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By Robert Kuttner
The Washington Post
7 November 2004
President Bush should enjoy his victory celebration while he can. He
will soon face the most determined antiwar movement since the 1960s.
The Iraq situation is becoming more and more reminiscent of the
Vietnam disaster. American troops mostly stay in heavily fortified
barracks. When they do venture out, their sweeps don't achieve
durable pacification. Militants and young men of fighting age are
long gone by the time American bombardments start.
The Iraqi casualties include women, children and old people, and the
American casualties keep mounting. After the U.S. troops move out of
an area, they leave in their wake new sympathizers and recruits for
the insurgents. And the pro- visional Iraqi government is even less
capable of maintaining order than its Vietnamese counterpart was.
It was Howard Dean's antiwar campaign last year that infused energy
into rank-and-file Democrats. Antiwar sentiment among Democrats has
been kept politely under wraps pending Election Day, but it hasn't
gone away. Democrats will now be liberated to mount full-blown
protests, and Republicans will be on the defensive.
It was several years before opposition to the Vietnam War became a
politically potent mainstream protest. This time, a new and
mainstream antiwar movement will mature almost overnight.
MoveOn.org tried to help get John Kerry elected. Now it will be
reborn as a grass-roots antiwar movement. Unlike the Vietnam
protests, this one was mainstream from the beginning.
The Iraq occupation is one of the worst American blunders ever, as
countless experienced diplomats and former intelligence officials
keep pointing out.
There is no political support in either party to put in the number
of troops necessary to secure the place. We can't even seal Iraq's
borders, let alone hunt down insurgents. Our very presence is a
recruiting poster for every kind of anti-American militant.
Prominent critics of the war are counseling an early withdrawal. The
Cato Institute, a prominent conservative and libertarian think tank,
advocates a U.S. pullout.
Hawks insist that America, having made an epic blunder, must
nonetheless stay the course, lest Bush's mistaken description of
Iraq as a center of world terrorism mutate into a self-fulfilling
The hawks are right about the risks, but doves are right that the
United States needs to exit.
The exit strategy, however, must include a long-term stabilization
process, lest Iraq face anarchy and civil war or, worse, an
Iraq-Iran regional alliance, perhaps with nuclear weapons. In this
respect, Iraq is far more dangerous than Vietnam, where, to
paraphrase Sen. George Aiken, we could declare defeat and go home
without jeopardizing global security.
Bush's policy has turned Iraq into a far more dangerous place.
That's why we need to combine a U.S. exit with an international
stabilization effort. This policy shift would have been easier to
achieve for John Kerry, who favored a more multilateral approach.
But even Bush will now face heavy pressure, Republican as well as
Democratic, to cut American losses.
In Bush's second term, the neocon architects who got Bush and
America into this calamity will likely lose influence. In Ronald
Reagan's second term, the ferocious anti-Soviet rhetoric softened,
traditional foreign policy realists took over and Reagan pursued
detente. One hopes the same thing will happen with George W. Bush.
Bush has borrowed Kerry's proposal for a great-power summit. It's a
good beginning -- but don't expect Europe to bail out Bush unless
some humble pie is eaten.
A serious exit strategy would require the United States to finance
much of the cost of a multinational peacekeeping force of at least a
quarter-million troops, as well as economic reconstruction money,
plus a major role for the United Nations. Can Bush swallow that?
He'd better. Most Americans will ultimately conclude: Better their
boys than ours, particularly since Iraqis are much less likely to
shoot at an international force. It's American presence that's the
regional lightning rod.
Bush should also appreciate the fact that an early U.S. exit is
better domestic politics and better Middle East politics. If he
doesn't, he will face a massive popular movement to remind him, as
well as growing defections in his own ranks.
The United Nations managed the Iraq situation far better than the
Bush administration has, and the American people are getting very
weary of this war. As his reward for winning reelection, Bush faces
a suitable consequence for having gotten us unto this mess. He must
now find a decent way out.
The writer is co-editor of the American Prospect.