Welcome to the Quagmire: In the Iraq war, there is no course to stay
As ludicrous as it seems, it is possible to accept that any number of senior officials in the Bush administration truly believed our troops would be welcomed with open arms by almost all Iraqis after we had overthrown their terrible and hated dictator. Okay, so it seems almost painfully naive and willfully stupid to blunder into invading a sovereign state with the delusions that our country was suffering. It didn't seem to occur to anyone that there were probably many Iraqis thriving under Saddam Hussein's regime, even given that it was brutally oppressive. Further, no one thought the matter through enough to conjecture that, under the "What have you done for us lately?" heading, as soon as Hussein was gone, everything that subsequently went wrong would be blamed on the U.S. invasion. Oh, that's right, the "Coalition" invasion; I forgot about the 130 Outer Mongolians and those legendary fighters from Tonga.
The most obvious flaw in the "plan" to create a democratic, moderate, stable Middle Eastern country was neglecting to consider the ongoing tension and bitter rivalry between the Sunnis, the Shiites, and the Kurds. I exempt that oversight, however, because the whole Bush administration mantra is so obviously "Don't bother us with the facts; we've made up our minds." What had just happened in Yugoslavia, which under Tito was among the most moderate and peaceful of the Iron Curtain countries, would have seemed to be a warning sign that could be understood from as far away as distant galaxies. Evidently not.
Actually understanding and appreciating that not all Muslims are one kind of Muslim that there are many different denominations, as well as nation-specific influences, just as there are within Christianity seems apparent enough, but it would be disingenuous to say one expected this kind of sophisticated thought from the current administration.
Okay, George W. Bush is our president. Clearly, if bizarrely, the big post-invasion plan was that all Iraqis were going to line the streets, tossing flowers at our troops. The pressing issue seemed to be exactly how many candy bars and nylons we should bring over to distribute to the gratefully liberated.
Even granted all of the above, it is beyond astonishing that not only did the administration not have any kind of sophisticated plan for its own ridiculous scenario, but it hadn't bothered to even consider any alternative plans, much less have them fleshed out this despite receiving a range of strong opinions from military, intelligence, and diplomatic sources that it wasn't going to play out anywhere near the way they believed it would.
Think about this: Not only did they have at best a knee-jerk, sophomorically idealistic, mindlessly utopian set of expectations they didn't have any kind of backup plans at all. This country invaded a sovereign nation with a sitting government a Muslim nation in a Muslim part of the world expecting to spend billions of dollars and certainly to lose some American lives, as well as those of who knows how many Iraqis, without any plan as to what to do next. High school students have more sophisticated cleanup plans for proms and pep rallies than this country did for an invasion!
We're in it now, and there's no clean way out. I'm sorry; this is not a war on terror, but a war that will recruit and energize generations of terrorists. The American troops fighting and dying in Iraq are not doing so to protect freedom or our way of life (though so many of them righteously and passionately believe they are). Yes, creating and maintaining this constitutional republic and the freedom of the American people has often come at a terrible price. But this doesn't mean that whenever and wherever our soldiers fight and die, those actions are part of this proud tradition and painful heritage. This country's leaders have misled the people, and they continue to do so, but what is staggering is not their imperialistic arrogance and self-righteous obliviousness to the real-world situation, but rather their extraordinary incompetence at achieving even their most intellectually naive and morally bankrupt goals.
Recently, Chronicle News Editor Michael King was telling me how he was in favor of bringing the troops home now. Michael is more of a radical than I am, so I readily countered with the argument that, if we do that, we're inviting a bloody civil war.
"And if we wait?" he countered. "If we wait, what exactly are we waiting to have happen, and how will the situation be different?"
At which moment the stupidity of the invasion and the sheer ignorant lunacy of neither understanding the situation nor having an exit strategy hit me. There is always the chance that Iraq will end up with a relatively stable, democratic government. It seems the longest of long shots, but there is a chance. Almost any conceivable variation, besides that one slim hope, involves sectarian violence and/or domination and/or Kurd succession. In other words, if we leave now, it will be bloody; but if we leave in a year, it could be just as bloody, and maybe bloodier. The odds against a scenario in which we leave Iraq better than we found it are astronomical, even given the inhumane, vicious brutality of Hussein's regime.
I've often raised the question as to what has happened since 9/11 that those 19 demented terrorists wouldn't have loved keeping in mind that, rather than wanting any kind of rational, diplomatic process, what these killers craved was a mad-dog, Manson-family scenario of a doomsday war, only this time between the Muslim world and the West.
Despite the rhetoric of the president and vice-president and their allies, what is the exit strategy, besides the too painfully nebulous "stay the course"? Stay the course until we defeat the enemy? Stay the course as we take the war against terror to the terrorists (okay, well, not exactly)? Stay the course until the Sunshine Makers blanket Iraq with memory-destroying flowers so the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds awake one morning all loving one another?
Unlike the jingoistic Republican partisans, I understand that the "enemies" we are fighting in Iraq are Iraqis. Sure, there are foreign fighters involved, probably more and more every day. But let's not delude ourselves into believing right-wing garbage that conceives of this resistance as being waged by aliens. This is a civil war, not combat between two geographically distinct nations. Combat against terrorists/insurgents during a guerrilla war, in which the battlefields are the very communities of the nation itself, no matter how temporarily successful, also invariably recruits more indigenous people to fight the invader. By definition, the lives and property of bystanders are destroyed during such activities, thereby enlisting the previously disinterested.
We can't both defeat the insurgency and guarantee a democratically elected government; unfortunately, those are mutually exclusive goals. These enemies are part of the very constituency we are trying to empower.
The aphorism that cowards cut and run but Marines stay the course is neat sloganeering, but little more. In this war, there is no course to stay. Not because of Democrats, liberals, anti-war activists, and dissenters, but because the administration that championed and engineered the invasion couldn't be bothered to do any kind of planning for one.
Supporters of this war, rather than accepting their own responsibility for its terrible consequences, will be sure to place responsibility on everyone else's shoulders. As with Vietnam, they'll blame the very American patriots who made every effort to stop the invasion from happening. They will argue that any horrible things that happened did so only because those in the opposition warned they might. Rather than appreciating educated concern, they will construe it as willful causation.
As the political right guts the Constitution in order to save it, as they destroy the balance of power to preserve our form of government, as they tear down the separation between church and state in some inane conception of religious freedom, they are creating the very consequences they say they fear. They will add insult to injury, desecration to disrespect, lack of comprehension to misguided ideological fanaticism, as they blame all but themselves. The Republican and religious right, finally, will likely re-create one of the historical events they so loudly lament, as they don't just kill, but actually crucify, the messenger(s).
Given the above rant, the following may seem ironic, but believe me, it is heartfelt: On behalf of all of us at The Austin Chronicle, I wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving! Special thanks and ongoing gratitude to Cindy Widner, who manages, each and every week, to translate this column into the closest approximation of English possible, given the raw material with which I provide her to work.