Questioning Common Wisdom
Common wisdom is rarely wise, merely common. In the cacaphony of applause from the Right and the disappointment or disbelief from the rest of us following Bush's speech last night, very few are questioning the common wisdom that regardless of how one initially judges the rightness or wrongness of Bush's War, we should not withdraw our troops until Iraq trainees are able to stand on their own against the "terrorists and insurgents." Otherwise, both left and right acknowledge, that miserable collection of mutually hostile Mesopotamian tribes that is called by the West "the nation of Iraq" will descend into civil war.
That much certainly is true. But it's equally true that Iraq effectively is in a war right now. It is a war in which the U.S. is the progenitor, the principle combatant. It is a war in which we are suffering the loss of young American lives and surely will suffer many more. It is a war in which America, once that "shining light on the hill," is causing the deaths of tens of thousands of innocents the suffering of millions; in which we are shouldering the heaviest military burden; diminishing our own international standing and ability to manuever; alienting much of the world; enraging most of the Middle East; so inflaming vulnerable Islamic youths as to encourage them to become terrorists (just as Rumsfeld once feared); wasting our own national treasure; destroying entire families of our fallen and injured American youth, and soiling the cloak of our nation's moral leadership by torturing prisoners.
As a thought experiment, and to provoke what I hope will be persuasive replies showing me a better path out of this mess, here in the back of the classroom I would like to raise my hand and ask a simple question --- Why?
The Right says we "cannot" withdraw. Politicians trying to appeal to the broader public or sound smarter than they are say we "should" set a definite timetable for withdrawal.
Both are wrong. We can withdraw. And a publically announced deadline for some time in the future is, frankly, nonsensical on its face. Like John Kerry's futile suggestion last year that we should "try harder" to enlist more international support, isn't that merely a way for long-standing (and newly convinced) opponents of the war to distance themselves from Bush before he is deservedly consigned by history to the same trash-heap of incompetent, even insane, leaders as Phillip III of Spain?
"Stay the course" in Iraq and the civil war we have ignited will go on as long as we are there. Pull out, and civil war will continue anyway. I see no third way. Not in a world where reality has a nasty habit of intruding on imperial fantasies.
Isn't it time to acknowledge that precisely because there are no good alternatives, the United States should simply quit Iraq? Now?
Here's another question about the common wisdom. Strictly from the standpoint of our own national interest, weren't we far better off with a strong-man like Hussein controlling the intractable factions of Iraq and providing a counter-weight to the greater threat of Iran -- as Bush's father implicitly acknowledged by refusing to go on to Baghdad when he brought to an end the Gulf War and opted for controlling from "no fly zones" two thirds of Iraq?
It is true that Bush II has left us with no good choices. Every one I see is so terrible it inspires this thought: Wasn't the order and oppression of Saddam's regime to be preferred to the disorder and oppression Bush II's policies have brought about? And if that is so, why on earth would we want to press ahead with a policy that has shown itself to be ill-conceived and harmful to our own national interests?
Colin Powell famously warned Bush II of the "pottery barn rule": if you break it, you own it. We broke it. We made a mess of Iraq. We were wrong. We will pay the consequences, whether we like it or not.
So why not start now? Withdraw the troops. Begin the process of repairing relations with Iran, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, the entirety o the Middle East. Husband our (diminished) national resources for the real competition of the 21st century with China, the pressing diplomatic tasks of de-nuking North Korea and Iran, protecting our nation's borders, harbors, and vulnerable chemical and nuclear plants against foreign terrorists, and finding Ossama bin Laden.
Yes, bolster indigenous democracy wherever in the world it has taken root. Encourage it where it hasn't. But isn't part of the "Pottery Barn price" the requirement that we now abjure the dangerous conceit that we can impose democracy on others at the point of a gun?
If so, shouldn't we put that lesson learned into practice? Starting now?
Of course, it is certain that in the years ahead the Right-wing wolves will hysterically cry "Who lost Iraq?" But they always have and always will -- viz, Berlin, and China, and Hungary, and Vietnam, the Panama Canal, and Hong Kong.
Isn't the answer, simply, "It was all of us"?