Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Declare Victory and Go Home

The ghost of George Aiken is stirring about. Aiken, of course, is the Vietnam-era Senator from Vermont who famously urged the tormented LBJ to "declare victory and go home." Had he done so in the early 60s when the Senator proferred this advice, tens of thousands of American (to say nothing of even more Vietnamese) lives and limbs would not have been lost, and our international prestige would not have suffered a hit from which we have yet to fully recover.

I heard something arresting yesterday that brought all of this to mind. Our recently (and involuntarily) retired Ambassador to the United Nations, arch-conservative John Bolton appeared on CNN to denounce the then rumored deal with North Korea to halt its nuclear program. What caught my ear was not Bolton's predictable denunciation of that deal. Instead, it was his entirely unpredictable and utterly sensible declaration that we've done all we can reasonably have been expected to do in Iraq. It is, therefore, in his view (and mine) time to leave. The principal lesson from Vietnam should have been that we cannot want a nascent democracy to succeed more than the people in that country do. Likewise, we cannot be more committed to the survival of Iraq than the Iraqis are. It seems increasingly clear that there really isn't an Iraq. It appears as though, all along, it was simply a naturally loose confederation of sectarian/ethnic enclaves unnaturally held together by the tight grip of a ruthless dictator.

As Bolton said yesterday, what matters most to us should be our own national interest. At this point, having done what we could do to give the Iraqis qua Iraqis a chance to succeed, our interest now is in preventing that place from becoming a terrorist training ground and staging point a la pre-911 Afghanistan. One can argue that Iraq is already such a training ground and staging point. Alternatively, if one isn't willing to go that far yet, many believe that the chances of Iraq's becoming a training ground and staging point are actually greater if we stay because of the rabid hatred that our continued presence creates and stokes in the Arab-Muslim world.

In any event, there is no question that the blood, treasure, and attention we are spending on Iraq is diverting us from what I believe to be our greatest vulnerability - our insecurity right here at home. Think of how much safer our airports, seaports, and land borders against terrorist attack would be if we had invested those hundreds of billions into homeland security. The full extent of our Iraq misadventure may only be known one day when an attack at home that might otherwise have been prevented is not.

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