Mark Weisbrot
Newport Daily News (RI), February 10, 2006 

Duluth Times-Tribune (MN), February 11, 2006
Aberdeen News
(SD), February 12, 2006
Pueblo Chieftan
(CO), February 12, 2006
Augusta Chronicle
(GA), February 13, 2006
Centre Daily Times
(PA), February 19, 2006
Chattanooga Times Free Press
(TN), February 19, 2006
Kansas City Star
, February 19, 2006
Eau Claire Sunday Leader-Telegram
, February 19, 2006

“This is a real war where people are getting killed,” said Congressman John Murtha as he called for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq last November.

Murtha, the first Vietnam War veteran elected to Congress and known for his close ties to the Pentagon, needed to say that more than once: more than 90 percent of Americans are currently unaffected by the war. The vast majority seem to find it easy to carry on their daily lives as if there were no war at all. They haven’t even been asked to pay for any of the enormous $251 billion dollar price tag that it has cost so far. On the contrary, the majority have seen their taxes reduced – only slightly for most people, but more significantly as we move up the income ladder.

It is probably only because of this mass “living in denial” about the war that bloody occupation, which has killed about 2,260 American troops and an uncounted tens of thousands of Iraqis, continues. For those who are not moved by the human suffering, the economic costs are sure to be noticed eventually: a recent study by Linda Bilmes and Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz put the eventual cost of the war at more than $1 trillion, and possibly closer to $2 trillion. For a comparison, think of three to six years of current Medicare spending.

Most knowledgeable observers concluded that Murtha’s plea for withdrawal represented the opinion of the top military brass that he is close to. When the generals want out of a war, that is a good reason to think about getting out.

But there are plenty of other good reasons. Most importantly, the very presence of U.S. troops is the number one cause of violence, terrorism, and a possible degeneration into a full-scale civil war. The advocates of this war like to invoke possible nightmare scenarios if the occupation forces leave. But they have scant evidence that leaving will make things worse than staying. And in fact the evidence is increasingly pointing in the opposite direction: the most extreme elements, such as Al Quaeda of Mesopotamia, that have carried out suicide bombings against civilians and have been pushing the Shiites closer to open civil war against the Sunnis, derive their legitimacy from the fact that they are opposing the U.S. troops.

When American soldiers leave, that legitimacy will fade and the chances for a peaceful, negotiated solution will increase.

That the occupation is a major obstacle to ending the violence in Iraq is also supported by reports of negotiations between Sunni guerillas and the United States. A major sticking point for the Sunnis, according to reports in the New York Times, is that the Americans won’t offer a timetable for their withdrawal. A range of polls show majorities of the Iraqis, as high as 82 percent in a recent poll by the British Defense Ministry, want the U.S. troops out.

Using Shiite troops and police to secure Sunni areas, with resulting abuses and extra-judicial killings, also fans the flames of ethnic hatred and promotes civil war.

But our government – as in Vietnam – doesn’t want to leave until it can be assured of an Iraqi government that it can control. And as in Vietnam, that is not going to happen.

For more than half a century now, Washington has consistently underestimated the motivating power of nationalism. Amazingly, they continue in this self-deception even when facing people who are willing to blow themselves up rather than live under U.S. occupation.

U.S. troops will leave Iraq when politicians here can no longer support the occupation and expect to get re-elected – probably not before that.

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, DC.