Thursday, October 26, 2006

My Exit Strategy

Iraq war supporters constantly challenge critics to offer solutions to BushCheney’s fiasco in that unfortunate country. Not that most of these apologists are interested in any new ideas or thoughtful discussion; they simply want a target that they can, in turn, demonize. Any alternatives are immediately attacked and savaged, leaving the current policies more or less in place. This strategy works because few Americans are willing to admit that this nation has truly fucked up in Iraq. There are simply no good alternatives. Iraq is screwed. America is screwed. All we can hope for at this point is that the final deal will not be too horribly catastrophic.

BushCheney insists that the cause is not lost. Of course he does. To do otherwise would subject him to the opprobrium he has so richly earned. But why will I believe that he is any more competent now than he was in 2003 when he arrogantly plunged this nation into an illegal war in Iraq. Turning point after tipping point after new initiative has all come to naught. Nothing BushCheney can do or say will convince me that another three, six or however many more months of pursuing a “clear and unchanging strategy” will produce any results different from what we have already seen.

Putting my mouth where my money is, I offer my own solution. Like any option for Iraq, it sucks, will lead to more carnage and leaves America’s reputation in tatters. I don’t think any policy can avoid that. What my suggestion does , however, is remove the occupation force and leave Iraq to the Iraqis, which is what they wanted all along. That sentiment is obvious in Anthony Shadid’s account of the American invasion and its aftermath, Night Draws Near. That sentiment is echoed by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone in this interview:

I don't believe the mess we're seeing now was inevitable. Had fewer bad decisions been made, and had the appropriate resources been brought to bear, Iraq would be a fundamentally different place, one that is a lot more stable and secure. I don't believe we could have prevented an insurgency -- there always would have been one, led by zealots who saw no room for compromise. There always would have been some degree of sectarian conflict. But it didn't have to be this bad. It's hard to remember now, but we did have a window of opportunity in the weeks and months immediately following the fall of Saddam's government. But instead of listening to the Iraqi people, and marshaling the appropriate resources to reconstruct the country, the CPA squandered that opportunity by pursuing irrelevant policies and preventing Iraqi leaders from exercising any real governing authority. (emphasis added)

What would I do? I would withdraw American forces over the next six to nine months. I would work with the elected Iraqi government to seek international assistance, including Iraq’s neighbors Syria, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to stabilize the nation and prevent the chaos from spilling across the greater Middle East. I would ask Congress to appropriate substantial reconstruction aid to be administered by the Iraqis under the guidance of an international oversight body. I would ask Congress to pass a resolution apologizing to the Iraqi people for wrecking their country.

Please note that my policy would not necessarily prevent civil war in Iraq. It’s based primarily on the hope that Iraqis, left to their own devices, would back away from that disaster but it offers no guarantees. Civil war may well ensure; that may be the only way the contending factions can come to terms with each other. Experience has shown that US forces are unable to prevent the contending factions from killing each other. I wish it were otherwise but it is not. That is the consequence of our very poorly executed operation to remove Saddam Hussein from power. There’s a reason why he lasted so long–everyone knew that without a strong central government Iraq would descend into chaos. The US removed that central government without a plan to create anything remotely capable of governing Iraq after Saddam Hussein. What the world has seen in the past three and a half years is the result of our folly.

As for the “war on terror”, the United States and other nations can deal with that threat–from Iraq or any other location–in two ways. First, we should focus on intelligence and counter-intelligence to identify and disrupt terrorist plans and operations. Our own considerable resources can be combined with other nations, particularly nations who have the assets and ability to surveil and infiltrate terrorist groups, to create a global anti-terrorist network. Second, when these efforts identify specific groups and plans, we can deploy our special forces to disrupt them. It’s pretty simple, actually. The terrorists may be dangerous but they are no Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. Cooperation and patience can deal with the threat they pose.

I would also urge the US government to pursue the war profiteers who have used the Iraq war to loot the treasury. Just as Harry Truman pursued similar corruption during World War II, America needs a vigilant effort to recover the unjust enrichment of the Iraq war profiteers who have found an economic bonanza while simultaneously shortchanging American troops and the Iraqi people.

My policy is no panacea. The results will be ugly but that’s the consequence of BushCheney’s failed policy. Anything else is simply sending more Americans to their deaths in some vain attempt to prevent BushCheney from having to acknowledge their failure.

[Cross-posted at Mockingbird's Medley.]

Monday, October 23, 2006

Turning Point

US dead in Iraq reached 2,800 today. That's 2,660 since "Mission Accomplished" at the "end" of major combat operations. This month is the highest casualty rate (3.9 dead Americans per day) since January 2005 (4.1) which itself was the highest since November 2004 (4.7). BushCheney claims that the this month's high casualty rate can be attributed to the Battle of Baghdad in which US forces are taking the fight to the enemy.

I don't doubt that US forces are heavily engaged. What I doubt is the result. The administration, at least before it started making noises about adjusting strategies, implied that the battle would be a turning point but I don't buy it any more than the January 2005 elections were a turning point or the Battle of Falluja in November 2004 were a turning point.

If these events were turning points, they were turning points in an endless spiral of death, going round and round in a deadly circle with no end in sight. Thousands of Americans, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Not to mention the many, many wounded, displaced and dispossessed.

How many more? How long will Americans allow their country continue this abomination?

American history offers one solution:

...Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

A Comic Strip War

The Washington Post Magazine profiles Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau. I've been a fan since I discovered the strip in 1972 after returning from Vietnam. What caught my eye was a series in Feburary or March when BD decided to avoid a term paper by dropping out of college and volunteering for Vietnam. For someone who had not been in Vietnam, Trudeau understood how truly bizarre that experience was. I can't find a link to them. If anyone can, let me know and I'll add it). His later fame with Watergate and beyond further cemented his reputation as far as I am concerned.

The strip has waxed and waned over the years since but most recently his series on the Iraq war and BD's injury have been nothing short of brilliant. The empathy and understanding Trudeau demonstrated in 1972 is on display as BD deals with the aftermath of losing his leg (the official term in Vietnam was "traumatic amputation"). The stips are available in two collections, The Long Road Home, and The War Within. (The proceeds from these sales support Fisher House, a valuable resource for wounded veterans and their families.) I and many other veterans never had to deal with those kind of wounds but we all understand that it was only a matter of luck and timing. So Trudeau's empathy reaches us all, no matter when our war was or what happened.

The profile quotes a speech Trudeau gave to Vietnam Veterans of America national conference this year. He neatly sums up the dilemma this nation faces as it deals with the human cost of the Iraq War:

"When I talk to wounded veterans, I usually don't ask them what they think the mission was. I don't presume, because their lives are wrenching enough without the suggestion that their sacrifices may have been without meaning. Moreover, if that is so, it will become apparent to them soon enough . . . The young men and women who we've repeatedly put in harm's way are paying the price for this misbegotten mission, and as long as it continues, I, like so many of our countrymen, must walk this strange line between hating the war but honoring the warrior. I don't know how long we can keep it up. . ."

He finishes to a standing ovation.

He could have made that same speech 35 years ago. Maybe not to a standing ovation but still dead on correct.

Weasel Words and the Two-Legged Weasels that Speak Them

[With apologies to any four-legged furry weasels who might read this.]

In his weekly radio address BushCheney said yesterday,

"Our goal is clear and unchanging: Our goal is victory," he said. "What is changing are the tactics we use to achieve that goal. Our commanders on the ground are constantly adjusting their approach to stay ahead of the enemy, particularly in Baghdad."

These 43 words neatly encapsulate all that is wrong with American policy in Iraq. Our goal is NOT clear and unchanging. Over the course of three and a half years our goal has morphed from weapons of mass destruction to toppling a brutal dictator to establishing democracy. BushCheney may claim that he has always sought victory but the meaning of that victory has been anything but clear and unchanging. He should have quit back at "Mission Accomplished" when he was ahead.

BushCheney is correct when he claims that our tactics change but he errs on the reasoning. American forces are not staying ahead of the enemy. If anything, the enemy is dictating the terms of engagement, forcing our troops to constantly react and deal with an ever changing combat environment. We sure didn't plan on an insurgency, on improvised explosive devices or sectarian violence. We have been playing catch-up since almost day one.

Clear and unchanging is a mantra for BushCheney, however meainingles it may be in reality. It makes him sound positively Churchillian. He used it at a fund raiser where he coupled it with the goal of an Iraq that could defend itsef and would be an ally in the war on terror. Here, too, howver, the words are equally meainingless. Iraqis seem more than able to defend themselves--if not from foreign invaders like the United States then from each other. As for seeking an ally against terrorism, the secular Iraq of Saddam Hussein was probably more reliablely hostile to Islamic extremists than any likely post-invasion Iraqi government.

At the fund raiser BushCheney also said,

"Listen, I fully understand it's a tough fight in Iraq," he said. "I know it, you know it, and our troops know it."

I have to ask, how would he know?