The price of failure

Iraq is too important to lose, so we’ve got to keep on trying, no matter the cost, and though it’s not clear when we will succeed.

This is the essence of the two-day report to Congress by Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. The general and the ambassador freely admitted that the situation in Iraq is frustrating, that U.S. military might cannot force Iraqis into the political reconciliation that is the only basis for real stability, and that it’s impossible to predict when Iraqis will be able to run their country themselves. Nevertheless, they argued, the consequences of U.S. troops departing could be so horrific -- Iraq turning into an Al Qaeda haven plagued by ethnic cleansing and preyed upon by Iran -- that the only prudent course is to keep at least 130,000 soldiers in Iraq at least until July.

President Bush is expected to accept this recommendation in a speech Thursday. Despite Democratic protests, it’s unlikely that this toothless Congress will stop him from continuing the de facto occupation of Iraq for the remainder of his term. We fear this is a grave mistake that will compound the colossal error of invading Iraq in the first place -- although we fervently hope that Petraeus, Crocker and the courageous people they lead will somehow manage to prove us wrong.

The president will ask the nation to pay for the next 11 months in Iraq with billions of dollars and hundreds of lives. We think this sacrifice will be in vain, because only Iraqis can heal their national wounds. And so we ask instead: What else could the United States do with a guesstimated $100 billion to reduce the strength and the appeal of Islamist terrorist groups worldwide?


That money may be needed to defend Afghanistan against the resurgent Taliban, or to track Al Qaeda elsewhere. But does our creative country have no better ideas for winning Muslim friends and thwarting terrorists? How about spending $20 billion on anti-poverty and education programs in Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan, to give the population a reason to fight the Taliban? Or distributing $20 billion in emergency support to impoverished Iraqi families? Wouldn’t $10 billion help repatriate the 2 million Iraqi refugees abroad and resettle the 2 million inside Iraq who have fled sectarian violence? Would $10 billion for child-health programs in Islamic nations help demonstrate that Americans are not, in fact, at war with Muslims? Certainly another $10 billion could pay for more than 55,000 bright students (from anywhere in the world) to spend four years studying Arabic, Islamic thought and counter-terrorism at the University of California. And heck, that would still leave $30 billion to beef up domestic and international law enforcement, intelligence and homeland security.

Is staying the failing course in Iraq truly the only prudent course of action?