01/09/2007 08:18 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Apology As Policy In Iraq

Yesterday I hosted a fundraiser for the family of Walid Hassan, the Iraqi comedian gunned down last November. We put together $1,700 for his family through a fund set up by Reporters Without Borders. Somebody said, "That goes a long way in Iraq." But nobody really knew.

I asked myself what this is really about. It was about saying we were sorry. 170 people packed a bar in San Francisco and gave $10 each to say they were sorry to Iraq. We are sorry we destroyed your country. And we're sorry for every day we make it worse.

An apology would be a good start to a new foreign policy in Iraq. Rather than the Vilsack method, of blaming the chaos on the Iraqis, making it sound like the whole mess is their fault (or taking blame only with half-hearted statements like "we have created a culture of dependency in Iraq"). If we admitted we were wrong we might actually be able to make some progress. Anybody that has been in a war and talked to people under siege will tell you that among the general population at least, wars are about hatred, fear, and pride. An apology would go a long way toward calming the violence. But apologizing, for so many Americans is a hard thing to do. It's not the kind of honesty that is likely to put someone in the White House.

With the apology as the basis for our policy in Iraq we need to start looking at reparations. It would be nice if we could fix Iraq, but that's clearly not in our power. For years now every day America has been in Iraq things have gotten worse. The recent suggestion for a surge of 20,000 troops is a continuation of that failed policy. There are things we can do, like put together a fund, say a hundred billion dollars, to award to the new government in steps as they meet stability goals. And handing out tens of thousands of America passports to the Iraqis that have worked with the Americans during the occupation, saving them from the coming slaughter upon our retreat.

Like everyone else I wish fixing Iraq was as easy as sending more soldiers, but it isn't. The political will has long since been squandered and many of the incompetents who took us into this quagmire, most notably our president, are still in power. 20,000 troops might be enough to last out his disastrous presidency, but it isn't going to do much else.

We're long past the point of failure. Managing that failure is going to take a hard, honest, possibly unpopular appraisal. It takes courage to admit that thousands have died and hundreds of billions have been squandered because of a mistake. But that's the best way to turn things around. Sending more troops into that vicious and unwinnable war is the opposite of saying sorry, instead it's the perpetuation of the disastrous lie we've been living with, the victory the administration continues to assure us of, that was probably never really in our reach and certainly isn't in our grasp now.

- Stephen Elliott