Saturday, December 10, 2005

Third Way (Redux)

Nir Rosen writes in the Atlantic Monthly about why a US withdrawl from Iraq is the only likely scenario for peace and reconciliation in that country. The more I read, the more I understand that the US is its own worst enemy in Iraq.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Third Way

These days BushCheney is pushing hard to convince Americans that the Iraq War is essential to our security. Dick Cheney’s recent remarks at Fort Drum, New York are typical of that message. “Los[ing] our nerve and abandon[ing] our mission... would be unwise in the extreme....” In the meantime Democrats cannot seem to figure out what to do about the war. Average Americans who bear the costs of the war (along with Iraqis who suffer its direct impact) are conflicted about what to do. I know I am. I want us out. Not just to end American casualties bus also to end Iraqi ones as well. Withdrawal creates the possibility of increased sectarian violence and civil war but continued occupation does the same, only under different auspices. What to do?

That’s why I was intrigued to find a long and thoughtful article in the Fall edition of the Mideast Policy Council Journal by Gareth Porter entitled, “The Third Option in Iraq: A Responsible Exit Strategy”. A short summary risks oversimplifying a complex analysis so I recommend reading the entire article. Maybe I like the article because it mirrors my own thinking, which is the need to establish a real dialogue with the Sunni insurgents. Porter would accomplish this by using American leverage (our troops and military support) to push the Shi’a led government into extending genuine security guarantees to the Sunnis who, in turn, would offer the same to the Shi’ite minority that has been the victim of Sunni political violence throughout much of Iraq’s history.

Porter agrees with my analysis that at the moment, the US is taking sides in the civil war, supporting the Shi’as against the Sunnis. He proposes that the US encourage (force?) the Shi’as into the dialogue necessary to resolve their political differences, the primary one being the control of state violence in the post occupation government. Both sides have a strong interest in not becoming victims of the other and only a genuine reconciliation will do that. In its absence, Americans can expect a long war against a persistent, resolute foe or a humiliating exit from Iraq.

Juan Cole also has an interesting review of the political debate over the war. He defines “winning” as avoiding an all-out civil war (as opposed to the low intensity one now occurring). I would prefer that the US get the hell out of Iraq sooner rather than later but I am not comfortable with simply abandoning Iraq to the warring factions unleashed by our invasion. The US should have never, never invaded Iraq. But now that we are there, just walking away would be as much of a crime as the invasion. That’s why the Porter article appeals to me; it offers a reasonable alternative to the two extremes. In the end, the civil war may be unavoidable and America will just have to bear responsibility for its role in Iraq. In the meantime, I still hope exists for a political solution that ends the bloodshed.

However the war ends, the United States owes Iraq big time. I’m talking reparations to rebuild the damage and destruction we have inflicted on that nation and its people since 2003. The US will not call it reparations because that would imply responsibility for harm. But whatever the term, Iraqis are entitled to compensation to rebuild what we have destroyed. I hope we will do the right thing.

A final note. I am not consistent in my ideas for ending the Iraq war. Some days I just want us to pull out and leave Iraq to the Iraqis to deal with the consequences come what may. Most days, however, I want us to withdraw without leaving a bloodbath or a failed state in our wake. My inconsistency reflects a thinking mind. Unlike BushCheney, who has all the answers (even if they are wrong), I recognize my limitations and try to think through them. Readers looking for concrete certainty can look elsewhere. What is not inconsistent in my thinking is recognizing that this war is wrong and a stain on America’s honor. That hasn’t changed in two and a half years. But I do admit to uncertainty when it comes to ideas for ending the dishonor.

Mortal Dogs

If you want to learn about mortality, get a dog. In my life I have been intimately associated with five dogs and have outlived four of them. My current dog, Prince, is 13 years old now and is showing his age. Where he was once a bundle of explosive energy, curious and active, Prince sleeps a lot now. He has lost some body mass and is less than enthusiastic for the long walks that have been part of our daily ritual for years. Various formulas for estimating his age in human terms put him between 65 and 77. Barring an accident, I expect to outlive him as well.

My partner, Maggie, says that it’s unfair that we outlive our dogs, that their time with us is too short. It’s certainly sad that we must endure their passing, especially when their death is often a matter of choice. Only one of my dogs died “naturally” and that was after surgery that was a difficult alternative to euthanasia. Three times I have decided to “put down” my dogs rather than allow them to continue living in a diminished state, unable to function. The other alternative–my dog outliving me–is also a difficult concept to deal with. Either way, one of us will be the first to die.

So death is no stranger to me as a dog owner. And it’s an uncomfortable reminder of my own mortality. I am now approaching 60 years of age, equivalent to a 12 year old dog. My oldest dog was over 15 when he died, or about 72 in human years. That figure is drawing increasingly near and seems far more personal than it did even a just a few years ago.

Not that death is anything new to me. Both of my parents died young. I am now older than my father who died at 56 and am closing in on my mother who died at 64. Along the way I have seen death in combat, survived what should have been a fatal fall and have lost friends to untimely deaths. But these were chance events. My parents were longtime smokers who succumbed to lung disease. The other events were accidents or unusual. Now, however, the inevitable progression of time draws me ever closer to the end of the average human life span. Where in the past I felt that I had time, I am beginning to understand that I no longer have that luxury. If I am to do anything, I had best do it now.

But my dogs have always reminded me of that fact. Sometime in 1980, as I began my second decade as an adult, I realized that my seven year old dog, Toby, would probably not see the end of the decade with me. It was a shocking realization despite its obviousness. This healthy, happy creature who had been my companion for many years was mortal. As it was, he almost made it; Toby died in December 1988. But his longevity made for a difficult last year, plagued by numerous eye disorders that required frequent visits to the veterinary opthamologist. He grew increasingly weak, to the point that I hoped he would just not wake up one morning. When he could no longer stand, I made the decision to kill, or if you prefer a less shocking term, euthanize, him. Even then the decision was not easy. I miss him still.

Unlike humans, dogs do not know they will die. Their every moment is in the present until the present no longer exists. Anticipating and preparing for death is a human function and in my case, at least, my dogs have reminded me that life is in no way permanent. I guess one way to avoid the pain of their death is to never share life with a dog but that seems far too limiting a way to live. That’s like avoiding heartbreak by never taking the risk of loving another. Life is risk. Its course and events are uncertain. And as much as anything in this life, my dogs remind me of that risk and uncertainty, not to mention rewards that come from it.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.