The costs of the U.S. occupation of Iraq are indeed unacceptable. But to bring the soldiers home, we need to develop a plan that pushes for the phased departure of U.S. troops rather than hold out for a Vietnam-style dramatic pullout.
Supporters of immediate withdrawal find themselves on difficult moral ground. Where Bush talks of Iraqis' right to a better future - however self-servingly - they speak only of our right to the same. "Bring our soldiers home so our sons and daughters can be safe, our communities can prosper, our lives will be more secure." These are all reasonable positions, but they lack moral force.
We repeatedly take the president to task for lying about his plan to bring freedom and security to Iraq, but we refuse to advocate for policies that would force him to do so.
The other troubling aspect of the get-the-hell-out position is the glaring absence of any sense of moral responsibility. As Naomi Klein has pointed out, Colin Powell was half-right about the "You break it, you own it" Pottery Barn rule: "The failure to develop a credible platform beyond 'troops out' may be one reason the anti-war movement remains stalled, even as opposition to the war deepens. Because the Pottery Barn rulers do have a point: breaking a country should have consequences for the breakers. Owning the broken country should not be one of them, but how about paying for the repairs?"
We can't simply turn our backs on millions of Iraqis. Is it moral for us to leave them to die in the crossfire of a violent civil war, fuelled by extremism that we created? Chaos creates a political vacuum that is almost always filled by the power-hungry and the ruthless. What will a Taliban-style regime in Iraq mean for Iraqi women?
These are not questions we can afford to shrug off in the heat of anti-war rhetoric.
As Foreign Policy In Focus expert Erik Leaver points out in his five-point plan for a better strategy in Iraq, one of the initiatives should be to reduce troop presence as we shift both law and order and reconstruction duties onto the shoulders of Iraqis: "As a first step to withdrawal, the U.S. should declare an immediate ceasefire and reduce the number of troops deployed. The U.S. should pull troops out of major cities so that greater manpower can be directed to guarding the borders to stem the flow of foreign fighters and money used to fund the resistance.
"If Iraqi security forces need assistance maintaining order, they have the option of inviting in regional forces, as proposed by Saudi Arabia. They could also reinstate the former Iraqi army, which was well trained, after purging upper-level Saddam supporters and providing additional counter-insurgency training to deal with the current war. Once implemented, these measures would allow for total withdrawal of U.S. forces."
The other prong of this strategy would be to push for an end of the occupation first - i.e., to transfer the control of Iraq to a truly multinational force entrusted with the humanitarian task of rebuilding the nation and helping the Iraqi people gain control over their future.
As long as the U.S. remains in charge, the insurgency will continue to grow, Iraqi security forces will be reluctant to take on the burden of defending an imperial project, and innocent Iraqis will remain trapped in the crossfire. The world - especially European and Arab nations - cannot afford a chaotic or unstable Iraq any more than the U.S. can. An open willingness [on Bush's part] to cede real power may well spark more enthusiasm amongst U.S. allies [for participation].
Many anti-war Americans support one simple plan: bring the troops home. There's been very little discussion of the fallout of such a strategy, on the grounds that the very fact of removing the U.S. presence from Iraq will be an improvement per se. In other words, whatever the consequences - for Iraqis, the Middle East or terrorism - it can only be better than what is there now.
But we control the country at this time, and so we must be the ones to come up with a plan to transfer control to an Iraqi-led process that has international support and financing. We can't just leave and hope for the best.