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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 11, 2006

Diplomacy the best exit from Iraq blunder

By David E. Washburn

U.S. should set an example, not force democracy on others

A small coterie of neoconservative ideologues have led our nation into the worst policy blunder since slavery, the war in Iraq. Their ignorance and arrogance have produced unintended consequences that could haunt the United States for generations to come. There are two courses of action that we can take in an attempt to extricate ourselves from this mess and/or ameliorate the negative impact of this fiasco.

If our goal is to produce a stable, intact, unified, westward leaning nation, we can dramatically increase American troop levels to half a million or more and truly become an occupying force capable of imposing our will on Iraq. This force would root out the 12,000 or so al-Qaida reputed to be in the country, disarm the sectarian militias and bring the insurgency under control. With this done, the next order of business would entail building institutions and infrastructure. Governmental agencies, an educational system, Iraqi armed and police forces, and public works need to be constructed. If public transportation and public utilities are dependable, if children can go to good schools safely, if order comes into their lives, Iraqi citizens can be mollified.

However, this policy would necessitate the reinstitution of a military draft to raise troop levels, presently an unpopular notion among American citizens and their politicians. It would take at least 10 years to build a nation capable of independence before we could begin to withdraw. Enmity toward the United States would likely increase in the region. A wider war is always a possibility. There is the chance that Iraq would revert to form once we left.

A second approach, fraught with even fewer predictable outcomes than the military option, but which could get us out of Iraq more quickly though not precipitously, involves international diplomacy. A conference would be convened and those invited would include nations in the region whose well being would be enhanced by a stable Iraq, the United States, other nations with economic ties or other interests in Iraq and the real leaders in Iraq (those who hold authority over territory and have the allegiance of citizens). The recent Iraq Study Group's findings recognized the importance of dealing with Syria and Iran. Insurgent groups who would be represented in the Iraqi delegation would be asked to observe a cease-fire during the period of the conference. The cease-fire would be monitored by the coalition and Iraqi armed forces and police.

Each participating nation would be asked to present a proposal for ending the conflict and offer a detailed exposition of the kinds of support they would render in accomplishing the rebuilding of the Iraqi nation. These proposals would be submitted to the Iraqi delegation who, in turn, would, after considering all proposals, develop a plan of their own.

Getting all Iraqi parties to agree on the political and economic structure of their nation is a daunting task. In the absence of agreement civil war is an inevitable outcome. The United States cannot allow our troops to be caught in the middle of a full-scale civil conflict. But, diplomacy is our best hope of extricating ourselves from this terrible situation.

This approach would decrease the influence the United States would have in the region. We would be but one of a number of countries with influence and each country's proposal would reflect its own national interests. The neoconservative unilateralists might not like this very much.

The neoconservative brain trust's rationale for our "preemptive" strike against Iraq has metamorphosed from protecting ourselves from weapons of mass destruction and the specter of a "mushroom-shaped cloud," to regime change, to fighting terrorists, to spreading democracy at the point of a gun. Not much mention was made of access to Iraqi oil and oil funds or unconscionable profits to fill the coffers of no-bid contractors like Halliburton and Bechtel.

Exporting democracy by force to cultures we don't understand is ludicrous on its face. In the future, we should engage ourselves in perfecting democracy at home. All the failed nations that were once great nations failed as the result of military overexpansion and its economic consequences. The money pouring into Iraq would be better spent solving problems at home. The spread of democracy is best served by the United States acting as a beacon of freedom, liberty, justice, and good judgment, providing an example to be emulated.

David E. Washburn is the author of numerous books and articles including "Multicultural Education in the United States." He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.