What Bush and Kerry Won’t Say


WASHINGTON—Iraq will be center stage Thursday night, at the first presidential debate. And you can count on both George Bush and John Kerry to bury the subject in an ocean of gobbledygook.

But when push comes to shove, their views aren’t that different. They’d both like to hang in there, yet know it’s time to go. The problem is how to get out. For Bush, it’s after the Iraqis hold elections, but with a sub-rosa American occupation continuing on. For Kerry, the way out is to transform the mess into an international effort under the direction of the U.N., abetted by NATO training, with U.S. troops staying for several years.

Let’s cut the crap and get to the point. In a Washington Post op-ed on September 23, Jessica Matthews, the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, set out certain steps we should undertake. With her points as a springboad, here’s a partial short list for getting out.

• The U.S. should cancel its plans to build 14 long-term (“enduring”) military bases, which it wants to strew across Iraq in what amounts to a continued military occupation, rather like what’s happened for decades in Northern Ireland.

• Private mercenaries from American, British, and other Western concerns should leave.

• All the oil operations, revenues, and profit should be turned over to the Iraqis. If they want to operate under the OPEC umbrella, or tied up as part of the international corporate oil cartel, that’s their business.

• All contracts with American firms for reconstruction of Iraq that can be canceled should be. New contracts should be subject to competitive bidding. Applicants will have to show that the money would be spent in country and that it would employ Iraqis and/or buy goods and services through subcontracts with Iraqis. Profits should not be repatriated back to the U.S. or any other country.

• Negotiate with Europe and Russia to forgive Iraq’s debt.

• The U.S. and Iraq’s neighbors must pledge themselves to respect the country’s territorial integrity.

• Security of the country should be placed in the hands of an international force under the direction of the U.N.

• As it stands, the elections proposed for this winter are a joke, viewed by one and all as yet another cynical manifestation of American occupation. They should be canceled, and if the Iraqis want democracy, that’s up to them. Not us.

• Finally, it’s time to go. Conservatives and liberals will throw up their hands at the very thought. Both want to continue the occupation under one guise or another. For the conservatives, occupation means turning Iraq into a seedbed for democracy—not to mention a launching pad for military incursions into other parts of the Middle East. For liberals, it’s a hand-wringing exercise in “responsibility,” leading to protection of human rights. But staying is not going to work. Things will only get worse. Pack up and get out.