Saturday, February 24, 2007

No matter how you look at it...

The War in Iraq has become a sort of everpresent specter in American political life and conversation. Given the perception of a nearly ironclad correllation (bordering on causality) between one's party affiliation and political philosophy and whether or not one supports the continuation of the War, this is only to be expected. But when a bunch of random citizens talk politics, everything has an easy solution. I've never been convinced that the reality is ever so easily dealt with.

In 2002, the United States Congress granted to President George W. Bush the power to go to war. And to wage that war in pretty much any way he chose, for as long as he deemed it necessary, and without anything in the way of real Congressional oversight. A number of both Representatives and Senators, primarily (but not exclusively) in the opposition, who are now the war's staunchest critics voted in favor of that measure. (Not that they needed to. Their opposition wouldn't have withstood a party-line vote.) And despite the fact that a number of them claim that they were duped into voting for an open-ended war by an Administration that lied about intelligence (or, if they're feeling somewhat more charitable, was simply acting on honestly mistaken information), they were really only doing their jobs when they voted in favor. No, the job of Congress is NOT to rubber-stamp everything that the President, as the Chief Executive, wishes to do. While parlimentary bodies the world over may do just that from time to time, it's not actually in the job description. The Congress did its job back in 2002, because that's what the majority of the public wanted them to do at the time. You could say that the Administration lied to the public, or simply passed on flawed information, but that's pretty much beside the point at this stage of the game. The point is, in 2002, with the destruction of the World Trade Center towers by Al-Queda suicide operatives still fresh in everyone's mind, the public wasn't in the mood to quibble in the face of a potential threat. The Aministration held out Iraq as just such a threat, with data (accurate or not) to back that up, and that's pretty much all anyone needed to know.

Fast forward to 2007. The war has dragged on for years. Despite the fact that President Bush stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier and proudly proclaimed "Mission Accomplished," it's hard, if not impossible, for the average Joe on the street to see how ANY progress has been made since the depostion of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. In anything, a before-and-after comparison seems to indicate that the place has gone to Hell in a handbasket, and no-one can find the brakes on the handbasket. Despite the fact that we're constantly hearing about how Iraq is now stuffed to the rafters with bloodthirsty Islamic terrorists, bent on killing Americans, the 6 o'clock news shows a nation full of people who appear to be mainly Hell-bent on killing each other by the double-handsfull. They say that no official records are kept of the death toll in Iraq, so the numbers vary widely, but even the low estimates are insane, by American standards. Pre-war Baghdad was about the size of Chicago. Do you really think that Chicago would still be a functioning municipality with car and/or truck bombings being a weekly occurance, and the discovery of multiple bodies a daily one? As much as people bemoan the murder rate in large American cities today, I think the people of Baghdad would swap places with us in a heartbeat.

And so, unsurprisingly, as the public has started to decide that maybe this WASN'T such a good idea, after all, we're starting to hear calls to cut our losses and let the Iraqis sort it out for themselves. Some people say that the violence in Iraq isn't really our problem, others say that WE are the problem, and there are likely a number of people who say both.

And this is where the politics begins. Despite the fact that I'm not really a fan of this administration, and this particular demonstration of their ability to wage a long-term conflict doesn't spark any sort of confidence in me, I actually feel sorry for a number of senior administration officials, and Republican politicians. They've wandered in between a rock and very hard place, and it's obvious to anyone with half the sense that's been given to cabbage that there isn't a graceful way out. Leaving Iraq, and letting the Iraqis fend for themselves is, actually, a no-win situation. Either the Iraqis botch the job, and the whole place collapses, perhaps dragging down half the region with it, or the Iraqis, by themselves or with help from neighbors, get their act together. One scenario puts the United States in the position of having demolished a nation-state and then, after mis-managing the reconstruction, abandoning it to complete meltdown; and the other demonstrates that it was our very presence that either destabilized things or allowed the local authorities to avoid dealing with issues that, when they had no other choice, they were perfectly capable of handling.

So that leaves them with staying put, and throwing one strategy after another at the situation, hoping that sooner or later, one of them actually works out. In the meantime, the political opposition is holding them up as the very definition of (depending on who you ask) either incompetent or malicious, the public is rapidly both losing patience and turning on itself, and the many members of the international community are becoming cynical, hostile or paranoid about out long-term intentions. And at this stage of the game, there's so little faith that the Administration could actually come to manage the situation well, that a workable solution is going to be seen mostly as the Universe taking pity on the luckless.

Not a position that I want to find myself in.

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