Friday, July 13, 2007
Why not now?
'To talk of many things:
Of shoes -- and ships -- and sealing wax --
Of cabbages -- and kings --
And why the sea is boiling hot --
And whether pigs have wings.'
"Withdraw, why withdraw? We are killing lots of them!" -Quote from a Turkish commander during the Korean war when he was directed to pull back before his position was overrun by Chinese forces in November of 1950.
I've put it off long enough-making a post about the ongoing mess that is Iraq. I have watched the news with great interest-particularly the two big issues that have come to light lately, namely that true to form: the Iraqis have failed again to do anything useful with their government and the repeated pleas that the "surge" has only just started and it needs more time. If one listens carefully and between the lines, you can almost hear a small voice (that sounds a lot like GWB's) saying, "Stay the course!"
Its hard for me to approach Iraq objectively because when it comes to Arabs, I have a huge bias against them. I never liked dealing with them during my trips to Bahrain and always felt dirty and cheated after talking to them. Its irrational I know, but unfortunately there is a certain amount of history to back it up-they have messed up every good opportunity given to them in the 20th century and beyond.
Yet, that's hardly fair at all. Most Iraqis just want the same things any other person wants-to have a decent place to live, make some money, and to live and raise their families. I know that deep down inside-but I still have to make a conscious effort to overcome my own deeply held prejudices. At this point left to sheer emotionalism-I hate the Iraqis-sight unseen. I know that's wrong. Plus there is evidence that Islam is not the real problem-Asian Muslims don't have the problems that Arabs seem to thrive on.
Here is what I do know:
1) After 4+ years of violence, Iraq is still a basket case as a nation. Whatever progress has been made as a nation following the fall of Saddam's government is completely offset by the fact that on average somewhere between 100 to 200 Iraqis a week are dying via violent means. Despite all efforts to spin that brutal fact into some sort of "progress", the absolute numbers still hold at about that number.
2) This fiscal year, the war will cost about $135 billion. This, while pressing needs at home and in the world are ignored. Imagine what 135 billion would accomplish to bring cures to the disease that are killing millions world wide. Think what that level of resources could accomplish if it were available to put to good use.
3) It’s nice that Mr. Bush is still confident about Iraq, telling us on Tuesday: “I strongly believe that we will prevail.” We’re doing almost as well today as we were in October 2003 when “We’re making really good progress.” Then in September 2004, Mr. Bush assured us that Iraq was “making steady progress.” In April 2005: “We’re making good progress in Iraq.” In October 2005: “Iraq has made incredible political progress.” In November 2005: “Iraqis are making inspiring progress.”
4) This "progress" we are told helps keep America safe. The old canard that if we fight them there, we don't have to fight them at home. If so, then why are we being told this?
5) Its also "clear" that if we leave, Iraq will fall apart and there will be genocide. Of course if we stay there are increased risks for the average Iraqi too. They don't win either way. What that does not say is that, if we leave, it will give one side or the other a carte blanche to wipe out the opposition. A lot of that speculation is unproven however and there are those who think that things might actually get better since the main "target" would be gone. Its not a popular viewpoint to be sure but it is there.
6) In terms of the concept of the war on terror-Iraq is a side show. It is not the "Central Front" as we are repeatedly told. Most war supporters vehemently disagree with that premise. The causes of terrorism do not change, fundamentally. Its about economics and the disparities of economics within the Arab world that give the current brand of wackos room to operate. I strongly agree with Thomas Barnett when says that we would be better off, "eschewing the war of ideas and focusing more on creating economic facts on the ground--slow and steady--while al Qaeda gets all caught up in illusory "victories." I don't want America or the Core on a war footing for the Long War, so de-escalating its crisis profile is a good thing ". It always been the economy stupid! Give people things to have, sex to have , and things to lose and they tend to lose interest in ethereal concepts of religious war. However in the current construct we are actually manufacturing more terrorists than we are killing-because of the increasing fundamental structural inequalities of the world economy. Don't believe me? Go look again at Asia and where they do have problems-Philippines and Indonesia-both poor nations.
7) People are tired of this war. They are tired of seeing the people they care about get killed and maimed for folks they don't necessarily feel are really appreciative of the sacrifices that are being made.
So what is to be done? We cannot leave because we will lose and winning seems father away than ever. We are in a problem that defies solution as James Fallows points out:
This of course is entirely contrary to the Bush Administration’s position, which as of the president’s latest statement still asserted that American troops must stay until “the job is done.” It’s at odds with many liberal hawks, and conservative hawks too, who say that the U.S. “can’t afford to lose” so must stay until we “win,” whatever that means. In fact “winning” now seems to mean some combination of: (a) leaving without appearing to be chased out; (b) leaving without an immediate upsurge in violence; and (c) leaving without al Qaeda-etc trainers quickly filling the vacuum, especially in the Sunni regions. Yes, we can’t afford any of those consequences of losing. But — because of misjudgment, mismanagement, and failures we will be ruing for years — they appear to be what’s in store.
If it is not in our power to prevent these disasters, then it is better to do as little extra damage to ourselves as possible before they occur. Sure, it is theoretically in our power to do more in Iraq. It’s just not possible in the real world. To start with: we’re not going to double the size of our military to sustain an open-ended presence in Iraq.
So the choice is between a terrible decision and one that is even worse. The terrible decision is just to begin leaving, knowing that even more innocent civilians will be killed and that we’ll be dealing with agitation out of Iraq for years to come. The worse decision would be to wait another year, or two, or three and then take that terrible course. If we thought a longer commitment and presence would lead to a better outcome, then the extra commitment might be sensible. But nothing occurring in Iraq in the last year has given rise to any hope that things are getting better rather than worse.
So in the end it comes down to narrow self interest-the only real factor that can or should matter in decisions affecting the national interest. To date George Bush seems unable to divine the national interest-only sticking to the course his advisers set him upon with no thought or plan. All of those same advisers are gone-back to the Starship Project for the New American Century-warping out of his orbit.
He-and we-are left holding their bag. So I'll come to the question I asked at the start. Why not now? What will be different in September? NOTHING. Except Gen Petraeus will be able to give the report that will be written for him 6000 miles away in Washington DC.