OPW: John Burns on Iraq

On today’s “Other People’s Words,” John F. Burns’s–former Baghdad Bureau chief for the New York Times–on the way forward in Iraq. This quote is from an absolutely excellent conversation he had Monday with Charlie Rose. If you have the time (and bandwidth), I would recommend that you watch the entire thing.

I can understand why there are bitter recriminations over the path to war, over the arguments made for war, some of which–and I’m thinking principally of the weapons of mass destruction–have subsequently been proven errant. But it seems to me that the present debate is burdened by that to a degree that makes it even more difficult to resolve.

The fact is that the United States is there with 168,000 troops. The China house rule that Colin Powell famously spoke about, it seems to me, does apply. To say we broke it is perhaps a little extravagant–that was a perfectly terrible place before–but nonetheless, we–and I speak now about the Coalition powers, the West–assumed a responsibility when we went in there…

My point is: If we’re going to look at ways of resolving this, it seems to me that we might do well to put the recriminations aside and leave those for history and to simply looks at the situation as it exists now.

Of course there are compelling arguments on both sides of that. But to the extent that it weights and frustrates the search for a solution it seems to me that the more mature thing to do is to–if possible–set those aside and to deal with the situation as it exists, and to seek solutions on the basis of the the facts on the ground now.

This is not to excuse, nor to endorse, what the makers of this war did. And history will argue about that probably for decades to come. But to simply accept that we’re there and we have to find a way, if we possibly can, of resolving these two harsh options into something which can win broad support among the American people, can get those troops home, and [can] save Iraq from a cataclysm.

If there was a solution at an acceptable price that would meet all the desired ends here, I’m sure America–in its figure, its enterprise, and its wisdom–would have fixed on it. The fact that there is a bitter debate about this is because there is no–at least presently available–solution that comes at what looks like an acceptable price. That’s the problem.

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