Historical Folly of "Exit Strategy" for Iraq

November 16th, 2005 12:41 PM

The Hill is a specialized publication, mostly for Members of Congress and those whose living depends on Congress. Still, an article in The Hill today (Wednesday) is typical of the media coverage of the Senate vote yesterday to require “reports” to Congress on the progress of the Iraq War.

The title is “Needed: An Exit Strategy from Iraq.” It is written by Rep. Jane Harman (D. Calif) and its lede includes these paragraphs.

There is now a strong bipartisan consensus that we need an exit strategy. But yet to emerge is the content of that strategy.

We have two overriding objectives in Iraq: to facilitate a viable power-sharing agreement among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds and to turn over responsibility for security to the Iraqis on a steady basis.

Any exit strategy must address both issues in order to leave post-Saddam Iraq in better shape than we found it, to honor the sacrifices of more than 2,000 troops and to justify the expenditure of billions of dollars.

There has never been an “exit strategy” for any major war in American history. Until the Battle of Trenton, there were serious questions whether the Americans could even continue the Revolutionary War beyond 1776. Until the French fleet trapped General Cornwallis at Yorktown, there was no end in sight, no “exit strategy” for that war.

Let's review the strategy of General Washington in the Revolution in terms so simple that even the editorial staffs of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN can understand it.  It was to defeat the British so decisively that the British had to recognize their defeat.  That point was not reached until the last month of the war, when Cornwallis realized he could neither retreat nor be reinforced, and was forced to surrender.

Even then, the war was not over.  It required a change of the Prime Minister in England and months of negotiation by able diplomats, led by Ben Franklin, to end the war favorably to the United States.

The same analysis applies to all but one major war in American history. After the carnage of D-Day, when three times as many American soldiers died in a single day as have died in all four years of the Iraq War, the “exit strategy” for WW II seemed clear. Keep pushing east until Germany is defeated. Then the Battle of the Bulge began, and the Germans came close to pushing the Allies back into the sea.

The only type of “exit strategy” that can exist in any war is a strategy for defeat. We had an “exit strategy” in Vietnam, and hundreds of thousands of people were murdered as a direct result of that strategy. Because of the vagaries of war, there is not, there cannot be, any preset “exit strategy” that will lead to victory. There is only one strategy: Win, and then come home as soon as possible.

When Members of Congress are too short-sighted to notice when history tells them they are wrong, it is the bare minimum obligation of the press to put historical events side by side with the comments and actions of the politicians. Given relevant information, the public can reach sound judgments about the politicians.

It is only when the press presents actions and words devoid of context that folly such as a fixed “exit strategy” for any war, can be taken as either serious or legitimate.