by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist

Proverbs 26:11 tells us that “like a dog returns to his vomit, so does a fool to his folly.” Gross, but true. And in the chronicles of folly, the bad decisions made in Iraq during the past four years are setting new records. So isn’t it time to ask ourselves why we continue to get it so wrong?

At each turn, our leaders seem certain of how successful the next surge, battle, constitution or election will be, but the results are rarely as predicted. Underlying all the mistakes is one piece of faulty thinking that keeps us from getting it right and makes us confident that we know what to do. We assume the people in the Middle East see the world as we do, that they will act as we would in a given situation and that they value the same things we do. This false assumption is what allowed Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney to declare with great confidence that the Iraqi people would greet U.S. soldiers as liberators.

After all, if you were living under a dictatorship, wouldn’t you welcome invasion by a Western, Christian power? We all would, and that is why it was easy to believe all Iraqis would react in the same way. Such false thinking has caused Western powers to make bad decisions in Iraq for nearly 90 years. No matter how much blood is spilled or how much money is spent, we just can’t get it into our heads that perhaps those in the Middle East have a different worldview.

Likewise, we don’t seem to be able to resist returning to the folly of involving ourselves in the region. Perhaps we are too far removed from Middle Eastern cultures to be able to make wise decisions about our involvement in that area. I certainly have no clue about how to solve the problems of the Middle East, and anyone who says he or she does is probably a liar or a fool.

What is clear to me is that we need to abandon this folly and never return to it. We need to not just get out of Iraq, but out of the entire area, militarily and economically. Cheap oil is simply not worth the trillions of dollars spent and the tens of thousands of lives destroyed by this war without end.

For the past four years, U.S. soldiers and their families have been making all the sacrifices and paying all the costs of our inability to understand and deal effectively with Middle East politics. It is time the rest of America stepped up and began to make sacrifices to get us out of this mess and to make sure future generations don’t have to re-engage in the area.

We need to get out of Iraq, but, more important, we need to develop the fuel- efficiency standards, transportation systems and new technologies that will allow us to break our dependence on the Middle East for petroleum. What a great legacy that would be for future generations.

What sacrifices would we have to make to achieve independence from Middle East oil? Higher gas taxes to pay for public transportation infrastructure? Yes. Higher prices for new, energy-efficient cars? Yes. Higher prices for the produce that travels to the local supermarket from Brazil? Yes. Would we have to ride the bus or a bike from time to time? Yes. But is this really much of a sacrifice compared with a soldier’s life? Or the knowledge that our children and their children will not have to return to this folly again?