Question: How do we bring our troops home? Answer: In the same planes and ships we took them in!
This quip came from the Vietnam era, but holds true for today. Although simplistic, it assumes that eventually the US will cease fighting and return her sons and daughters home where they belong.
However, extrication from the war in Iraq isn't simply a matter of picking up and leaving, despite calls for immediate withdrawal (including this writer's). We need plans that deal with immediate security and economic issues, and which address long-term peace and stability.
But why should such plans come from those who got us into the war in the first place? Those favoring war and ongoing military intervention have already shown that they are neither competent, nor have the Iraqi people's best interests at heart.
The White House is updating the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq in advance of the new Congress. President Bush has asked all federal agencies, including the Pentagon, to provide assessments and recommendations for the next phase.
A parallel set of proposals is being developed by the Iraq Study Group (ISG) from consultations with hundreds of high-ranking current and former officials, military officers, foreign governments and academics. The ISG's intent is to provide the president with a bi-partisan set of recommendations.
But both miss an element critical for success — Iraqi participation. There has been almost no involvement or incorporation of the views of Iraqis since the beginning of this war, with the exception of those leaders who were hand-picked by the administration.
Independent Iraqi groups and initiatives such as the Progressive Government Plan, the Mecca Declaration, and the Brussels Tribunal have been mostly ignored by the media and policy makers.
These Iraqi-led efforts, prepared by civic and social leaders, call for immediate change in five areas: involvement and sign-off by those most affected by the war — the people of Iraq; complete withdrawal of all foreign troops and military bases; preservation of the integrity of the Iraq state — no partitioning of the country; international funding and participation in reconstruction; and the independent investigation and prosecution of crimes.
These plans address local security, sectarian divide, economic development and political equity. Some of the participants in these groups are currently engaged in insurgency against Coalition forces. Many pledged their lives, fortunes and honor for independence — during both the Saddam regime and the current occupation.
While so-called "professionals" meet in the marble halls of Washington to discuss the war, Iraqis risk car bombs, kidnappings and snipers to meet with one another, and outsiders, to relay information about what is happening and what needs to be done. They seek out humanitarian and peace organisations and the few military and government professionals who will listen to their pleas.
If the US is to find a just and lasting solution to the current war Iraqis must be included in the discussion. The way out of Iraq needs to be different from the way we went in.
[Charlie Jackson convenes Texans for Peace. Visit <http://www.texansforpeace.org/>.]