Bangor Daily News (Maine)
Bby Robert Sargent
When Cindy Sheehan talks one listens carefully as I did in Blue Hill recently. This co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace has been there. She's got "skin in the game," a term Cindy has learned which refers to all who are directly affected by any situation. In Cindy's case, it describes those whose family members have died or been wounded in the war in Iraq or are in harm's way there. Cindy's son Casey was killed in an ambush in Iraq five days after arriving there on assignment with the Army's First Cavalry Division.
Cindy's message is simple. She calls for immediate and unconditional withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. For Cindy, every passing day harbors risk for American sons and daughters in Iraq and for the Iraqi people. She is frustrated and, yes, angry that U.S. policy decisions on the war are being made by people who have no "skin in the game."
Cindy Sheehan is right. And she's in good company. The national polls tell us that a majority of our fellow Americans are opposed to the war. In a recent New York Times column, former CIA Director John Deutsch called for early withdrawal from Iraq and for U.S. departure from the naive proposition that the United States can replace despotic regimes around the world with political systems modeled on our own.
Politicians need victories. Let ours claim achievement of "regime change" and the creation for the Iraqi people of an opportunity to establish democracy in their country and then take our leave.
Because communal strife is bound to continue in Iraq and Iraqi concepts of "democracy" are more likely to reflect realities of Iraqi culture than our naive vision for Iraq's political development, our departure may be painful for us and embarrassing. We'll simply have to absorb charges of "quitter," stay on the high road and hope that the international community will recognize our fundamental commitment to doing our best for the common good. For certain is that the continued presence of U.S. and coalition forces can only aggravate the situation while leaving America's courageous sons and daughters in the cross fire day by day.
It may be that security for the Iraqi people would be enhanced for now by the presence of a thoughtfully composed outside force. But, to be effective, that force needs to be other than U.S., perhaps the United Nations, perhaps a multilateral Arab force of some sort. It should not, for example, include a Turkish component which would open scars remaining from Ottoman domination of the region.
Cindy Sheehan considers the "support the troops" movement, characterized by yellow ribbon decals applied to cars and trucks around the country, to be hollow and ill-informed. She argues that those who truly "support the troops" will call for their immediate removal from Iraq where they have done their job in admirable fashion.
Cindy wants to punish the policy makers who naively, or deviously, took us to war in Iraq. Let that process unfold but, in the meantime, let's bring the troops home right now, in deep respect and gratitude. Right now.
Cindy Sheehan understands that, in our system of government, Congress has the last word. In this case, Congress ill-advisedly authorized the president to go to war if he saw fit to do so. Now Cindy pleads with us to urge our congressmen and senators to assert their power to force an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. It's in the national interest. We should consider doing so.
Robert Sargent is a former U.S. diplomat whose overseas assignments included Tunisia and Turkey.