How could the surge be “working” when we don’t know what it’s supposed to do? Is a tactic a tactic if there’s no strategy?
It is a koan worth meditating upon as we follow the ebb and flow of day to day events in Iraq. Much as someone afflicted with Parkinson’s disease has the sense that their personality is being replaced by an assortment of tics and spasms, so our military regards its own limbs as they flail involuntarily amidst the rubble and deserts of Mesopotamia, obedient to a central nervous system that fires with all the purpose and predictability of the hiccups. Those within the military may not perceive this as failure. They see orders transmitted, reconnaissance performed, soldiers deployed, insurgents killed (they sure looked like insurgents…), soldiers safely back to base–for the men in uniform, this is a good day at the office. But keep in mind, even an epileptic seizure is a marvel of anatomical engineering. But perhaps one might be forgiven for looking at the thrashing victim and wondering, what exactly is the plan?
To all who take a passing interest in the Iraqi mess, and particularly to the families of the soldiers who want to see their sons and siblings properly used and returned with the correct number of fingers and toes, accept my apologies; the picture I paint is not edifying. It offers no moral clarity, none of the honor due to those who fall short against overwhelming odds, not even the lukewarm satisfaction that comes from the good try. It is a picture of pointlessness, of a chicken with its head cut off dashing around the farmyard.
That we have no strategy in Iraq follows naturally from the fact that even the half dozen architects of this stupidity never agreed on the goal. Some wanted to secure Iraq’s oil. Some had rosy delusions of remaking the geopolitical face of the middle east. Some wanted to scare the hell out of would-be terrorists. Some saw the potential to endlessly harvest political hay. And some were driven by vendetta. All that these disparate goals have in common is their unattainability. Yet each interested party felt their goals could be served by invading Iraq. It was a profoundly unlucky confluence of personalities, authority, and agendas, catalyzed by the fear-induced malleability of the public in the wake of 9-11.
So we went to war for a host of sometimes-conflicting reasons, all of which were either fantastical or could never be used to prop up political support for the effort. The fact that the administration repeatedly offers a stay-the-course rationale as lame and discredited as fighting terrorism says a lot about the political marketability of the other justifications for this war. The Iraqi occupation is a teetering skyscraper built on a flawed foundation, and the only realistic, sensible goal is to somehow disassemble the structure and try to restore the critical elements of the status quo ante–balance of power most importantly.
But virtually no one in politics or the media–with the possible exception of Joe Biden, bless his gaffe-prone heart–is prepared to publicly acknowledge how difficult the road ahead will be. There is a lot of self-righteous energy coming from the left, demanding immediate withdrawal of the troops. Indeed, it is clear that the Democrats owe their control of congress to the public enthusiasm for ending this war. But withdrawal is not a strategy anymore than a surge is a strategy, and please pardon me if I am hesitant to allow the American electorate to directly manage the details of our foreign policy. Who among the common clay will be available to guide our ship of state if there’s an international incident during the season finale of Dancing with the Stars?
It is difficult to blame our public servants for being reluctant to accept this barrel of political toxic waste that the President is so eager to pawn off. It would be political suicide. And George Bush, who has already slit his own wrists on this issue and has nothing to lose, cannot rise above the pitiful needs of his own ego and alter course. What is he trying to accomplish, I often wonder? Is he single-mindedly, brilliantly pursuing some goal that I am too blind to see?
Let’s not be overly generous. There is in fact less going on inside the man than meets the eye. That he is missing that humanizing element that would allow him to empathize with those outside his immediate family is obvious for all to see by now. When we think of wartime Presidents like Lincoln, Roosevelt, Wilson, Eisenhower and Johnson, and the agonies they endured as they weighed the deaths of soldiers and civilians against the goals they hoped to achieve, we don’t envision George Bush in that mix. He operates in a more remote manner, watching our forces careen around Iraq, seeking a personal fulfillment in military action that he could never get from diplomacy, and waiting for a moment when, for some reason, he believes honor has been satisfied, and we can say we are proud and strong. He believes that when he feels that, somehow America will feel it too. That is the goal: to feel good about ourselves.
Thousand of U.S. soldiers killed and maimed. Tens of thousands of Iraqis killed, hundreds of thousands displaced. Countless billions of dollars wasted. Our army broken. American moral stature decimated. If we’re not feeling good about ourselves yet, I’m not sure what it’s gonna take…