George McGovern and William R. Polk, Out of Iraq; A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006), 142pp.
In 1972 George McGovern lost the presidential election to Richard Nixon by an Electoral College vote of 520-17. He even lost his home state of South Dakota, due in large part to his "liberal" opposition to the war in Vietnam. The ridicule he endured was intense. Thirty-five years later, I dare say that history views him differently. Perhaps with this book we'll listen to him now. After serving as a bomber pilot in World War II, earning a PhD from Northwestern University, and serving in both the House and Senate for over twenty years, McGovern has distinguished himself with a broad array of humanitarian causes. His co-author William Polk taught at Harvard and the University of Chicago, in addition to serving as a Middle East specialist in the State Department.
The title of their book is a bit misleading. In the first four chapters they explain why we need to exit Iraq. They view the war as not only a "calamitous mistake" but a "terrible and useless waste" of people and finances because, ultimately, the war as it has been waged is unwinnable. The longer we stay the worse it will get, so true patriotism and true support of our troops means we should exit Iraq as soon as possible. Especially helpful in these first four chapters is a general and simple history of Iraq with special focus since the British invasion in World War I. McGovern and Polk are harsh in their verdict about the rationale for the war; the many falsehoods the public has been told were due partly to gross incompetence but also to deliberate deception. Beyond the many costs of the war to our country and even the world, the public's trust of its political institutions has been badly corroded. Only in a fifth chapter do the authors explain how we might leave. Reading their 24 bullet points (pp. 96-122) about the military, economic, cultural, civic, political, social, and moral complexities of any exit of any sort makes you realize just how catastrophic the war has been. This is a debacle that will take decades to repair, and the sooner we start the better.