America is now beset by two Gulf crises: one in the Persian Gulf, the other in the Gulf of Mexico. The two crises, each in its own way, have brought us back to reality. The chaos in Iraq has painfully demonstrated the limitations of American power and the inability of our military to subdue a people who don’t want to be occupied. Similarly, the disaster on the Gulf Coast has lifted the veil on the effects of years of neglect of our infrastructure and what happens when the country is guided by an economic philosophy that reduces a large proportion of the working public to minimum-wage jobs without access to good schools or adequate healthcare.
The fact that the richest nation in the world could not organize the rescue of its own people–and at times did not even seem to want to–was not lost on other countries that were once in awe of American power, wealth and principles. The images of desperate Americans clinging to rooftops and bridges while the President was on vacation at his ranch did more to destroy our credibility than any military retreat ever could.
How we respond to these twin crises–the lessons we draw from them–will tell us a lot about the kind of country we are. Above all, they call for us to reorder our priorities by giving up imperial missions abroad and rebuilding the social fabric and physical capital upon which the safety and livelihoods of all Americans depend. In the editorials that follow, we explain why withdrawal from Iraq will in the end make us a stronger and more secure country that is better able to contribute to a peaceful international order–and how the rebuilding at home can begin.
Each week the evidence mounts that the Iraq War is making us less safe while doing little to stabilize Iraq. Yet many moderates and liberals, including much of the Democratic leadership in Congress, continue to oppose withdrawing US forces or even setting a timeline for doing so. Their support for “staying the course” may be based on the honorable idea that we must clean up the mess we have created. But their opposition to withdrawal will only prolong a war that each day is generating more jihadi terrorists while diverting resources from more urgent needs at home and abroad.
Those who oppose withdrawal acknowledge that the war is not going well but argue that we can’t pull out until order has been restored and enough Iraqi troops have been trained to keep the peace. But the experience of the past two years strongly suggests that it’s beyond our capability to bring order to a country we do not understand and, even more sobering, that the occupation itself is at least in part the cause of the chaos there. The number of insurgents has steadily grown, as has the number and sophistication of their attacks on US and Iraqi forces. Today Iraq produces less electricity and less oil than it did before the US invasion; Iraqi unemployment has increased to more than 50 percent; and crime and corruption are rampant. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis say they oppose America’s military presence.
This astonishing record of failure is in part due to the horrendous mistakes the Bush Administration made in the early days of the occupation, from disbanding the Iraqi Army to torturing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. But today’s deepening crisis is also the inescapable result of an unwanted foreign occupation and the insurgency that inevitably arose to fight it. American actions to break that insurgency, whether by storming into Sunni houses in the middle of the night, detaining large numbers of suspected fighters or leveling cities like Falluja, breed even more bitterness, anger and recruits, as well as more chaos and lawlessness.