Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

Saddam Hussein sits in his cell, getting daily, if not hourly, updates of increasingly effective insurgent activity from his attorneys. US and Iraqi Army soldiers are dying at an increasing, not decreasing rate. The cost of the war to American taxpapers is already over a quarter of a trillion dollars and official government agencies calculate the total cost may exceed 700 billion dollars. Well over twenty thousand Iraqi nationals have already died (insurgents and innocent civilians). Shiite and Sunni rivalries are threatening to tear the tenuous legislative process apart. Neighboring Iran is not backing down from Western demands to curtail its nuclear research and their troops are infiltrating the undefendable borders. Afghanistan is again threatening to disintegrate into a fractious backwater and in the middle of it all is the Israeli-Palistinian fiasco, which shows every sign of escalating until and unless a wholly new State is created. And bin Laden sits at his laptop, getting daily, if not hourly, updates of increasingly effective insurgent activity.

This was supposed to be a war on terror, a war for democracy, a war for enduring freedom. It has become Operation Saveface. At this point, the exit strategies are being whispered loudly in White House hallways and shouted out loud in the rest of the country and much of the world. Western allies are pulling back or pulling out. The streets of London are filled regularly with war protests. The parents of those already killed are fearing the worse--that their losses will have been totally in vain. New recruits are also fearing the worse--what must have seemed like mop-up duty a year or two ago is now something much more sinister. Any soldier heading out to Iraq today knows that there is a distinct chance he or she will be wounded, or might not be coming back at all.

In the early days of the war, I naievely believed that Iraq, its people and its vast reserves of oil could be quickly liberated. I could see a direct benefit. Mountainous stores of weapons of mass destruction would be neutralized. Saddam and his collaborators found, tried, convicted and executed for crimes against humanity. The incredible legacy and vibrancy of the Persian Empire restored. None of that has happened and little, if any of it, ever will.

Instead, it has been a steady diet of car bombs, insurgent attacks, counter attacks, bombed pipelines, shaky alliances and a judicial quagmire. Worse yet, the tide shows no signs of turning. It's just running farther and farther out and as it recedes, it uncovers more and more distrust, institutionalized violence, cultural intolerance and impatience for a better life, for all the world to see. Nobody and nothing is progressing--everything's regressing. The one pragmatic idea that pumping out more oil would inject hope into the Iraqi economy is a joke. With the threat of insurgent attacks, Iraqi is pumping less oil now than they did during the United Nations "embargo."

It's not even two steps forward and one step back--it's two steps back and one step forward. We're being teased by tiny successes only to be shocked at incredible setbacks. Add to this hopelessness the cost factor in terms of human lives, human suffering and the nearly billion dollars A DAY the war is costing and one realizes that it can't be long before our country's patience is used up. When will our futile efforts become crystalized to the point where everyone can see? Will it again be left to the aging baby boomers to take their Viet Nam era consciences out of mothballs and restart in earnest a neo anti-war movment?

What is the limit of our national patience and what should it be? If we had made a quick strike, helped establish a representative government, gotten the oil flowing and then left, all within a year or two, would that have been cool? What if three years later, or five years, or ten years or twenty years later the whole thing collapsed like a house of cards, leading to a civil war and thousands of Iraqi deaths? Would that have passed the test for acceptability? Probably not.

Well, we're in a far worse situation right now. Is it time to end the war? If not, how will we know when it is? When exactly will we have "won"? The questions are unanswerable. There is no point up to which an unjustified war is OK, after which it is not. That "point" is only knowable in the collective consciousness of the people, which include our elected representatives.

I believe we are rapidly approaching the point beyond which war is politically unpalatable, which of course, is the ultimate determinant for any governmental activity. Will someone step forward and show a little leadership and admit we entered the war under false pretenses? Are we so sure of the much-hyped domino effect in the Middle East, that we can't just leave the entire region to its own devices? Have we not learned anything from Viet Nam? Did the Viet Cong's victory destablize Southeast Asia? Let the Iraqis work it out for themselves. Bring the troops home and if we're so concerned about domestic terrorism, as we should be, put just one one-hundreth of the money we'll save into technology research, focusing on security enhancements and alternative fuels. That's 3.6 billion dollars annually. We just need the commitment. Why can we find it for war, but we can't find it for education, global warming or AIDS research? I don't know, I just don't know....

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