Friday, September 14, 2007

Dawdling Politicians and Failed Politicial Reconciliation

The debate has failed. The American politicians are dawdling. They will never achieve political reconciliation. This is not only humiliating to me, but it represents a long history of American hubris and hypocrisy.

As I’ve listened to both parties and the radical wings of American society that they represent, I have come to the conclusion that neither side has a firm grasp on the realities of Iraq, that both sides are cherry picking their facts, that both sides are continuing to disregard the advice of the experts, and that they are all playing with the lives of thousands of people- Americans and Iraqis- for the sake of headlines and polling points. This is shameful and it is dangerous.

Since the President started this mess in Iraq, I’ll start my criticism with him. He has chosen to overlook, or at least omit, several vital facts about Iraq. First, in his speech last night, the President chose to spin the troop draw-down as being merely a function of success in Iraq. General Patraeus was candid this week, as were the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Peter Pace. In a Pentagon briefing today, and Patraeus’ testimony this week, all three stated that the logistical considerations regarding the strain on the U.S. Armed Forces “informed, but did not determine” the recommendations the President has accepted.

Second, the President chose to remind us again, as he did in 2001, that Iraq is a direct threat to the United States. While a failed state in Iraq will indeed jeopardize national security interests, this is certainly not the whole picture. Al Qaeda is operating with impunity in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The cargo through our ports is almost entirely unchecked. The border with Canada is as wide open as it was before September 11th. There are more than a few nukes unaccounted for in the world. And all of these things need vital intelligence and financial resources that they are not getting because of Iraq.

Failing to acknowledge both the scarcity of our resources and the gains of allocating those resources elsewhere is as dishonest as it is counterproductive. It prevents us all from thinking clearly about the situation. This is unacceptable. If it were just President Bush’s security and tax dollars at stake, I could accept this omission. Unfortunately, it’s not.

Similarly, Bush’s claim that losing in Iraq will make it easier for terrorists to recruit new members is insulting. It makes me angry. I don’t ever want to hear another word from George W. Bush about what makes it easier to recruit terrorists. Abu Ghraib helps Al Qaeda recruit terrorists. Guantanamo helps Al Qaeda recruit terrorists. Our policy toward Israel helps Al Qaeda recruit terrorists. Our bases in Saudi Arabia help Al Qaeda recruit terrorists. American soldiers on Iraqi help Al Qaeda recruit terrorists. George Bush's ugly mug helps Al Qaeda recruit terrorists. Failure in Iraq is not the end-all be-all of Al Qaeda recruitment (and if it is, he should have thought about that before he invaded).

Neo-con Republicans in general, this administration in particular, and the military leadership together have individually and collectively refused to acknowledge that this war will take years to complete. This is painfully obvious to the rest of us. By refusing to acknowledge this fundamental fact, they weaken their own appeals for support and they give left-wing liberals the ammo they need to take us in an equally misguided direction.

My rating of Democrats isn’t much better. I have become as incapable of listening to Harry Reid as I am of listening to George Bush. Senator Reid’s rhetoric, shallow and unconvincing, is equally plagued by omission and chicanery.

First and foremost, he and the Democrats have glossed over (that’s generous) the reality that pulling out of an unstable Iraq will have severe effects on the Iraqi people, the region, our economy, and on our continuing relationships in the Middle East.

This is not only political suicide down the road for the Democrats (leading to another thirty years with only a pair of Democratic presidents), but it will further jeopardize the fragile semblance of stability in the world.

Of course it is going to take a long time for Iraqis to achieve a functioning democracy. And of course they aren't going to be as far along in three years as we are after two hundred and thirty (it took us a hundred years just to get rid of slavery). And the Iraqi congress did pass more legislation this year than ours did (and they did it dodging bullets and car bombs).

There is a selfish reason for Democrats to embrace this war: they're about to own it. In 491 days, there is likely to be a Democrat in the White House; at which point, it will no longer be George Bush's war. Democrats will have to figure out how to deal with Iraq and the consequences if they leave it behind.

By not informing the public now and by not fostering a realistic and meaningful debate, they are sowing the seeds for disaster (literally and figuratively) down the road. If they are to truly earn the trust and respect that the Bush administration has lost, they must think beyond themselves and beyond 2008.

This brings me to my next point. We must collectively stop shaping our opinions about Iraq solely through the framework of bashing President Bush. While there is no limit to my anger with George W. Bush, I must remind myself that this is not simply Bush’s war. It is America’s war. We put George Bush in office as a country (election fraud aside), we kept him in office as a country, and most importantly, we signed off on his war as a country.

We can complain all we want that he sold us Iraq under false pretenses- and he most certainly did- but we, and perhaps most especially the media, failed to do our own homework. There was no shortage of people telling us how this war would end up. They were writing books and articles as quickly as they could. We didn’t read them. We don’t read period. That’s not George Bush’s fault. That is our fault.

This war is not just the result of George W. Bush being a spoiled lazy child who never had to do his work, who was bailed out at every turn, who never had to listen to anybody smarter than him. This war is a result of our collectively suffering the results of the very same shortcomings.

We don’t read the newspapers. We don’t read the books. Instead, we get eighty percent our information from television news. We do it because we are lazy and we are ignorant- just as lazy and ignorant, in fact, as our President. Our inability to ask tough questions, to identify whom we should and should not listen to, and to make good decisions is substantively no different from Dubya’s.

We never should have gotten into Iraq; no doubt. I think it highly unlikely that a political solution will emerge in the next three years. But we are there. And ne cannot now, nor should we ever, make decisions about the future because we regret the past. We cannot, in other words, make future decisions based on sunk costs.

We cannot make decisions for the same kind of ignorant, misguided, self-interested, and political reasons that got us into Iraq in the first place. If we leave Iraq to the Iranians, we will suffer. I don’t believe that another plane will fly into another building because we leave Iraq behind. But I do believe that our children will grow up in a less stable (and more nuclear) world because we didn’t make it work in Iraq. This may be inevitable, but we have to stop pretending that this isn’t a cause worthy of sacrifice- it is. George Bush may have sullied this notion by his very association with it, but we simply cannot allow Iraq to go up for grabs.

The gravity of the consequences in Iraq are not simply viable because they give us darts to throw at the President, they are viable because they are relevant. Invoking them only to criticize the President’s willful stupidity in the past, and not to make better decisions about the future is as foolish as getting into Iraq in the first place was. Choosing to ignore the realities on the ground because they are not politically or logistically convenient is dangerous- regardless of your attitude about little neo-con schmucks.

This is why I have come to resent the self-serving interests of Congressmen and women trying to legislate this war from the Capitol. While I have zero faith in George Bush, ZERO, I have all the faith in the world in the Constitution. There is one Commander-in-Chief for a reason. We screwed up and picked the wrong Commander-in-Chief- no doubt. But the best way to deal with that is not to attempt to force his hand for political gain, but to spend time raising awareness and making suggestions that will help us succeed or at least mitigate damage down the road.

Case in point, as Senator Biden pointed out on Meet the Press this past Sunday, we have to fund -TODAY- the specially designed vehicles that deflect the explosive blasts from IEDs. In my opinion, not another word should be uttered on Iraq, and not another dollar spent on anything else, until every single one of our vehicles in Iraq has been replaced.

Furthermore, we could be vocal about things like: the fact that Coalition Forces occupying Saddam’s former palaces sends the wrong message to the Iraqi people. Or, we could be more vocal about politicians falling to lobbyist pressure coming from former interim-prime minister Allawi and his self-serving campaign to undermine Maliki.

These are perhaps some things that we could do to affect change and make our chances of success in Iraq better. However slight that difference may be, it is more helpful than jumping up and down screaming we’re losing and our military is weak.

I assure you, if we are aware of the military’s weaknesses, so too are the Joint Chiefs. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates pointed out today in a Pentagon press briefing, saying we are ‘tapped out’, when in fact we aren’t, sends entirely the wrong message to our adversaries elsewhere around the world.

There are two million people in the military. We are stretched thin in Iraq because we are maintaining forces elsewhere (Korea, Croatia, etc) to maintain readiness around the globe. If China thinks we are tapped out, they may get the idea that they can go after Taiwan. North Korea might get the wrong idea and start its adventures again. And Russia, for instance, is already flying sorties into Norwegian airspace.

This rhetoric is not helpful for anybody.

Think about it from a management standpoint. We have forty-six brigades available. Twenty-three are active at a time. Managing them closely and carefully is extremely complicated. Making sure that individuals are getting enough time at home and not exceeding the mandated maximum tours is extremely complicated.

Congress is constantly writing legislation that will make that job even tougher. As Secretary Gates and General Peter Pace pointed out, managing the movements of units and individuals in and out of two combat theaters is extremely complicated. We don’t do our service personnel any favors by imposing added criteria onto the decision and plan making processes of our military leaders.

And moreover, we must stop second-guessing those leaders. We are stuck in Iraq for the foreseeable future. Democrats can’t come up with the sixty votes necessary to block a filibuster- let alone the sixty-seven needed to overcome a veto. This posturing is a losing strategy that is taking vital attention and resources away from more important business. It too should not be an open-ended commitment.

And what exactly do the Democrats want from Patraeus? When military officials have made predictions in the past, they have been crucified for it. Attacking Patraeus for not forecasting more than six months into the future is counterproductive and it’s hypocritical. If the military’s projections are positive, then they are liars. If their projections are reserved, then they are evasive. Democrats refuse to acknowledge anything positive about this war because it implicitly means they are acknowledging something positive about President Bush’s war. They refuse anything short of ‘it’s hopeless, we should quit today.’

I truly believe that the people in charge don’t think it's hopeless. But they don’t make guarantees about success either. They know it's a long shot. But in Gen. Peter Pace’s words, “as long as Iraqis love their children more than they hate their enemies, there’s an opportunity.”

Given the gravity of the situation, and some fortunate security gains, that’s good enough for me- for six more months.

And furthermore, as Secretary Gates pointed out, “when [he] was in the intelligence business, [they] divided things they wanted to know into two categories: secrets and mysteries- the things that were knowable and the things that were not. The situation on the ground next July is a mystery”, not a secret.

While I am skeptical that a successful counterinsurgency will take anything less than the historical ten year average, I do believe, in my heart of hearts, that it is worth more time. It is worth our best effort. I believe that a new president can heal the relationships with our allies in Europe and elsewhere, and that he or she can rally support for the cause. If Iraq collapses, make no mistake, we and the rest of the world will have to go back. And when we do, Iran, al Qaeda, and others will still be there waiting.

Furthermore, and this is the most important thing for me, I believe that we have the very best leaders making decisions in Iraq- from the Secretary of Defense on down. I believe it because I’ve listened to them speak unscripted and unrehearsed on C-SPAN and elsewhere. They are not George Bush. They got to where they are based on merit. Keep in mind I am a skeptical person by nature, a true contrarian at heart, but I do not doubt their intentions, their integrity, or their capabilities- not for a minute.

And in the end, if we can’t force George Bush to get us out of Iraq now, and I’m not sure we should anyway, we certainly should not spend our energy undermining the efforts of the military. We should focus on fixing the other security problems we still face. If we invested half our anti-war energy into pro-New Orleans energy, pro-education energy, or pro-humanitarian energy, the lives of millions of people would be better.

This is all a long way of saying, what’s done is done- now we have to make the most of it.

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