The Endgame is Near

It's clear that the major issues in the U.S. presidential race are Iraq and the economy. Since the economy seems to be recovering, especially in the jobs field, that leaves Iraq as the main obstacle to President Bush's re-election.

Much of the American media paint the President as helplessly caught in the vortex of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. But the fact is that Bush, by saying only a few words, can easily resolve the Iraq conundrum by announcing that the bulk of American soldiers will be home before June 30 this year.

However, the history of America's wars since February 1945 suggests that, just before ending a war and bringing soldiers home, the then-presidents all felt they had to -- or had to threaten to -- kill large numbers of enemy soldiers and civilians as their exit strategy. For example:

    Franklin D. Roosevelt and his British ally Winston Churchill, on February 13-15, 1945, carried out raids against the demilitarized German city of Dresden. Deaths: 135,000 or more. Both leaders knew Germany was on the brink of collapse.

    Harry Truman knew in July 1945 that Japan's leaders were desperately looking for a deal. Japan's vaunted navy had no fuel and its army was seething with discontent. Nevertheless, Truman dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, and another one on Nagasaki on Aug. 9. Total deaths: 150,000. The Soviet Union declared war on Japan on Aug. 7, and Japan's surrender came on Aug. 14.

    Dwight Eisenhower was elected president in November 1952, and in July 1953 ended the Korean War. Up until the day of the signing of the Panmunjon Truce Accords on July 27, President Eisenhower kept on threatening both the North Koreans and their Chinese allies with laying a radioactive cobalt belt over the narrow neck of North Korea that would shield South Korea from any new attack from the North. But former General Eisenhower undoubtedly knew that the cobalt belt was militarily useless since American planes had already flattened every city and town in North Korea.

    Richard Nixon, after his November 1972 landslide electoral victory, ordered the most severe bombings ever of Hanoi and other cities and towns of North Vietnam. The media called it Nixon's Christmas presents for Hanoi. Yet on January 27, 1973, the United States and the two Vietnams signed a peace accord in Paris.

    George H. Bush presided over the Gulf War, the shortest war in American history with the fewest American deaths and injuries. But according to a recent Business Week story, Beth Osborne Daponte, a demographer in the Commerce Department assigned to do work for the Pentagon, estimated in 1992 that 40,000 Iraqi soldiers died along with 13,000 civilians. Much of that destruction happened after Saddam had abandoned Kuwait. Then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney rejected her figures.

What the exit strategies of all these presidents have in common is that they all had little military merit, but were designed to terrorize entire populations of enemies, and impress allies and the American people as well. In the two World War II cases, total victory was at hand. In the Korean and Vietnam wars, draws were at hand. And in the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein had moved his troops out of Kuwait. The killing of most of the 40,000 Iraqi soldiers while they were retreating was an act of terror aimed at both enemies and friends, with the message that, if enemy or even friend got out of line they would again suffer destruction from the sky.

President George W. Bush has announced that, at June 30 midnight, America will return Iraqi sovereignty to a legal government. Colin Powell in Amman, Jordan, and Condoleeza Rice in Berlin reinforced this date. If the President follows in the footsteps of five of his predecessors, including his father, he will launch a massive terror attack in Iraq before June 30.

The target that stands out in Iraq is the war waged in the Shiite holy shrine cities of An-Najaf and Karbala. There, an "Army of the Mahdi" led by Muqtada al-Sadr has been fighting American forces for many months. Last week, Iran announced that an agreement had been concluded between the Army of the Mahdi and the Americans. But now the "Tehran Times" reports that on Sunday, May 16, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blasted the desecration of Iraqi holy sites by U.S. troops. Khamenei, though a hard liner, has been a supporter of better relations with America. But when American soldiers apparently damaged the holiest shrines of the Shiite faith, his tone turned hard again.

If George W. Bush opts for an endgame strategy similar to his father's, chances are that his ratings in the polls will go way up, at least temporarily. He is betting that Khamenei will accept the endgame as he did in February 1991, though the Iranian leader fulminated then about the Great Satan. And it would send a message, lethal as it would be, both to the Iraqis and the Iranians.

PNS Editor Franz Schurmann ( is emeritus professor of history and sociology at U.C. Berkeley and the author of numerous books.

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