The Smart Way Out of a Foolish War

By Zbigniew Brzezinski
Washington Post
Sunday, March 30, 2008

[Mr. Brzezninski, for those of you don’t know of him, is no peacenik.  He’s a powerful Washington insider and foreign policy academic who served as national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, and, in the 1990s, wrote a book, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, that was said to have inspired the neocons and the PNAC, those authors of the disasterous Bush foreign policy. However, he is now a foreign policy advisor to the Barack Obama presidential campaign, and he’s all for ending the US occupation of Iraq. His most recent book is Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower. ~ABL]

Both Democratic presidential candidates agree that the United States should end its combat mission in Iraq within 12 to 16 months of their possible inauguration. The Republican candidate has spoken of continuing the war, even for a hundred years, until “victory.” The core issue of this campaign is thus a basic disagreement over the merits of the war and the benefits and costs of continuing it.

The case for U.S. disengagement from combat is compelling in its own right. But it must be matched by a comprehensive political and diplomatic effort to mitigate the destabilizing regional consequences of a war that the outgoing Bush administration started deliberately, justified demagogically and waged badly. (I write, of course, as a Democrat; while I prefer Sen. Barack Obama, I speak here for myself.)

The contrast between the Democratic argument for ending the war and the Republican argument for continuing is sharp and dramatic. The case for terminating the war is based on its prohibitive and tangible costs, while the case for “staying the course” draws heavily on shadowy fears of the unknown and relies on worst-case scenarios. President Bush’s and Sen. John McCain’s forecasts of regional catastrophe are quite reminiscent of the predictions of “falling dominoes” that were used to justify continued U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Neither has provided any real evidence that ending the war would mean disaster, but their fear-mongering makes prolonging it easier.

Nonetheless, if the American people had been asked more than five years ago whether Bush’s obsession with the removal of Saddam Hussein was worth 4,000 American lives, almost 30,000 wounded Americans and several trillion dollars—not to mention the less precisely measurable damage to the United States’ world-wide credibility, legitimacy and moral standing—the answer almost certainly would have been an unequivocal “no.”

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