LOS ANGELES--It's over. We're pulling out of Iraq. It's a question of when.
Don't get me wrong. To paraphrase Richard Hell, I said we should get out of there before we even went in. And to paraphrase Katrina and the Waves, the fact that 91 percent of Americans agree with me feels like walking on sunshine. (My solemn pledge: There will be no more music references in this column.)
I am vindicated. More than that, I love that good sense has prevailed and that the end of this unprovoked, nightmarish conflagration is finally drawing nigh. The day that the last occupation soldier leaves Iraq will mark the beginning of our country's opportunity to redeem itself, to prove to the world that the United States can become a force of good. Even so, I can't shake the feeling that cutting and running from the inferno of Iraq--and the misery we chose to create--is reprehensibly irresponsible.
The U.S. military has slaughtered at least 600,000 Iraqis--twice as many as Saddam, who ruled seven times longer. We've begun the political disintegration of Iraq by allowing the creation of a Kurdistan that's an independent state in everything but name. Our bombs have destroyed schools, ministries, museums, bridges and billions of dollars worth of infrastructure; our laissez-faire approach to security has ruined the economy. About 10 percent of Iraq's prewar population has fled into exile. Imagine the level of chaos that would have to be present here to turn 30 million Americans into refugees!
So what do we say? "Our bad!" Or something more elaborate? "Sorry, but in 2000 nobody knew Bush was crazy, and then we had anger issues after 9/11, and our schools don't teach geography anymore, and what with Cheney wanting a war so bad we figured why not let him just have one, and hell, we're Americans and being American means that every now and then we have to kick ass"?
Afraid not. "Sorry! Bye bye, gotta run" may have cut it after Panama or Grenada, but we've trashed Iraq so thoroughly that apologizing can only be a first step toward making up for what we've done. We owe the Iraqis some serious, hardcore penance.
First up: Campers are supposed to leave a place in the same condition or better than they found it. In Iraq, that same principle means that it falls to us to set up a stable government. Given the sectarian divisions and dozens of armed militias, only a strongman--a brutal, despotic dictator--will be able to pull Iraq back together. Only one man has the experience for the job: Saddam Hussein. We have to put the Butcher of Baghdad back in charge (and promise not to overthrow him anymore). And let's be quick--the dude could get executed or murdered any second.
Next: those 600,000 dead people. We can't bring them back. But we can replace them. The fairest solution is to hold a national lottery to randomly select 600,000 Americans, who will be trained in local culture, languages and mores before being shipped off to live out the remainder of their lives as replacement Iraqis. With our 300 million-plus population, it's not like we'll notice they're gone. It's the least we can do, and hopefully the Iraqis will appreciate our sincere gesture.
Unfortunately, several thousand of the new American-Iraqis will have to submit to torture, rape and murder. After all, we must atone for Abu Ghraib.
If we truly believe that going to war against Iraq was a mistake, it follows that we should pick up the tab for all the apartment buildings and orphanages and other stuff we blew up there. Unfortunately, recent experience in Afghanistan and Iraq and New Orleans proves that we don't know how to build anything. So let's come up with a big round number--say $500 billion--and give the Iraqis the cash. Yeah, they might waste it but that is how it works when the insurance company pays out for damage to your car. You get the dough, but no one checks to make sure you had the dent fixed. How the Iraqis spend our penance money is their business.
Finally, we have to put Iraq back together again. True, Woodrow Wilson welshed on his promise to give the Kurds their own country after World War I, and yeah, they have a rich and distinct culture that deserves nurturing, and it's true they've been oppressed for ages. Be that as it may, we're going to have to put an end to de facto independence for the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. That's right: It's time to invade Kurdistan.
Make no mistake: Rebuilding the Old Iraq will be painful. A lot of innocent Kurds are going to die. We'll probably have to torture a few, to show them who's boss. While major combat operations against Kurdistan can probably be accomplished within months, the occupation could last years, costing thousands of American lives. But it will all be worthwhile in the end, or it will create a model of stability in a unified Iraq that will inspire stability and unity throughout the Middle East. Best of all, we'll also get to kick a little ass!