Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Hot Stoves and Brick Walls

At some point during our Thing With Iraq (it can't be a war, since we declared victory; people get very shirty if you call it an occupation; and I'm not sure if we really want to try to explain why we're "liberating" them with torture centers, guns, tanks, and in a few rare cases, body armor)...well, at some point, the administration pretty much waved the white flag in the "moral authority" department. Basically, the argument has gone, "Alright, yes, there were no weapons of mass destruction. Yes, the intelligence was, at best, shoddy, and at worst so overtly shoddy that it's blatantly obvious that we were willfully misreading it to construct a causus belli, and everyone knew it even at the time. Yes, the entire war has been nothing but a blatant power grab. BUT..."

The new conservative rationale for the war. "Now that we're there, we have to win, because the alternatives are too horrible to contemplate."

Discussing a pull-out of the troops is considered to be "defeatist" talk, the same sort of thing that people did in World War II because they secretly supported Hitler or something. We're told that this "hurts troop morale", because after a long hard day of getting shot at, watching your friend get scissored in half by a chunk of shrapnel the size of a cat, and missing your wife and kids desperately, nothing will really lower your morale like hearing that people back home want to get you the hell out of Iraq.

The fact of the matter is, any realistic discussion of the war in Iraq must consider the question, "What are the conditions for victory, and are those conditions still attainable?" If the answer to the latter half of the question is "No," then it is not defeatist to say that we should cut our losses and go, any more than it would be defeatist to suggest that we shouldn't try to break a brick wall with our skulls. We can't do it, and we'll probably do ourselves serious harm in the process.

The current administration is refusing to consider this question. They have sub-ordinated the best interests of the American military, the realities of public policy, and quite possibly the well-being of the nation for the forseeable future, to the egotistical belief that they will be vindicated by history if they can simply pour a sufficient amount of resources into the war. By attempting to salvage their reputation, they are in fact making it worse. It's like touching a hot stove, and instead of pulling your hand back, holding it there to prove how tough it is.

So, let's take a moment and actually consider the question. "What are the conditions of victory in Iraq?" The answer would seem to be, "The creation of a stable, humane, US-friendly government in the country." If this is, in fact, the answer, we should pull out now, because that was never an achievable goal and never will be. Any government that is stable is stable because it is responsive to the needs of its citizens; any government that is humane is humane because it values its citizens; any government that is US-friendly (in the terms we are attempting to impose upon Iraq) values our goodwill higher than it does its own citizens. Meaning that any government that is US-friendly will either have to resort to violence to keep power, or else ask us to do it for them. "Stable, friendly, humane" is the "cheap, close, nice" of nation-building: Pick two.

So what's a realistic "condition of victory" in Iraq, one we can actually achieve that won't make us feel that this is a total failure (or worse--a chaotic, unstable Iraq would be a total failure, a stable-but-actively-hostile-to-the-US Iraq would be worse). This is something that is changing day to day, which is another thing that the Bush administration is failing to understand, or possibly deliberately refusing to understand. "Events are in the saddle, and ride mankind." It was spoken of Vietnam, but it's equally true here. The statement, "We have to stay until we win," presumes that there will always be an existing condition of victory, that we have an unlimited supply of time, money, manpower, material, and goodwill (both of the US and Iraqi public) to accomplish our aims. We do not. The clock is ticking.

It may already have run out.

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