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04/03/08 5:55PM By Bill Mares
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(HOST) Commentator Bill Mares is a writer, former teacher and legislator. He was moved by a conversation about the war in Iraq with an old friend who was in the CIA.

(MARES) Three trillion dollars, four thousand American deaths, five years, no end in sight, and President Bush still insists that "Iraq is a war that America can and must win.  The surge has worked, and that has opened the door to a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror."

Frustrated by such relentless optimism coming from the White House, I recently sat down with my good friend, Haviland Smith of Williston, to ask his view of the situation.  He's a retired CIA station chief who served in Beirut and Teheran.  He thinks and writes a lot about foreign policy.

He said, "In Iraq, America is fighting two mutually contradictory battles.  One is against an Iraqi insurgency that wants us out of Iraq, and the other is against al-Qaida in Iraq, which wants us to stay.  They came there after our invasion to kill our troops and foment chaos -- which can only be continued if we stay."

That alone would be a pretty good reason for us to get out.  But then he observed that we are also supporting all sides in an ongoing low-key civil war.  And he said, "These animosities are so ancient and so ingrained that they will not disappear for centuries to come."

I told him that this reminded me of an unfortunate pair of proverbs, which I'd read in a book on the Iraqi rebellion against the British in the 1920's.  The Arab saying goes: "There are three plagues in the world: the rat, the locust, and the Kurd."  To which the Kurd replies: "A camel is not an animal, and an Arab is not a human being."

As our conversation continued, Smith observed that "victory" will be impossible if it's defined as the military defeat of terrorism and the insurgency, since that can only bring further instability.

By removing the two most viable counterbalances to Iran, the Taliban and Iraq, we have changed in Iran's favor the dynamic of the Arab/Persian rivalry for primacy in the Persian Gulf.  According to Smith, a policy of promoting stability in the region would be far better.

"What's more," he said, "we are viewed as hypocritical by most of Islam and much of the world.  Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, torture, waterboarding, renditions, the CIA gulag, and the abrogation of civil rights at home are but a few of the irritants."

Finally, he thinks that the worst consequence of this invasion has been that we have seriously strained our old international friendships and alliances, particularly, and most importantly, the Atlantic Alliance.

He said, "The only way to gain the flexibility that will enable us to at least set new goals and pursue them is to withdraw from Iraq."

And I for one find his conclusion more credible than that of President Bush.
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