IF WE LEAVE IRAQ, THEN WHAT?

IF WE LEAVE IRAQ, THEN WHAT? It's a question I've been pondering a lot lately. I know that entertaining doubts about the wisdom of an unequivocal troop pull-out leaves me vulnerable to the ire of the left and the disdain of even some fellow liberals, but these doubts do gnaw at me, as doubts are wont to do.

As well-meaning people scream for an immediate withdrawal, I keep thinking of another Muslim country the U.S. helped break, and then turned away from, leaving behind nothing but a pile of rubble and portable military hardware in the hands of rival ethnic groups. The ethnic groups -- one predominately Shi'ite, and two from opposing schools of Sunni Islam -- turned the Stinger missiles, shells and automatic rifles on each other until the one with the most draconian view of the faith won (more or less) and installed a theocracy (with the support of many of the people, who just wanted order and an end to war). The vacuum left by the U.S. abandonment of the people of Afghanistan, after having armed its warlords to the teeth to serve as our proxies in their war against the Soviet Union, was ultimately filled by al Qaeda, which found the Taliban's Afghanistan a most accommodating landscape from which to launch a global insurgency of terror against the West.

I was against this war on Iraq from the beginning. So nauseated was I by former Secretary of State Colin Powell's "good soldier" act in the lead-up to this dreadful conflict that I am loath to quote with appreciation virtually anything that the man said, but I do think he got this right about Iraq: "You break it, you bought it." We've broken it. We have an obligation to try to fix it.

My comments here are spurred, in part, by this weekend's remarkable edition (starting Monday, available as free mp3 until June 4) of "This American Life," the Chicago Public Radio show hosted by Ira Glass, who asked whether or not some sort of moral obligation follows the U.S. invasion. I think, yes. Do I know how to fix it? No.

Tomorrow, Memorial Day, belongs to the warriors who died for the causes claimed by our leaders, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and elsewhere (including our own soil). Let the days that follow belong to the living -- the wars' survivors, soldier and civilian -- and a plan that equals our professed belief in ourselves as a just and noble people. Call it a matter of enlightened self-interest.

--Adele M. Stan

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