Why do I have this image of Edvard Munch's The Scream in my brain? I've never really understood it all that well. Then again, I've never been a great one for large doses existential angst.
You tell me. Is there something I just don't get?
When the United States Senate even contemplates the possibility of debating a non-binding resolution on the president's Iraq surge, they are labeled "Defeatocrats" and proponents of "cut-and-run." Then, to add insult to injury, they have their patriotism called into question and are accused of "sending the wrong message to our troops." And yet, when P.M. Tony Blaire announces that Britain will withdraw about 5,000 of its troops by year's end, the president calls it "a sign of success," and V.P. Cheney weighs in, proclaiming "I look at it and what I see is an affirmation of the fact that in parts of Iraq . . . things are going pretty well."
What am I missing?
Truth to tell, in a political system that actually reflected majority will, that understood that "We, the People" is not just some dusty, musty slogan, America would have begun diminishing -- rather than increasing -- its troop strength shortly after the last election.
The Bush Administration treats the will of the American public -- "We, the People" -- with all the patronizing omniscience of a parent who knows what's best for his or her child. In the case of the parent, there is, more often than not, a hope and a belief that the child will grow, will mature, and will someday inevitably conclude that mom or dad wasn't dumber than the proverbial box of rocks. Mark Twain understood the ineluctability of this proposition when, tongue in cheek, he noted, "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."
If that's what Bush and Cheney are holding out for -- that future generations will see just how wise they were all along -- they're going to have a long, long wait. For no amount of growth or maturity on the part of "the lad" will make the actions or decisions on the part of "the father" seem wise or learned. Simply stated, the war in Iraq has, from day one, been the product of folly, ignorance, duplicity and untrammeled cynicism. To continue to believe that our war in Iraq is either a heroic struggle against international terror or a noble effort at nation building is at best, highly misguided; at worst, it is utterly delusional.
Ever since American boots first hit the ground in Iraq, the war has been discussed and debated in classical strategic terms; of "defeats" and victories," of "wins" and "progress." But one need not be a graduate of West Point or a student of Sun Tzu's The Art of War to understand that the current conflict is sui generis; unique and without precedent. This is not a war in which one country's military engages that of another. It is not a battle against a single, monolithic enemy wherein the rules of war obtain. Rather, it is more akin to the overturning of a large rock, under which are nests of vipers, scorpions and other pernicious creatures.
It seems likely that from day one, the Bush Administration had no plan for how to keep the peace in post-Saddam Iraq. Even a cursory understanding of that region's history would have borne witness to the virtual inevitability of what today is occurring -- a deadly civil war between factions that have been at each other's throats for more than a thousand years. Saddam was the boulder; the Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and assorted militias are the pernicious creatures buried underneath.
Seen in this light, another 21,500 American troops [actually more than 45,000 when all the support personnel are factored in] won't make a tinker's damn bit of difference, aside from adding to the roster of the killed, the maimed and the disfigured. Those Democrats and Republicans who justifiably argue against the surge and push for an orderly troop withdrawal [ala the Brits, Danes, Lithuanians, Moldavians, Romanians and South Koreans] paint it not as an admission of defeat, but as a strategy for victory. But the fact of the matter is that we've already lost. Lost the war, lost our moral stature in the world, and, worst of all, perhaps set the stage for total destabilization in the Middle East.
Many claim that a withdrawal of American forces will actually make things better in Iraq. According to this argument, a withdrawal will make the al Maliki government feel "imminently responsibility" for their own situation. According to this argument, once al Maliki and his shaky minions realize that we won't save them from themselves, they'll finally get serious about overcoming their sectarian differences, and begin acting like a responsible government. Again, this is a view based upon a classic rule-of-thumb understanding of what a nation and a government are. Within today's civil war-scarred Iraq however, the rule-of-thumb does not obtain; either in the nature of this war or its hoped-for aftermath.
As Peter Beinart, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations wrote in this week's The New Republic, "You can't threaten people with an outcome they already want." At least two months before the president announced the troop surge, al Maliki explicitly called for U.S. troops to get out of Baghdad. That he "changed his mind" is likely due to administration strong-armed tactics. But it is clear that al Maliki wants us out, so that he and his Shia allies can, in Beinart's words, "more easily cleanse Baghdad of Sunnis." Make no mistake about it: al Maliki is as committed to sharing power in Iraq as Brittany Spears is to completing rehab in Malibu.
In prying off the boulder that was Saddam, America and her allies have unleashed the vipers and scorpions that could easy destabilize the entire Middle East. The Brookings Institution's Kenneth Pollack and Daniel Byman recently argued that "Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Kuwait and even Iran could be destabilized by waves of refugees, weapons, and jihadists. Keeping those countries from buckling may require aggressive diplomatic, financial, and even military intervention [not to mention a generous refugee policy for the Iraqis whose country we have helped to destroy."
Its not a pretty picture. In fact, it makes almost no sense. Victory is defeat and defeat is victory. Pulling out British troops is a sign of strength; debating on whether or not to add new American troops is a sign of weakness.
Kind of makes Edvard Munch's masterpiece a little more understandable.