Tuesday, January 16

Boy, That's A Hell Of A Mess We Left In Your Yard There. Here's How We Think You Should Clean It Up...

Helene Cooper, "The Best We Can Hope For," New York Times, January 14

Cooper's piece shared the front page, above-the-fold, of Sunday's Week in Review section with a Photoshopped triptych of Miss Brazil 2005. Miss Brazil got two out of the page's three-column width. This would usually be seen as an outrage, but after reading the article I felt they had the proportions just about right.

Consider, dear reader, if you will, a think piece on the front page of the Sunday Times Op-Ed section, following by some five days a prime-time Presidential novella on the most important subject of our day. It will, from all appearances, cast a critical eye at the President's policy and his recent public prayer that the natural consequences of that policy could be somehow avoided at least as long as he's still in office and liable to pay for them. Got the program set in your mind? Okay, are your three interviewees:

A) An administration spokesman, a long-standing Congressional critic of the war, and a professor of Middle Eastern studies?

B) An Iraqi government official, a retired US Army general, and an expert in humanitarian disasters? Or

C) A guy who writes for Foreign Affairs. the managing editor of Foreign Affairs, and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, which publishes a magazine called...wait, I have the note somewhere...

I'm going to be charitable here and assume that when Ms Cooper found a pay phone she realized there was only 50¢ in her purse.

Then again, about eight paragraphs in we get this:
Remember the Spanish Civil War? The best America can hope for, some experts said, would be for Iraq to turn into today’s version of the Spanish Civil War.

For readers without immediate access to Wikipedia, the Spanish Civil War lasted three years, from 1936 to 1939, when the Nationalists, led by Francisco Franco, defeated the Loyalists of the Second Spanish Republic. The death toll was huge — estimates put it between 500,000 and one million. People in just about every European country were passionate about the fight: the Loyalists got weapons and volunteers from the Soviet Union, while the Nationalists received help from Italy, Germany and Portugal.

Times readers without immediate access to Wikipedia are not expected to know anything whatsoever about the Spanish Civil War. Okay. So maybe a better choice of metaphor would have been season three of Survivor.
“In the best-case scenario, we’ll be in Iraq for 15 or 20 years,” said Stephen Biddle, author of “Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle.” He offers the example of the Balkans, where everyone seems to have forgotten about the United States troops who have been there for years, helping keep a peace brokered in Dayton, Ohio, in 1995.

Okay, this is the thing I hated about high school physics. Around Chapter four you were Introduced to Light. You did an experiment which was supposed to show you that light acted like a particle. Then you did another which was designed to prove that light behaves like a wave. This was supposed to soften you up for quantum mechanics, but all it did was make me suspect a swindle. "You haven't proven that light behaves both as a particle and a wave," I told the teacher, or would have if it had been the sort of class, and he the sort of teacher, I felt like talking to. "You just wound up with two experiments that conflict. If you want to show that light behaves both as a wave and as a particle you have to do that in the same test, or separate but consistent tests." Which I guess you can do, but the lab equipment is prohibitively expensive for most public schools.

Of course I didn't disbelieve any of it. I just didn't much like being told I had been persuaded when I wasn't. Plus there was no Plan B designed to reassure balky matriculators; you were required to accept it and move on, or flunk, I guess.

So forgive me if I think this whole exercise stinks beyond the phone-it-in sourcing and the actual suggestions themselves account for. Pointing to the Balkans (which everyone's forgotten?): is that supposed to assure me that this little contretemps we have on our hands will all be down the memory hole in a couple of ticks? That the UN will ride to our rescue? Now that you've reminded me (I'm not sure why anybody even slightly interested in Our Current Predicament will have forgotten the other overseas areas where our dwindling manpower is parked) I seem to recall that the US death toll in the Balkans is smaller than the toll in Iraq. By roughly 3022. I spit on your particles!

Okay, okay, so we'll play by your rules for a minute. Nobody wants a greater bloodbath in Iraq. Least of all the people who opposed sticking our big know-it-all, technologically enhanced noses in there in the first place. Listening to the same people who urged us forward four years ago is the express train to battered spouse syndrome. If you know so much about it now, where were you then? What reason is there to believe that the dire predictions about Iraq "after we leave" are any more accurate than the opposite, that our presence is itself the cause of much of the violence and the basis for the Sunni insurgency?

To be fair, this is not Biddle's "solution" to the Iraq problem; it's his answer to a reporter's stupid question, and it's not even his prediction of what will happen. He's said, elsewhere, that an announced US withdrawal would leave the various factions in Iraq without reason to compromise. He's on record as favoring using military force as a leverage for change, including alignment with one or more factions (read: stick it to the Sunnis). Unfortunately, for that to work we have to hope the Sunnis don't call our bluff, unless we're willing to have "caught in the middle of a civil war" changed to "active participant in ethnic cleansing". Having gotten them to the table we then have to hope they'll choose to agree to do something they don't want to do rather than die fighting to do what they want, another matter that might have worked our way three years ago, in the run-up to the first Iraqi elections the administration was too busy waving its purple finger about to worry about Sunni participation.

Biddle has also acknowledged that such a course "might [require the US to] keep its forces in Iraq for longer than the troops could endure or than U.S. voters would tolerate". That "might" is a nice touch there, even if he was writing nearly a year ago; now, with twelve month's more desperation, we are able to conjure up 20,000 troops to send in for maybe six months , at who knows what risk. Put that another way: in our hour of (continued) need we were able, with some slight of hand, to muster a force the size of Albania's standing army. Behold my works, ye Mighty!

There was a nice bit on last Thursday's Daily Show in which Rob Riggle explained that we could join with the Shiites to eliminate the Sunnis, then join with the Kurds to eliminate the Shiites, then join with Turkey to eliminate the Kurds. Which would leave Iraq's smallest minority: the Amish. "And they're used to doing without electricity." The fake news show has been a better source of news than the real teevee news shows for some time. Now it's beginning to overtake newspapers.

This is the answer: we shouldn't have gone there in the first place, we should have applied the brakes before we went through the guardrail. A draft, an international coalition, a timely Senate trial for high crimes and misdemeanors--if we'd taken honest steps then there'd be no question of inconvenient public backlash now. We all watched the same incompetent administration and its criminal buddies in the Congress--or is it the other way around?--gin this thing up for a year, game the legislative process, stomp on the Constitution, mishandle the invasion and its aftermath, sink to, then excuse and downplay, and cover-up, systematic human rights abuses both in Iraq and elsewhere, put politics over competence, toss billions like confetti, with no interest in oversight, and lie, baldly, repeatedly as the thing went from bad to unspeakable. And now the cry is "Oh, the humanity!"? Where ya been the past five years, anyway?

1 comment:

D. Sidhe said...

What's Miss Brazil's take on our foreign policy? I'm starting to shop around for more rational attitudes among my cultural and intellectual betters, since guys like Michael Ledeen aren't putting out.