Wrong for Being Right

I think Dave Pell has kinda misread this Christopher Hitchens piece that blasts the anti-war protesters for…uh…not being pro-war enough, as near as I can tell. Betwee all the blustering — you can almost see the spittle that must have collected on Hitchen’s monitor as he wrote this piece — and accusing the protester of supporting terroris, Hitchens never gets around to asking the questions that Pell asks in his post; questions I think are genuinely worth asking and considering for anyone who’s opposed to the continued U.S. war in Iraq.

The article brings up (as much of the other coverage does) a conundrum for thinking people who were against the invasion of Iraq.

After all, is pulling out now really a reasonable option? Would anyone argue that we should pull out of New Orleans because we didn’t plan well enough for its aftermath?

Is there any doubt that a unilateral withdrawal at this point would be a disaster for the U.S. and a total betrayal of the Iraqis?

It’s too late to protest against the invasion of Iraq, isn’t it?

The basic argument behind these questions seems to be that people may have been right to protest the invasion of Iraq, during the build-up to the war, but wrong to protest the continue war/occupation now. (Just to be clear, I don’t make much distinction between the war itself and the occupation, because as far as I can see combat hasn’t stopped or even paused long enough to distinguish one from the other, Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” strut notwithstanding.) I’m just not sure I buy it.

The basic idea, or at least the most I can paraphrase from the arguments I’ve head is “we were wrong to go there, we’ve done it wrong since we got there, but we’ve got to stay until we can make our wrong right. Nevermind that we took up a war of choice based on a stinking load “intelligence” that was debunked before it hit the ground or had a chance to cool. Nevermind that we shut down Saddam’s “rape rooms,” only to set up our own. Nevermind that we went into Iraq without knowing what the factions were in Iraq, or what they’d more than likely do/want when things destabilized. Nevermind that we went in with too few troops, and even less equipment for them. Nevermind that we went in without a plan for what would happen after Saddam was deposed.

None of that matters now. Those who opposed the war in Iraq, for all the foreseeable reasons above were right to oppose it then, but they’re wrong now — even though technically right about all of the above. We have to stay and get it right even though we’ve had it wrong all along.

Only, it may not be possible to do that. Juan Cole, who makes a very good case for withdrawal, puts it rather bluntly.

The second reason is that the ground troops are not accomplishing the mission given them, and are making things worse rather than better.

…Basically, if all the US military in Iraq is capable of is operations like Fallujah and Tal Afar, then they really need to get out of the country quick before they drive the whole country, and the region, into chaos.

Even as they are chasing after shadows in dusty border towns, the US military is allowing much of Baghdad to fall into the hands of the guerrillas.

And that is why we have to get the ground troops out. Counter-insurgency has to have both a military and a political track. Even as the enemy is being pressed, you have to reach out to the civilian leadership and try to draw them into a truce.

The US military has had no political successes in the Sunni Arab areas. Mosul and some parts of Baghdad could have been pointed to in summer of 2004. In summer of 2005, these earlier successes have evaporated like a desert mirage toward which thirsty soldiers race.

The situation in the Sunni Arab areas was worse in summer of 2004 than it had been in summer of 2003. It is worse in the summer of 2005 than it had been in 2004. Even the Iraqi political groupings that had earlier been willing to cooperate with the US boycotted the Jan. 30 elections and are now assiduously working to defeat the new constitution.

Things in the Sunni Arab areas are getting worse, not better.

I conclude that the presence of the US ground troops is making things worse, not better.

It’s not just the presence of U.S. Troops, either. It’s the Commander in Chief. The Washington Post laid out what its editors thinks needs to happen to make things work in Iraq.

The fundamental source of trouble is not the Islamic extremists President Bush usually speaks about; nor is it the presence of American soldiers. If the protesters visiting Washington this weekend succeeded in forcing a quick U.S. troop withdrawal, the bloodshed in Iraq, and the damage to the United States, would grow far worse. That is because the real problem is the absence of an agreement about Iraq’s future between the majority Shiite and Kurd communities and the minority Sunnis, who ruled the country from the time of its establishment until the fall of Saddam Hussein. That disconnect is expressed in the overwhelming rejection by Sunni leaders of the constitutional draft.

…The only way for Iraq to avoid catastrophe is a political accord among Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis, one that can be based only on the preservation of Iraq as a federal but unified state in which resources and political power are fairly shared and human rights protected. The Bush administration, and Iraqi leaders themselves, ought to be focused on striking that national compromise rather than on prematurely enshrining pieces of paper or adhering to deadlines that were set arbitrarily 18 months ago. The longer the delay in achieving real compromise, the greater the risk that Iraqis will be locked into a march toward ruinous civil war, whether the political calendar is followed or not. Many important Iraqi leaders, among them Shiites and Kurds, understand what is needed. The Bush administration must catalyze them into action. If it can do so in the next three weeks, the odds that it can rescue the American mission in Iraq will be much better.

Basically, everything rides on the ability and willingness of Bush and his administration to get everything right — and get all the various Iraqi factions to get everything right — and produce meaningful results in less than month. In other words, everything rides on the gang that has gotten everything wrong on Iraq from day one to get everything right in the endgame.

Show me one sign that the Bush administration has suddenly developed the competence and capabilities for the job at hand, and don’t tell me that they will if I just hope hard enough, and remember we’ve got three more years to suffer the crew that got us into this mess.

It might be possible if we could count on international goodwill and support, so that we weren’t bearing most of the burden ourselves, but also so that the unique problems of even the appearance of American hegemony. But our leadership has succeeded in alienating many who might have been willing to help. Any sign they’re going to be able to pull off a 180 in that department? It might be possible with creative, capable leadership. We don’t have that.

I think the Post is right about one thing. The ratification of a constitution is probably the most important thing in the Iraq scenario right now. I think the best scenario is something close to what Steve Soto of the Left Coaster suggested; work for the best we can get out of the constitutional process, shout “hallelujah” when it’s ratified, hand the keys to the relatively safe regions back to the Iraqi government, secure the borders, and start drawin down to be out of there sometime in the second half (steve says the first half) of 2006.

We uncorked hell in Iraq, because we didn’t know or care to know what we were doing. We’re crazy to think we can get it back into the bottle, and will catch more of it for ourselves and the Iraqis if we try to put it back in the bottle. The best we can do is mop up as much of the mess we’ve made as possible.

The main source of Iraqi’s suffering is us. If we remove that cause then maybe, just maybe, the Iraqis can begin to solve their problems without problems caused by our presence.

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
This entry was posted in Anti-War, Current Events, Iraq, Peace, Politics, Protest, War on Terror. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Wrong for Being Right

  1. Nacho says:

    T, thanks for the post. It is indeed so needed nowadays to make the case for not only how this administration has screwed up, but how we don’t have to narrrow our vision to a dualistic leave or not leave mindset. I find that most people buy into those alternatives as the only ones, and even so do not give much attention to the reasons why removing the troops is a good thing.

    The Washington Post editorial, although I found it welcome (given their weird turn rightward in my estimation) continues that notion that somehow peace activists just want out and forget the rest. It continues that dualism. This kind of thinking is the same kind of thinking that got us into the conflict in the first place. It is a failure of our moral imagination. We can do better, we can do more things than just pull out, and we need to come up with good ways to fix our mess. This is a question of political will, and moral fiber. We can’t continue to hide behind the terrorism battlefront stuff we keep peddling. We’ve done the damage, we are now continuing to assure ourselves of trouble and more damage.

    The best piece I’ve read lately is Mark Danner’s recent article in The New York Times (Taking Stock of the Forever War).

    Thanks again for the post T, all the best to you and family,


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