Monday, August 21, 2006

The Department of Milestones

The Nation notes another depressing milestone in the Iraq war:

The war in Iraq has lasted three days longer than US involvement in World War II.

Germany declared war on the US on December, 11, 1941, four days after Pearl Harbor. The US announced victory in Europe on May 8, 1945. That's one thousand, two hundred and forty-four days.

We've been in Iraq one thousand, two hundred and forty-seven days---and still the Administration has no exit strategy, no plan for victory and no clue what it is doing. In case you'd forgotten, George W. Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" aboard an aircraft carrier over three years ago.

Given that Pres. Bush has told Americans again today that pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq "would be a disaster," and stated flat-out that he will not end U.S. involvement in Iraq ever, as long as he is in the White House, the Iraq war is guaranteed to be longer than the entire span of World War II.

"Leaving before the job would be done would send a message that America really is no longer engaged, nor cares about the form of governments in the Middle East," he said. "Leaving before the job was done would send a signal to our troops that the sacrifices they made were not worth it. Leaving before the job is done would be a disaster, and that's what we're saying."

Actually, staying in Iraq is sending the opposite signal to U.S. troops: it's telling them that the president of the United States would rather see all of them die or be horribly and permanently maimed in mind and body than face the reality that we are the cause of the disaster in Iraq, that in fact we are the disaster in Iraq, and that the disaster will never end as long as we continue to be there.

The single most basic fallacy underlying the present American catastrophe in Iraq is the belief that the U.S. can somehow solve that country's problems, however extreme and intractable they may seem; that, in short, we are part of the solution in Iraq, not part of the problem. Once you're thinking that way, it's always a matter of setting the latest incorrect or inept tactics right, or of changing a policy that has been incompetently put into operation by unprepared administrators wielding too few resources too poorly.

But the belief in the power of the United States to solve problems for others -- by force -- reflects a deep-seated imperial mind-set that exists not just in the Bush administration, but among its mainstream critics as well. You can see it everywhere, if you care to look. You can note it in the way, as things continue to devolve in Iraq, the military and its various internal critics have been bobbing and weaving from one set of counterproductive counterinsurgency tactics to another (each time claiming that the previous set had somehow overlooked basic insurgency doctrine or the lessons of Vietnam). The latest of these is a modified version of the old (failed) Vietnam "ink blot" strategy in which we pull troops back to Baghdad, a city now evidently in utter, violent disarray, to nail down at least some of the capital's neighborhoods (while denuding troop strength in areas of Sunni Iraq where the insurgency rages).

Or consider the latest in Bush administration thinking. In a superb front-page New York Times piece last week, Bombs Aimed at G.I.'s in Iraq Are Increasing, reporters Michael R. Gordon, Mark Mazzetti and Thom Shanker offered impressive evidence that, since the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Sunni insurgency against the Americans and allied Iraqi forces has only heightened. ...
There is still some hope for the Iraqis to recover their equilibrium. All the centripetal forces in Iraq derive from the American occupation, and might still be sufficiently reduced by an American departure followed by a viable reconstruction program embraced by the key elements inside of Iraq. But if the occupation continues, there will certainly come a point -- perhaps already passed -- when the collapse of government legitimacy, the destruction wrought by the war, and the horror of terrorist violence become self-sustaining. If that point is reached, all parties will enter a new territory with incalculable consequences.

We cannot bring back the lives, both American and Iraqi, that have been lost in a war that was a mistake to begin with, compounded by unimaginable incompetence and mismanagement. What we can do is be strong and brave enough to acknowledge what is, and resolve that we will not let more lives be lost and ruined to save us from having to face our mistakes.

Don't count on that to happen any time soon, if ever, though. There are just too many venal politicians out there who are hell-bent on repeating horribly misconceived strategies of the past, thinking they will somehow get a different result.

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