All of it. The war, certainly. And the country as well, in all likelihood.
We are beyond the point of arguing about causes and rationale and planning and tactics. There is nothing more we can do that will not make matters worse. Our only sane and humane and in all ways defensible strategy is to withdraw our forces as quickly as possible, to bring with us all who choose to come of those Iraqis who — bravely if foolishly — worked for and and with us and who face almost certain death if they stay.
Congress, where a new Democratic majority is proving — albeit in different format — wholly as pliable as its predecessor, cannot be counted on, not for action or for leadership or even for spirited debate.
The President continues to behave as if victory might yet be possible. Perhaps, if he would listen to the Dick Cheney who served Bush 41 instead of the lunatic avatar now sequestered somewhere in the bowels of the administration, he would change. But the VP is irrevocably in the grip of some fell psychotic disorder, and the President is not the sort of man given any more to to retrospection than he is to introspection.
If you have not already seen the Cheney comment from 19994, it will be worth your time now to watch and listen. It’s less than two minutes long, and it’s a Cheney who seems to be in full possession of those faculties which clearly have escaped him in the past half-dozen years.
Additionally, I have, for many weeks been keeping track of news, commentary, and opinion on the matter. Each item has gone into a file under the general heading “Iraq is lost.” If you still clinging to that evanescent faith which supports the President, I offer the following, in hopes that one, or several, or the cumulative impact of all, will force you to abandon that slender reed.
In no particular order, then, here are a dozen from the past month.
Once support for a war is lost, it is gone for good; there is no example of a modern democracy having changed its mind once it turned against a war. So we ought to start coming to grips with the meaning of losing in Iraq.
The war in Iraq is about to get worse—much worse. The Democrats’ decision to let the war run its course, while they frantically wash their hands of responsibility, means that it will sputter and stagger forward until the mission collapses. This will be sudden. The security of the Green Zone, our imperial city, will be increasingly breached. Command and control will disintegrate. And we will back out of Iraq humiliated and defeated. But this will not be the end of the conflict. It will, in fact, signal a phase of the war far deadlier and more dangerous to American interests.
Perhaps no fact is more revealing about Iraq’s history than this: The Iraqis have a word that means to utterly defeat and humiliate someone by dragging his corpse through the streets.
The American sense of victory had been so robust that the top C.I.A. specialists and elite Special Forces units who had helped liberate Afghanistan had long since moved on to the next war, in Iraq. Those sweeping miscalculations were part of a pattern of assessments and decisions that helped send what many in the American military call “the good war” off course.
It was supposed to mark a decisive new phase in America’s military campaign, but six months after George Bush sent in 20,000 extra troops, Iraq is more chaotic and dangerous than ever.
Two events in the past couple of days have once again highlighted the incoherence that characterizes the Bush Administration’s policy vis-à-vis Iran: Hamid Karzai’s visit to the US and his CNN comment regarding Iran’s helpful role in Afghanistan and the third US-Iran round of talks about Iraq’s security.
Far from being a model to be replicated, however, Basra is an example of what to avoid. With renewed violence and instability, Basra illustrates the pitfalls of a transitional process that has led to collapse of the state apparatus and failed to build legitimate institutions. Fierce intra-Shiite fighting also disproves the simplistic view of Iraq neatly divided between three homogenous communities.
Admittedly, a “surge” does sound more comforting, less aggressive, less long-lasting, and somehow less harmful than an “escalation,” but the fact is that we are six months into the newest escalation of American power in Iraq. It has deposited all-time high numbers of troops there as well, undoubtedly, as more planes and firepower in and around that country than at any moment since the invasion of 2003. Naturally enough, other “all-time highs” of the grimmest sort follow.
Where once the war in Iraq was defined in conversations with these men by untenable ideas – bringing democracy or defeating al-Qaeda – these days the war in Iraq is defined by different ways of expressing the idea of being weary. It is a theme that is endlessly reiterated as you travel around Iraq. ‘The army is worn out. We are just keeping people in theatre who are exhausted,’ says a soldier working for the US army public affairs office who is supposed to be telling me how well things have been going since the ‘surge’ in Baghdad began.
The United States should focus its political, security and economic efforts in Iraq toward the single goal of reducing sectarian strife and other violence, but should also start planning now for the possibility that these efforts will not succeed, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.
Gen. William Odom writes that opponents of the war should focus public attention on the fact that Bush’s obstinate refusal to admit defeat is causing the troops enormous psychological as well as physical harm.
This country faces a choice. We can go on allowing Mr. Bush to drag out this war without end or purpose. Or we can insist that American troops are withdrawn as quickly and safely as we can manage — with as much effort as possible to stop the chaos from spreading.
Sadly, as professor Andrew Bacevich writes in this week’s New Republic (subscription required), we may be past the point where good deeds can save Iraq:
[T]his much is certain: The moment when Americans might have persuaded Iraqis to embrace them as liberators has long since passed. We have failed to make good on too many promises. In our heavy-handed efforts to root out insurgents, we have too frequently mistaken the innocent for the guilty. However inadvertently, we have killed and maimed too many civilians. Sadly, in places like Abu Ghraib and Haditha, we have committed too many crimes. We have just plain screwed up too many times.
If it is true that victory, or anything close to it, lies beyond our reach, we can no longer justify the cost of persevering in Iraq. It is time to begin the long march home.