Thursday, October 19, 2006
Losing the lottery
Went out to dinner tonight at a new Chinese restaurant. On the way home we stopped in a book store. One of the interesting things I came across was a Japanese magazine about life in North Korea.It was a picture magazine and had lots of pictures of North Korean men and women, in groups and by themselves-including one of a hostess in a karaoke bar( I never thought they would have them). Slowly it dawned on me that there have actually been Japanese visiting "Kita chosen" for a while now. Never a great number, thanks to the sanctions it has dropped to none now. Even as portrayed in the magazine, life in North Korea looked like it had to suck. Its citizens have rank as one of the poorest losers of the so called "birth lottery", namely that act of fate that gets you born in a good country or a bad one. For North Koreans, well all one can say is, "It sucks to be you.....".
The other place it sucks to be born these days is Iraq. If the news is to be believed, on average 100 Iraqis a day are dying in attacks in the country. Its been almost the deadliest month ever for American troops with 73 killed to date and there are still 10 days to go in the month. Its now been almost 20 months since the folks all hailed people with purple fingers casting ballots for a government that has proven itself to be totally ineffective. As a friend of mine pointed out the other day, " What else did you expect? These are Arabs voting-not Americans. And even at that, I'm not sure we get our voting right anymore. However at least we have the background and temperament to keep from killing each other in the process. "
Recent political events have me wondering about that last statement.
However it really gets to the crux of where we are today in Iraq. As Thomas Friedman pointed out:
The country has descended into such a Hobbesian state that even Saddam called on Iraqis from his prison cell to stop
killing each other. He told insurgents, "Remember you are God's soldiers and, therefore, you must show genuine forgiveness and put aside revenge over the spilled blood of your sons and brothers." When Saddam is urging calm, you know things have hit a new low.
The US is in a damned if you do and damned if you don't kind of position. It can sustain the current force rotations-at a considerable cost in operations tempo and Soldiers quality of life (just ask the 172nd from Alaska about that) for sometime to come. Dramatically increase the numbers so as to go all out and get this over with, and it will come at a cost from somewhere else in the world that needs forces deployed. Even with the continued "kidnapping" of personnel from other services, its hard to get there from here at current end strengths.
On the other hand if we reduce forces, then there is no one to fill the vacuum. Certainly not the Iraqi police forces and Army. They have over 300,000 by current US reporting. And still the slaughter continues.
Friedman points out that there are really only 2 questions the US should look at:
There are only two reasons now for the U.S. to remain in Iraq: because it thinks that staying will make things better or that leaving will make things drastically worse. Alas, it is increasingly hard to see how our presence is making things better. Iraq, under our nose, is breaking apart into so many little pieces that no political solution seems to be in the offing, because no Iraqi leader can deliver his faction anymore and there does not seem to be an Iraqi center capable of coming together. While leaving would no doubt exacerbate the civil war, staying in Iraq indefinitely to prevent even more Shiites and Sunnis from killing one another is not going to fly with the U.S. public much longer.
Nor should it. The American people are very adeptly making the distinction that defending Iraqis is not the same thing as defending Americans. There are many who argue differently, but in the end this has to be about national self interest. And American interest is about stabilty and security of our resource supply.
Personally, I think that the President has locked himself into a box created by his own statements. First, Bush has told the Iraqis that we are not leaving. Thus allowing them the ability to continue to avoid stepping up to the plate and taking charge of their own problems. Also there is still a strong neo-conservative influence in the adminstration. The Boston Globe pointed this out the other day:
Neoconservatives are terrified that Bush will use Baker the same way his father did -- as a shrewd fixer -- and that Baker will use the younger Bush the way he used his father -- as a path to power for himself. Earlier this month, former White House chief of staff Andrew Card acknowledged having tried to persuade Bush to replace Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld with Baker. Many in Washington regard such a move as a viable possibility.
Baker may offer a face saving way to withdraw from Iraq, but I doubt it. He will offer a change of approach not a change of policy. And either one means troops will still be over there.
So in effect we have 2 more years of "more of the same" to look forward to. In 2008 one or the other of the Presidential candidates will make his "I shall go to Korea" speech and by 2009 we will have our own version of "Peace with honor". Too bad we have to wait that amount of time for it though.
Till then, if you are born an Iraqi----you've lost the lottery.