Monday, March 24, 2008

5, 4000

A double milestone for the Iraq war this past week, neither happy -- the war reached its fifth anniversary and the number of U.S. military deaths reached 4000. It's an appropriate time to look back.

Republicans and Democrats seem trapped in their official narratives about the war. The Republicans seem incapable of admitting that the war was a big, fat, bad idea, and bungled to boot. President Bush started an unnecessary war based on false intelligence, baldly lied about how long the war would take, how much it would cost, and how many casualties would be incurred. He turned it over to the arrogant and incompetent Donald Rumsfeld, who mismanaged it about as badly as could be imagined, so that it's already taken 10 times as long and cost 10 times as much as the least optimistic original estimates, and the end is not in sight. That kind of thing tends to cancel out the good things that your presidency has accomplished -- not that Bush had a whole lot of good things to cancel out, anyway.

On the other hand, Democrats seem incapable of acknowledging that things are going at least a little better lately. U.S. military deaths have slowed to about 1 per day -- an awful figure, but a whole lot less awful than the 3-4 per day we were previously experiencing. Iraqi deaths are down too. It's terrible and tragic that we've lost 4000 troops, but that's still not even 10% of the losses in Vietnam. Democrats also need to acknowledge that as stupid as the war was, it's happened, and can't be wished back into nonexistence. We need a strategy going forward that starts from where we are now.

Unfortunately, it's hardly a great accomplishment to be able to say that after 5 years, 4000 American deaths, and $500 billion, we've managed to get to a situation that's only bad, as opposed to appalling, and that might reasonably be hoped to stay only bad for at least a while now. I heard an interview over the weekend with some returning soldier who suggested that we need to "finish the job." But what is "the job" and what would constitute "finishing" it? To "finish the job" we would need to stay in Iraq indefinitely, probably for another decade, and lose another three or four thousand troops, and spend another trillion dollars or so, and what would be the best result? The original idea of creating a stable, pro-Western democracy seems a hopeless dream.

It's ironic that Republicans would be the first to scream if you seriously suggested a ten-year, trillion-dollar federal government effort to improve society here in the U.S. Yet they're all gung ho to have that same government spend that amount trying to improve things halfway around the globe.

Last week, Barack Obama spoke openly and honestly about problems of race in America. He said things that few politicians have dared to say. He treated us like adults and spoke honestly about the sources of our racial problems.

Could someone, perhaps Obama, do the same for Iraq? I don't see a way to a solution until someone gets honest about the problem.

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