Q - How do we bring our troops home?
A - In the same planes and ships we took them in!
The preceding quip came from the Vietnam era but holds true for today in some sense. Although simplistic it assumes that eventually America will cease fighting and return her sons and daughters home where they belong.
However, extrication from the war in Iraq isn't simply a matter of picking up and leaving, despite calls for immediate withdrawal (including this writer's). We need pragmatic plans that deal with security and economic issues and contain elements to bring long-term peace and stability.
At the same time, why should such plans come from those who got us into the war in the first place?
Those favoring war and ongoing military intervention have already shown that they are neither competent when it comes to analysis of the complexities of Iraq nor have the Iraqi people's best interests at heart.
Their strategies for "peace" will be as half-baked as their designs for war and reconstruction.
The Whitehouse is updating the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" in advance of the new Congress. President Bush has asked all federal agencies, including the Pentagon, to provide their best assessments and recommendations for going forward. This will represent the view of U.S. government professionals working for the current Administration.
A parallel set of proposals is being developed by the Iraq Study Group (ISG) and will be unveiled soon. It is prepared from consultations with hundreds of high-ranking current and former officials, military officers, foreign governments, and academics. The intent of the ISG is to provide a bi-partisan set of recommendations for the President.
Both of these plans miss an element critical for success - Iraqi participation.
There has been almost no involvement or incorporation of the views of Iraqis since the beginning of this war, with the exception of those leaders who were hand-picked by the Administration.
Independent Iraqi groups and initiatives such as the Progressive Government Plan, the Mecca Declaration, and the Brussels Tribunal have been mostly ignored by the media and policymakers.
These Iraqi-led efforts, prepared by civic and social leaders, generally call for immediate change in five areas:
1. Involvement and sign-off by those most affected by the war - the people of Iraq.
2. Complete withdrawal of all foreign troops and military bases.
3. Preservation of the integrity of the Iraq state - no partitioning of the country.
4. International funding and participation in reconstruction.
5. Independent investigation and prosecution of crimes.
These plans variously address items of local security, sectarian divide, economic development, and political equity as well.
Some of the participants in these groups are the same persons currently engaged in insurgency against coalition forces. Many pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor for independence - during both the Saddam regime and now the current occupation.
While so-called "professionals" meet in the marble halls of Washington to discuss the fates of war, Iraqis risk car bombs, kidnappings and snipers to meet with one another and outsiders to relay information about what is happening in that country and what needs to be done going forward. They seek out humanitarian and peace organizations and the few military and government professionals who will listen to their pleas.
If America is to find a just and lasting solution to the current war we must bring Iraqis to the table and include their voices in the discussion. Without such involvement, even the best-laid plans will go awry.
The way out of Iraq needs to be different from the way we went in.