Two Deadlines and an Exit
By JOHN F. KERRY
-- - -WE are now in the third war in
Iraq in as many years. The first was against Saddam Hussein and
his supposed weapons of mass destruction. The second was against
terrorists whom, the administration said, it was better to fight
over there than here. Now we find our troops in the middle of an
escalating civil war.
Half of the service members listed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall
died after America's leaders knew our strategy would not work.
It was immoral then and it would be immoral now to engage in the
same delusion. We want democracy in Iraq, but Iraqis must want
it as much as we do. Our valiant soldiers can't bring democracy
to Iraq if Iraq's leaders are unwilling themselves to make the
compromises that democracy requires.
As our generals have said, the war cannot be won militarily. It
must be won politically. No American soldier should be
sacrificed because Iraqi politicians refuse to resolve their
ethnic and political differences.
So far, Iraqi leaders have responded only to deadlines — a
deadline to transfer authority to a provisional government, and
a deadline to hold three elections.
Now we must set another deadline to extricate our troops and get
Iraq up on its own two feet.
Iraqi politicians should be told that they have until May 15 to
put together an effective unity government or we will
immediately withdraw our military. If Iraqis aren't willing to
build a unity government in the five months since the election,
they're probably not willing to build one at all. The civil war
will only get worse, and we will have no choice anyway but to
If Iraq's leaders succeed in putting together a government, then
we must agree on another deadline: a schedule for withdrawing
American combat forces by year's end. Doing so will empower the
new Iraqi leadership, put Iraqis in the position of running
their own country and undermine support for the insurgency,
which is fueled in large measure by the majority of Iraqis who
want us to leave their country. Only troops essential to
finishing the job of training Iraqi forces should remain.
For this transition to work, we must finally begin to engage in
genuine diplomacy. We must immediately bring the leaders of the
Iraqi factions together at a Dayton Accords-like summit meeting.
In a neutral setting, Iraqis, working with our allies, the Arab
League and the United Nations, would be compelled to reach a
political agreement that includes security guarantees, the
dismantling of the militias and shared goals for reconstruction.
To increase the pressure on Iraq's leaders, we must redeploy
American forces to garrisoned status. Troops should be used for
security backup, training and emergency response; we should
leave routine patrols to Iraqi forces. Special operations
against Al Qaeda and other foreign terrorists in Iraq should be
initiated only on hard intelligence leads.
We will defeat Al Qaeda faster when we stop serving as its best
recruitment tool. Iraqis ultimately will not tolerate foreign
jihadists on their soil, and the United States will be able to
maintain an over-the-horizon troop presence with rapid response
capacity. An exit from Iraq will also strengthen our hand in
dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat and allow us to repair
the damage of repeated deployments, which flag officers believe
has strained military readiness and morale.
For three years now, the administration has told us that
terrible things will happen if we get tough with the Iraqis. In
fact, terrible things are happening now because we haven't
gotten tough enough. With two deadlines, we can change all that.
We can put the American leadership on the side of our soldiers
and push the Iraqi leadership to do what only it can do: build a
John F. Kerry, a senator from Massachusetts, was the Democratic
nominee for president in 2004.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
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