achieving, and how we are getting the job done. Answers to these questions are important, but what we are being told does not match up to what we see and hear. As the death toll rises abroad, our economy and freedoms here at home are taking damage too. For many now, the questions of why and what are less important than the question of when we will bring the troops home. This is a question to which the American people can get no satisfactory answer. The administration is locked into their “We’ll stay until the job is finished!” mantra. The Democrat’s solution is to “Bring everyone home now!” Neither solution reflects the realities in place, and we are, in effect, left with no solution at all as the madness continues. To answer the latter question, we must first be honest about the former questions, because the solution to ending the war depends a great deal on accepting the realities of the situation as they exist now.

To end this conflict we must first come clean about why we went in to Iraq and what we hoped to achieve. Without honestly enunciated goals, how can we be sure we are making progress? If we look at the situation on the ground, the results of the war could lead us to believe that our goals were (a) to destroy infrastructure and create profitable rebuilding contracts for American multi-national corporations; (b) to establish a pro-western government; (c) to renew access to oil reserves; (d) to distract the American public from the fact that their own freedoms were being abridged as their government sought to consolidate power and wealth for themselves and their benefactors.
If these were the goals, then success is still only partially won. We have shoveled tons of tax dollars into multi-nationals like Halliburton, and we have been distracted from all sorts of domestic trickery. But we certainly don’t have better access to oil, at least not in any way that affects the consumer. And the new Iraqi Constitution is hardly a document that embraces the West. But I don’t remember hearing any of this used as rationale for war. I do remember talk of imminent danger from WMD’s. I recall claims of collaboration with the terrorists who actually did attack America on multiple occasions. I even think I heard “spreading democracy” as a justification for war, an opportunity to help release an oppressed people from the iron grip of a dictator. So how are we doing there? Well, still no real evidence of WMD’s, no solid ties between the government of Saddam and al-Qaeda, and not quite the democracy we’d hoped for. Democracy based in Islamic law? That will be interesting to see.

If there were ever any noble purpose attached to this war, it would be that we went to remove a sadistic dictator from power in the hopes of freeing a pleading people and giving them a chance at self-determination. Even if our objectives for starting this war were far darker than this, even if our government lied and stole from us to get and fund their war, the only acceptable way to end the conflict is to give the people of Iraq a chance to live safely amongst themselves and their neighbors, with a government of their making, and a relationship with other nations, including America, that is mutually beneficial to the people of those countries and not just their leadership.

We need our government to stand up and tell the people of Iraq, “ We were wrong to bring the war to your doorstep, but we hated Saddam as much as you did and found a convenient time to take him out. We thought we were being helpful. We now realize that sometimes our helpfulness is a bit overdone, so we’ll try to make some amends. We really do want to get to your oil too, but it’s your oil and we’re going to have to do this the fair way, through trade agreements. We hoped you’d take to our system of governing, at least the system we like to talk about, but if you want an Islamic government, so be it. We’ll have to figure out how to peacefully coexist. And we’d really like to be able to help you out with your security problem so that your people can have normal lives again, but you need to really step up to the plate and take the lead. Our folks are getting anxious back home. They don’t want us here any more than you seem to. So here’s our plan and we think it will help end this conflict.”

Step one is the rotation of all National Guard troops back to the United States and to release them from active duty status. The National Guard was designed to protect the homeland and assist in times of disaster or unrest. Their absence from home was all too evident in Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. Furthermore, these citizen-soldiers occupy an important place in our communities in their jobs as teachers and firemen and nurses and restaurant chefs and every other walk of life. They are not trained to be full time warriors, and their lack of comprehensive training results in higher numbers of casualties on all sides of the conflict. Without significantly reducing the numbers initially, Guard troops can be replaced with active duty personnel at a slowly diminishing rate. The impact of this move would be to assure American citizens that the pull out has begun. It would also serve to let Iraqi’s know that they would soon be responsible for their own security, but would be trained and assisted by professional soldiers who could be expected to adhere to the highest standards.

Step two is to establish a firm time line of no more than one year for the final withdrawal of American battle forces. The administration and its hawks have rejected this idea out of hand, saying that the terrorists and insurgents would simply bide their time until we left to unleash full terror on the Iraqi public. In reality, they may do that, but in the meantime, it could also reduce the number of senseless deaths that occur in the continuing daily warfare as insurgents continue the fight with American troops, killing many more civilians than they do soldiers. In that time span, we would need to stress the importance to Iraqi’s that the security of their country would soon be in their hands, and that responsibility for putting down the violence would soon be theirs too. We should be willing to provide logistical, material, and human support if they continue to request it, but only in a support role once our official withdrawal has occurred. Our withdrawal should be total, except for those requested as support.

Step three is to officially recognize whatever form of government the general public of Iraq elects to install without trying to mold it into an American clone. If that government develops and appears to include provisions which support oppression of certain citizens because of religion or gender, we should insist on a period of expatriation for those citizens who choose not to live under such a government, and provide them with opportunities to relocate to a country of their choosing. If a majority of Iraqi citizens then elect to subject themselves to strict religious doctrine, who are we to say they can’t? If we don’t like it that much, we can always politely refuse to do business with them.

Step four would be to remove all American corporations from Iraq and turn over the reconstruction to the Iraqi people. While accepting the blame for the massive destruction, we will still need to continue to pay a large percentage of the costs for this, but the money is already being funneled to our greedy corporations. We could probably rebuild the place for a fraction of the cost if locals were doing the work. Their investment in time and materials would also prove to be an incentive for them to combat the destructive insurgents in their midst. Such cooperation would reinforce the notion that the future of Iraq lay in the hands of Iraqi people, not just a bunch of greedy capitalist conquerors. Further, this would save untold billions of taxpayer dollars that should be returned to domestic issues for the American people.

Step five would be to return to the actual business of hunting down terrorists instead of wrecking societies at random, which coincidentally, is what the terrorists do. We should lead the way in the formation of an international anti-terrorist force that is comprised of troops and resources from all nations that support the fight against radical religious terror. The war on terror, though greater in scope than other violent acts, is still primarily a task of hunting down small groups and removing them much as a doctor excises a tumor. In the rare case where another government actively harbors and supports terrorist activities, this force could be increased in size and scope to marginalize and isolate that country until the threat was removed. Such a force could only be successful if a consistent definition of terrorist is agreed upon, say one that focuses on the actions rather than the ideology behind them. For starters, any act that targets a large group of civilians for no reason other than to make a political point would be an obvious act to include in that definition.

This plan is by no means perfect, but it has the effect of ending this war in Iraq while providing Iraqi’s with the responsibility to reshape their own country in their own way. It offers a way for America to regain her integrity among the world’s nations by ending an increasingly ugly situation and returning to a stance of multilateral cooperation. It would not be tantamount to surrender in any sense of the word. Indeed, ending the war in Iraq is essential if we are ever to truly confront the radical terrorists who want to destroy our way of life. It frees up our resources to narrow the battle to those areas and people who want to fight while leaving out those who would be caught in the middle. It reduces the financial strain on the American economy, a measure that would greatly be appreciated here at home, but around the world as well. It is even likely that by giving Iraqi’s the responsibility for themselves, with a little help if they want it, we may actually gain a true ally, albeit one with a decidedly different world view, but an ally all the same.

It’s time for the words “Operation Iraqi Freedom” to really mean something.