Now that President Bush has arrogantly ruled out a timetable exit strategy for America’s War in Iraq, and Secretary Rumsfeld is predicting a 12-year-minmum insurgency, I thought it was high-time that I contrasted, in detail, my differences with pro-war Pennsylvania Senate candidates Bob Casey, Jr. (D) and Rick Santorum (R).  

Since both of my 2006 Senate campaign opponents embrace the president’s quagmire, “fight ’til we win” approach, and since Casey has refused to say, to this day, whether he supported or opposed the unjustified Iraq War begun two years ago, such clarification is in order.

Before spelling out an Iraq exit strategy, however, it is important to remind ourselves why an American military pullout is vital to our national security.  

As a diplomatic historian, national security studies professor, and student of the Vietnam War, I can clearly see that the Iraq War has created long-term diplomatic, cultural, economic, political, and military damage for ourselves among our traditional allies, non-aligned yet cooperative nations, rival states, and heretofore neutral nations.  This damage in international relations means that our global war against al Qaeda and related offspring, based in over 60 nations (according to the CIA), continues to backslide badly.  In other words, continuation of the Iraq War–with attending human rights debacles at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo–dramatically fuels the recruitment process of radical, anti-American, Islamic warriors around the globe, while undermining our intelligence gathering efforts against al Qaeda and its clones.

The Iraq War also underscores the fact that our nation is weaker at home, and more vulnerable to attack, than it was on 9-11-01.  Why?  Because federal-level budget cuts have meant first responder support is diminished at the local level; because homeland security dollars are now part of the up-for-grabs pork barrel politicking that defines our undisciplined federal spending–and, as such, unthreatened mid-American towns and cities are, effectively, robbing vulnerable coastal cities, ports, waterways, and nuclear and chemical plants of needed support; because military recruitment has fallen prey to our overstretched, under-armed, poorly-compensated soldier, national guard, and veteran populations.  Rather than address the above problems, the Bush Administration has chosen to drive Americans into opposing camps through the politics of fear (still, shamelessly invoking the mythical September 11-Saddam link), disingenuous rhetoric (“support our troops”), and false argument (better that “we fight ‘them’ over there than here”).

Now that the rationale for military withdrawal is firmly established, how does America extract its military occupation in an orderly and expeditious manner without causing further damage to ourselves, the Iraqis, the Middle East peace process (i.e., Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution), oil production, and the cause of democracy?

First, the United States needs to promote an international peace-keeping force made up of soldiers from neutral and Islamic nations. The United States and NATO should actively court the United Nations, the Arab League, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference to lead-organize and staff this global force. Once the international peace-keeping force is ready for deployment in Iraq, the U.S. should quickly transition out our 150,000 troops and 20,000 civilian contractors and close our 14 permanent or long-term military bases.

Second, we need to support Iraqi self-rule and free and fair elections both now and after America’s military occupation has ended.  Free and fair elections under international supervision will promote democratic institutions, allow Iraq to develop legitimate self-government, advance its economic growth, and facilitate domestic security and peace-keeping. The divide between Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds will make consensus-building difficult, but not impossible, as was the case when all parties came together in the 1950s.

Third, since the U.S. broke much of Iraq’s infrastructure during the early phase of the war, it is on us to provide humanitarian aid to allow Iraq to rebuild for its future.  For without economic promise there can be no hope for democracy. The current war and occupation have devastated the country and led to an unemployment rate estimated to be between 50% and 75%. In addition, control over Iraqi oil and other assets should be exercised by Iraqis, not American corporations.

While my preferred Iraq exit timetable would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 6-to-12 weeks, the actual calendar, of course, depends on the political will of a congress that controls the purse strings, and the political survival instinct of a Republican Party that increasingly whispers “quagmire” and “Vietnam” among its most loyal members.  Having said that, public opinion–especially that expressed at the grassroots and netroots levels may, in the end, be the deciding push.

As I repeat at each and every one of my Senate campaign events, “out of crisis comes opportunity.”  We must not miss this opening for a just and lasting peace in Iraq, the non-violent extension of democracy and self-determinatin across the Middle East, and a revival of America’s moral suasion as a means to combat al Qaeda-led terrorism and to advance international goodwill.  

Chuck Pennacchio

Charles Pennacchio, Ph.D.
2006 U.S. Senate candidate, Pennsylvania

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