it was never really up for debate: We are leaving Iraq. This will not happen as quickly or as cleanly as we might wish, but there’s no ignoring two fundamental realities. One, any incoming administration will want to rid itself of this albatross. And two, the military is tapped out. A volunteer force can’t maintain the troop levels that an occupation requires, and there’s not going to be a draft. So it’s over; the only questions are how we withdraw, and what happens after we do.
This is the conversation the nation should be having right now, but instead we are wholly consumed with who and what got us into Iraq to begin with, as if understanding the dark arts of Dick Cheney will make the war go away. There is, of course, merit in dissecting the lies of the Bush administration and why they swayed so many. Perhaps such an examination will immunize the body politic against the next bunch of ideologues who decide to sacrifice our nation’s armed forces, America’s prestige, and half a million civilian lives at the altar of some foreign-policy fantasy.
But the truth is, we cannot let the debate of 2003 drown out the one we must have now—and this is exactly what our political leaders are doing. On the Republican side, the knowledgeable and the reasonable (senators Hagel and Warner) are retiring, leaving behind an administration that is equal parts deluded and craven and a lot of chicken hawk braggadocio from gop candidates who still think tough talk will win them the big chair. Meanwhile, the big-talk-no-walk Dems are stuck in “blame Bush” mode, as is the antiwar movement.
Enough already. Sending in the troops without asking “and then what?” was morally bankrupt; so is demanding “Troops Out Now” without planning for what might come next. Our cover package brings together dozens of experts—military men, think tankers, peace activists, politicos—to confront the logistical and moral dilemmas inherent in leaving Iraq. If those running for commander in chief are too concerned with electoral posturing to face reality, voters must force them to do so.
Speaking of short-term thinking, it would be a huge mistake to fixate on November 4, 2008, as the end of the battle. As Simon Rosenberg and Peter Leyden point out in their essay “The 50-Year Strategy,” the possibility now exists for the kind of political transformation that comes around only once or twice a century, in large part because of two exploding population groups—Hispanics and people under 30. Both are voting in record numbers, organizing in new ways, and setting new priorities. And like all of us, they are fed up with a leadership that treats the American people like children who cannot handle hard truths.
In politics, as in marketing, it’s trendy to claim that anything more sophisticated than a bumper sticker will strain the public’s attention span. To that, we proffer the response to our last issue’s cover story, “School of Shock,” in which contributing writer Jennifer Gonnerman investigated the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, a special-needs residential “treatment” program where mentally retarded, autistic, and emotionally troubled kids are routinely punished with painful electric shocks.
We received hundreds of letters, comments, and phone calls—some readers even called in donations so that we could continue to publish this kind of exposé. Many responses were deeply personal; one parent took it upon herself to go undercover at the school to see what would await her autistic child if she enrolled him. “I spent 4.5 hours there and asked to feel the ‘application’ (shock),” she wrote afterward. “My heart goes out to the kids and adults that are at jrc. Something needs to be done asap. No one should ever have to be treated like this.”
What truly amazed us was seeing how many readers were moved to learn more and take action. They delved into the primary documents we posted online, bolstering their arguments with facts from government investigations and legal reports. They launched petition drives, called and wrote their legislators, and started organizing protests. And the first results are already in: Elected officials in Massachusetts have renewed their efforts to shut the school down. Washington, D.C.’s schools chancellor disciplined employees who’d sent children there. It was a powerful, and humbling, demonstration of the enormous reservoir of energy and goodwill that lies submerged beneath the spectacle of American political debate.
A small postscript: The last few months have been a whirlwind of activity at Mother Jones. We launched a Washington, D.C., bureau, nearly doubling our editorial staff and putting major investigative muscle in the nation’s capital at a time when most news organizations are cutting back staff and fluffing up news. We overhauled our website, making it more user-friendly and better suited to the frequent and breaking stories we now publish—stories that just can’t wait until the magazine arrives in your mailbox. We won a string of journalistic accolades: Our writers swept first and second place and got an honorable mention nod in the prestigious John Bartlow Martin awards for public-service journalism, something that has never been done in the award’s 19-year history. And the Chicago Tribune, one of the nation’s more conservative papers, singled us out as one of America’s best news magazines, gushing that Mother Jones “fills a need we didn’t know we had.” Happy to oblige.