Editorial: Fight to the end

Calls for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq has gained force in volume and numbers after the 2,000th casualty. But the installation of a democratically elected Iraqi government after the Dec. 15 elections, while undoubtedly a significant step, will not magically allow Iraq to protect and stabilize itself without the help of American soldiers.

Iraq has remained the most important political issue in the United States, even before the March 2003 invasion began, and rightfully so. The lives of about 160,000 men and women who have taken up the noble cause of protecting and securing the peace and prosperity of this nation are imperiled every day they walk through the perilous streets, with the constant threat of suicide attacks, homemade bombs and gunfire.

But the question about the presence of U.S. troops, however, was when – not if – they could return. While some, including prominent members of Congress, have called for a timetable or even an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, neither would be appropriate for the quagmire that has unfolded.

It is hard to argue against criticism that invading Iraq without a clear plan on how to help it build itself up after its sinews, muscles and will wilted under decades of tyrannical rule by Saddam Hussein was illogical. Much of the rosy-colored projections by the likes of Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and other senior officials proved to be nothing but pipe dreams. Iraqis never greeted American troops with flowers and could not pay their own way toward normalization with its oil. And, the United States, despite repeated assurances from President George W. Bush, ended up engaging in nation building.

At the same time, Bush deserves credit for insisting that the troops stay until an Iraqi government can exert full control over its territories and protect itself and its people from violence.

It was irresponsible for the Bush administration to invade Iraq lacking any incontrovertible evidence of the supposed caches of weapons of mass destruction. And it was irresponsible for the Bush administration to go to war without a plan to help build a decimated Iraq back up after removing Saddam from a throne built with blood and tears.

But what was done cannot be undone, and everything must be done to make the best out of the current circumstances. And to simply abandon the Iraqis, many of whom also have endured sufferings and sacrifices for what victories – big and small – they have gained, would be inexcusable.

Fact of the matter is that the invasion led to a rare chance of establishing a democratic state governed by a rule of law in the Middle East, a region which once shone brightly with intellectual, cultural and economic brilliance but is now subject to abject poverty of rights, liberties and freedom. The fruits of a free society are simply too valuable for them to be simply hoarded and left to rot in the abyss of indifference.

In the long run, there will be mutual harm for both Iraqis and Americans if the U.S. troops continue to remain. True reconciliation between the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds will not begin until the Iraqi government assumes full control and begins to sort through the chasms left by decades of bitter conflict. And at some point, the United States will have to let the Iraqis find their own way to peace.

But until the Iraqis can make their will to full sovereignty a reality, the United States has the responsibility to remain until they are ready. And from all indications, that time has not yet come.