Exit strategy desperately needed for Iraq

Details are emerging about the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq beginning in May next year. This is hardly surprising, as the British government has hinted at it before. But Japanese officials have indicated that once Britain leaves, they may feel forced to do the same, compounding the problem of keeping order in Iraq with even less troops. All this makes it even more painfully obvious that an exit strategy simply does not exist.

The same night British Prime Minister Tony Blair barely won his re-election earlier this year in May, he said British voters had spoken and his government has “got to listen to the people and respond wisely and sensibly.” This included changing some very unpopular policies, including support for the war in Iraq. The statement clearly translated into Britain wanting to pull out sooner rather than later.

Even though it has been months since Blair made the statement, the United States government has changed little and remains adamant about troop levels. President George W. Bush and others continue to substitute actual military and foreign policy strategy with the same empty platitude: Stay the course.

The U.S. president may be the commander in chief of one of the planet’s most formidable armies, but even he cannot force Iraqi resistance fighters who are prepared to die into submission purely by willpower.

According to the New York Times, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said on Thursday that Iraq was heading for “disintegration,” a euphemism for civil war. Coming from what is arguably the administration’s closest ally, this is a bleak warning of things to come.

The reality is the British government is pulling out of Iraq to cut its political losses at home as well as to protect its troops from an increasingly dire situation on the ground in Iraq. The United States no longer has this option.

All discussion about whether it was the right thing to do aside, toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime has created a power vacuum in the region and created a breeding ground for problematic situations, including the very terrorism the administration supposedly wanted to stop from occurring.

The world, including many Iraqis, is now waiting for the United States to finish what it started. The only problem is, there is no indication that an actual strategy, aside from waiting and hoping, even exists. This has to change.