A lot of people have asked me if I plan to march this Saturday. The march, entitled The World Still Says No to War,” is being organized by United for Peace and Justice, the same people who organized the 3-500,000 people anti-war focus group that I participated in last year.

After thinking about it for some time, I have decided that I will not be marching. I think the issues now are too complicated to be effectively conveyed by protest politics. True, No War” was an oversimplification of how I felt last year as well. But I did not want war at that time and not for the reasons we were given. No War” was good enough to capture my feelings at that time, as well as those of half-a-million other New Yorkers.

This time, however, the organizers slogan is not one that I agree with (emphasis added):

Now is the time for the voices of peace and justice to speak out. On March 20th a clear, strong message must be sent to the Bush Administration: End the Occupation of Iraq! Bring the Troops Home! Now!

I don’t like the way the occupation is being handled, I don’t feel that the likes of Chalebi and Halburton should have anything to do with the future of Iraq. But, at the same time, I think that an early withdrawal would have devastating consequences for Iraqi women and minorities. I think the U.S. needs to go on its knees before the U.N. and to ask for their help in getting us out of this mess — but I think that bringing the troops home now would be to shirk all responsibility for our actions, and would be devastating for Iraq and the region.

After writing an e-mail along these lines to some friends, I was pleasantly surprised to find out (via, that Howard Dean said very much the same thing on Meet the Press (emphasis added):

I actually fear–and this is an interesting thing for one of the most anti-war candidates to say–my greatest fear right now is that President Bush for political reasons will withdraw our troops prematurely from Iraq, and that Iraq will descend in–either to civil war or to chaos. There are significant divisions. If you, for election reasons, bring home the troops too early, then you risk the–either al-Qaeda establishing a beachhead, and we know al-Qaeda is in Iraq now, even though they were not in Iraq before we went in, or you risk the attempt by the Shiite religious majority to enforce a Shiite theocracy, which is what they have in Iran. I think that would be a very serious problem.

Now, I don’t think that an Iraqi Shiite theocracy would be the same as an Iranian one, nor am I at all clear about how much al-Qaeda is responsible for the attacks against American forces in Iraq, but I do think that there is plenty to worry about. No matter how I look at it, and no matter how much I feel for the young people risking their lives in Iraq, I don’t think bringing them home now is the answer. Not without a well thought out exit strategy, and not without ensuring a peaceful future for the Iraqi people. We owe them that much.