A Few Obvious Points
I am a professor of obviology. I'm actually credited by some as the founder of this discipline. While that honor may not be warranted, I do count myself as a practitioner and theorist. You'd think it wouldn't be difficult, that society would be full of obviologists -- but the fact is that the capacity to see what's plumb in front of one's nose is not widespread. This has much to do, I think, with a culture-wide mania for obfuscation and overcomplication, used (whether by design or just plain dumb habit) to keep plain folks from thinking they have the ability -- or even the right -- to know what's going on around them.
You see, I've been wanting to say something on the latest Iraq strategy that was recently announced by our, uhm, President -- but it's been difficult for a peace-loving Waldo Countian who has, after all, a life, to muster the gumption. I mean, there are demonstrations one could go to, but dag, they've been demonstrating the obvious for going on four years.
Perhaps what people have been missing -- which might not be quite so obvious, after all -- is that nothing as subtle as a clear national mandate will suffice to dislodge the war policies of the Decider-in-Deaf.
I make no pretension of neutrality. I loathe George W. Bush; the man's aw-shucks arrogance, the pride he takes in not knowing a damn thing. He's gone to the finest schools, all right -- one can only conclude that his insistence on pronouncing "nook-yuler" is willful. The "Mission Accomplished" flight jacket thing was pretty heinous, but the worst Dubya moment for me had to be the snippet of an interview on election night 2000, in which he was sitting with his Mom and Dad watching the returns, and a reporter asked what he thought of the real, real close vote in Florida, (we remember the real, real close vote in Florida, don't we?) And he said, "I'm feeling very upbeat about Florida." Yes, that set the tone.
But I don't have to like the President to evaluate his policies. I didn't like Clinton either -- cripe, the doofus named Kenny G as his favorite saxophonist! But no matter: an Administration's policies have consequences, beyond mere tackiness, and when they are telling us obvious lies, they need to be called on them.
In his recent speech Bush told us, "... to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government, tear the country apart, and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale." This is the thinking that "moderates" are using to support the "new way forward". They are willing to admit that maybe we shouldn't have invaded Iraq in the first place -- but now, things are in such a mess there, we must stay and fix it. This rhetoric adopts a tone of realism, of lifting one's head out of the liberal sand and facing facts. But it's Bull Funky, and here's why:
When we say "mass killings on an unimaginable scale", do we mean, like, in Rwanda? Seems to me that the mainstream press has already been doing what it can to soften the impact of the amount of actual death that's been happening in Iraq. While 3,000+ US troops dead is plenty -- don't get me wrong -- it seems small beside the 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam. Yet that figure is also misleading: better field medicine and surgery techniques are saving many who would have died with 60s-era technology. Over 23,000 US troops have been wounded in Iraq; many of them come home physically or emotionally maimed. (They face budget cuts in long-term VA care.) But let's go back to "mass killings on an unimaginable scale". The Bush Administration has leveled many criticisms at its predecessor, but its failure to stop mass killings in Central Africa has not been among them. What Bush really meant by "mass killings on an unimaginable scale" was "a level of chaos severe enough to threaten US strategic interests".
Is United States occupation the only way to avoid chaos? From a peacekeeping standpoint, US occupation has serious drawbacks. Polls repeatedly show that Iraqis want the US to go; we are seen as an invading army. We pretty much refuse to talk to major diplomatic players like the Shiites in Iran, the Sunnis in Syria and the Kurds in Turkey. Our personnel there don't know the language or the local customs and are (justifiably) afraid of every person they see in the streets; this doesn't help them win hearts and minds. With these glaring weaknesses, it's hard to see how we can possibly accomplish our current objectives, even (perhaps especially) with more troops. We haven't been having such an easy time finding more troops, remember; extending tours and recalling veterans is going to play a big role in providing the numbers being called for. This means that frayed nerves and PTSD will play an ever-greater role in how things go, even as daily pressures increase.
It seems to me that there is an alternative -- or would be in a sane world, anyway. The historical, geopolitical dynamic in Iraq is not unique; in fact is very familiar, similar in many ways to those in Central Africa, and in the Balkans: within colonial boundaries, drawn across ethnic lines, autocratic regimes, useful in the Cold War chess game, repressed people's national aspirations. As long as such regimes were useful to the Superpowers, they received support (regardless of their "human rights records"). Everyone knows that Saddam was "our dictator" in the 1980s; we supported the very unspeakable actions for which we just invaded and deposed him. We also supported a long line of awful people, including Mobutu, Pinochet, Marcos, Suharto and the Shah of Iran, not to mention the somewhat, shall we say, less-than-enlightened Saudi monarchy. The point here is that colonial and Cold War politics created many places in which ethnic cleansing and sectarian violence are almost inevitable. It seems to me that the job of peace-keeping in such volatile places -- of which Iraq is only the most visible example at the moment -- can't be accomplished by a sovereign superpower out to protect its "interests".
The task demands an international organization. And we have one -- except, well, not really. For fiscal year 2007, the United Nations is requesting $1.13 billion for peacekeeping operations, and it acknowledges that it probably won't get that much, for the United States is not sympathetic to UN budget requests. It currently maintains a total of 70,000 troops for peacekeeping operations. By contrast, the United States has spent approximately $360 billion on the Iraq war to date, with more to come. For a fraction of the resources (and human lives!) The United States has blown away in Iraq, it could support a peacekeeping effort that would be truly non-partisan, that would work to restore order and shore up democracy in Iraq.
It could, that is, if the United Nations were not anathema to the US administration. Bush's first choice for UN Ambassador was a man who had repeatedly characterized the UN as useless! Bush isn't alone in this position, of course; it has long been a conservative tenet to deny any claim the United Nations might make to executive authority, and to pooh-pooh the very notion of International Law (except when it supports our objectives).
Nevertheless: the potential for chaos in Iraq does not justify the US occupation, because a viable alternative exists. For decades, the United States has devoted a ridiculously huge portion of its national resources to weapons and war, touting its "responsibility" to defend against evil totalitarian destroyers of freedom. But the Soviet Union fell. A new "ideological struggle" has been debuted in its place, but we really ought not to fall for that: hegemony is not righteous.
I am not suggesting that the United States shouldn't robustly defend itself. I just think we could do that quite effectively at less than half the cost of being the World's Policeman. Really, I doubt that we're about to be attacked by anyone. If we were, then might not one of the tens of thousands of un-checked, un-inspected freight containers entering US ports since 2001 have contained some terrible weapon? We need to get our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, stop pretending to be the world's policeman, and start giving significant support to international cooperation and peacekeeping. The alternative is chaos indeed.
Do You Want Another War?
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