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Leaving Iraq

November 13, 2006

There are two ways out of Iraq—with a plan or without a clue. American voters turned thumbs down on the White House fantasy of fighting on until Baghdad wears the brand of the Bush ranch in Texas. The newly elected Democratic Congress got a mandate to provide a better plan.

If Congress punts and leaves the planning to the Pentagon, the exit from Iraq may well look like the last helicopter scramble out of Saigon. The US military has assault plans, battle plans and more battle plans. It doesn’t have exit plans. It still hasn’t figured out how to leave Germany or Japan, 61 years after the end of World War II. So when it comes to Iraq, the Pentagon doesn’t have a clue. Indeed, it never had a plan to leave.

So the Democrats have a problem. Who’s going to tell the Pentagon it’s time to bring the troops home? Entire careers, in and out of the military, are invested in having a war in Iraq. Billions of dollars flow into the Department of Defense and still the military chiefs demand more—because there’s a war on. Does Congress, even a Democratic Congress, have the gumption to say no?

Congress, to its credit, eventually cut off funds for the war in Vietnam. Yet the Pentagon still didn’t develop an exit plan. The last military units scrambled out of Saigon on helicopters that whisked a clueless US embassy staff and other frantic Americans off a rooftop. Long before that stunning maneuver, American war planners had transformed Saigon and environs from the Pearl of the Orient that I marveled to see as a GI in 1962-63 into the original set for the horror film “Apocalypse Now.”

That’s how Iraq has been looking for quite awhile, too. Surely there are competent GI’s—in my day, savvy enlisted men and junior officers—who can whip up a viable plan to pack up and leave Iraq smartly and with a sense of pride in acknowledging that it’s time to let the Iraqis work out the future of their country.

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