07/29/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Real Cost Of Staying The Course

There is no denying that the "surge" of U.S. forces in Iraq was an extraordinary success on a tactical level.

Gen. Petraeus replaced the previous strategy of "search and destroy" to "clear and hold." This transformation of tactics directly improved the situation on the ground by influencing key constituencies among the Iraqi population to halt sectarian violence, sharpen the skills of the Iraqi Security Forces and persuade the Iraqi government to take greater initiatives by acting on its own.

But nothing has been achieved that can't be reversed. Current conditions won't be stable without a long-term military commitment that will require the full support and sacrifice of the American people.

We recently gave control of Anbar to the Sunnis. Sure, this is progress, but we must keep in mind that many of these Sunnis are the people who were killing our troops for years.

The government of Iraq has now said that the U.S. must set a timetable to start withdrawing our troops -- well and good. But the Mahdi Army remains strong and very much intact. And Iran enjoys tremendous influence over the Shias -- the same ethnic group that holds a majority of the population.

In addition, most Iraqi cities have underdeveloped civil administrations and an astonishing lack of the economic diversity needed to satisfy the many sectarian groups that are still active participants in Iraq's civil war.

We've built barriers around communities in Baghdad where there's still an existing Sunni vs. Shia rift. Thousands of former insurgent fighters with American blood on their hands are now on the U.S. payroll as security guards. And despite the Iraqi Security Force's increased capability, their desire to be nonsectarian is still very questionable.

There are no street signs, no postal service, no trash department, no electrical agency, water department or phone company. Iraqis will not become Pennsylvanians anytime soon. It would take years of nation-building.

Gen. Petraeus said himself at the start of the "surge" that it could take decades just to implement the proper counter-insurgency strategy needed to pacify Iraq.

So as we acknowledge the security improvements produced by the surge, we must also acknowledge that it was only supposed to be a short-term military tactic -- not a long-term military strategy. Whether or not we can continue on the current course is very much up to the American people. Are we as a nation in it for the long haul?

We've already spent $600 billion on the Iraq war. We're running now at a rate of $3 billion a week. The members of our volunteer military are on their third or fourth year-long tours. Our military is broken and our budget deficits are astronomical. The loss of American lives is over 4,000 with an uncountable number wounded physically and psychologically.

Any American who feels that we should "stay the course" must realize that there is no way to sustain military operations in Iraq without them putting their own blood and money in the game. This would require our young people to join the Army and Marines. We'd have to buy war bonds and substantially increase taxes to stop spending money that we don't have.

I'm convinced that this would result in a full loss of will by the American people before we achieve any so-called victory.

If Americans who support this war aren't willing to put their own bodies where their rhetoric is, there can be no sustainability. If you're not using your own product, why should I buy what you're selling?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that we continue the war. If it were up to me the troops would've been home yesterday.

Even with my strong anti-war views, I acknowledge that no one can be 100 percent certain of Iraq's fate.

But if we ever want to fully extricate ourselves from this war, we'll have to significantly change the Iraqi culture. If not, when we leave they'll just revert to the same habits they've practiced for centuries.

But creating an entirely new socialization process for the Iraqis in an effort to achieve a modern and sustainable democracy to our liking is not only un-American -- it's impossible. So let's not expend any more American lives and resources on this mission.

(See my column in today's Philadelphia Daily News)