By Raul Groom
"There must be some kind of way out of here, said
the joker to the thief." - Bob Dylan, "All Along
Winter is gone. In much of the country, particularly those
states that lie on higher parallels than our fair capital,
April is a happy time, a moment of rebirth, of emerging into
the spring melt to assess the winter's damage and enjoy the
warmth of the sun and the crisp morning breeze.
In D.C., April is a time of savagery and hatred beneath
a thin mask of high-minded blather, and this one is no different
from the rest. The campaigns begin in earnest now; the treasure
machines are humming and the engines of treachery are whirring
and clicking in preparation for the Ritual of the Long Knives.
Women and men who were best friends in March will not be speaking
by October, the Spartan necessity of winning having trumped
the luxury of camaraderie.
Thus the brutality and chaos pouring forth from Iraq is
probably easier for us to comprehend than for the rest of
the nation, as we have no need to adjust our perceptive framework
to incorporate the shocking images of conflict. As August
is a time of anticipation and unease, so is April a time of
There are some major advantages, of course, to Washington
warmaking's domestic incarnation, the key one being that unlike
with the export model, no one usually has to die.
Not so in Iraq, as dozens of American troops and hundreds
of Iraqi citizens have died over the course of the last two
weeks. Entire cities are now in the control of rebel militias,
and much of the country is literally in flames. U.S. generals
in Iraq are complaining bitterly that the Pentagon has abandoned
them by not sending more troops, while their stateside counterparts
are left to fret about whether there are really any more troops
This question of whether more troops are needed to secure
Iraq in the short term is a perfectly legitimate operational
debate, one in which Donald Rumsfeld might eventually want
to involve himself instead of continuing to wander around
the capital half-drunk on Tanqueray and crazily pretending
that the reason that he's not doing jack shit to help the
situation in Iraq is that nobody over there has mentioned
to him that there's a problem.
It's even tempting for those of us who are not four-star
generals or Defense Department officials to get caught up
in this argument, showcasing as it does the complete obliviousness
of our country's civilian leadership even in a time of obvious
and mushrooming crisis. Indeed, the nation's dailies are awash
these last few weeks in Op/Ed pieces, penned by conservatives
and liberals alike, calling on the Pentagon to please get
off its ass and do something before it's too late. Rumsfeld
and company are an easy target on this issue, and blasting
their inaction is a cheap way to fill up some column inches.
Unfortunately, the question itself should more troops
be sent to Iraq? is wrong on its face. As anyone with two
eyes can see, the Iraqi population is not supporting the occupation.
There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Iraqis would
be more inclined to support an occupation force of 250,000,
or 350,000, or a half million. We are using largely part-time
soldiers fresh from the civilian population to combat indigenous
guerillas, without having any broad support for our position
among the people we are supposedly in the country to protect
and liberate. This is ringing some sort of bell - wait, wait,
don't tell me
There have always been two serious schools of thought on
what, exactly, made the Vietnam war such a disaster for the
American occupation force. The more dovish position (still
far to the right of my admittedly rather harsh characterization
of the conflict as a willful and horrific war crime, a description
which remains largely outside the intellectual mainstream)
is that Vietnam was a mistake from the start, and that when
the U.S.-backed government in Saigon started to crumble, we
should have simply let it happen and not gotten involved.
The hawkish position a historical interpretation that
George W. Bush explicitly (though clumsily) endorsed during
his campaign for the American presidency is that the U.S.
was forced out of Vietnam in disgrace because mushy-headed
liberals in the government had not allowed military commanders
to kill the Vietnamese people indiscriminately enough to terrorize
the population into abandoning their support for the resistance.
Now, the Bush administration, which we should recall is
inhabited largely by old hawks still seething from the U.S.
humiliation in Vietnam, has crafted for itself the perfect
opportunity to test its belief that we could have won the
war if only the civilian leadership had given the generals
the authority to Kill 'Em All.
The trouble for these giants of humanitarianism is that
the Iraq insurgency has exploded much earlier than they expected,
and even these guys, with nary a mushy-headed liberal in the
bunch, are squeamish about declaring all-out war on the Iraqi
population six months before a U.S. presidential election.
This is, after all, a population whose alleged yearning for
American-style democracy remains the sole remaining pretext
(post-text?) for the invasion.
So instead of implementing their bold strategy of indiscriminately
massacring everyone in the entire country, the Bush Administration
is now forced to muddle along on a LBJ-style "middle path,"
making speeches about "toughness" and "resolve" while continuing
to conduct the war as if we were fighting only a small group
of insurgents and not a broad-based national rebellion.
This is, quite clearly, a prescription for thousands upon
thousands of American casualties, to make no mention (as is
customary, apparently, in print media) of the literally millions
of Iraqis who are likely to lose their lives and homes in
the coming years of war. Let us now pause to appreciate the
fact that the vast majority of the columnists who are now
pushing this "plan" are the same folks who refused to criticize
any aspect of Bush's disastrous Iraq policy for months after
the invasion, with the explanation that this cowardly and
disgusting bootlicking was in fact evidence that these so-called
journalists "Support Our Troops."
Those folks who marched in the freezing cold holding signs
reading "Support our Troops Let the Inspections Work" are
forced to wonder, if our allegedly beloved troops could turn
back time, which type of "support" they would have preferred
to have more of in the weeks and months leading up to the
Iraq invasion. But never mind all that.
Once more, in capital letters this time, we face the crucial
question What Is To Be Done About Iraq?
[This space intentionally left blank.]
Right there I was supposed to say "We can't just pull out
without getting the situation under control." In fact, we
can indeed do that. Whether that is a good or a bad plan is
open for spirited, necessary debate, but unlike the other
non-psychotic option I am about to introduce there is absolutely
no question that it could be done.
So, behind Door #1 we have "Retreat in Disgrace," with generally
predictable consequences, including civil war and the probable
rise of some sort of brutal dictatorial strongman in the mold
of Saddam Hussein. Embarrassing, certainly, but it wouldn't
be the first time such a thing had transpired, and life, both
in Iraq and elsewhere, would go on, at least for those people
who haven't already died as a result of our dishonest and
illegal aggressive war.
Behind Door #2 is "Kill 'Em All" total genocidal
war against the Iraqi civilian population, killing perhaps
four to eight million in the space of a few months and trying
to break the will of the insurgency with unadulterated mass
terrorism. Again, whether you think this is the right path
or not depends on your particular point of view basically
whether or not you are a human being or a depraved, soulless
monster from the depths of hell, jaws still dripping gristle
from your latest meal of raw newborns. But we can also be
reasonably certain that this path is possible; we have the
bombs and the guns and we could kill millions of people quickly
if we decided to do so.
This option does of course have some strong practical arguments
against it, the key one being that it could result in a wider
war, possibly involving nuclear-armed nations, and thus could
conceivably bring about the complete destruction of human
life on Earth. It should thus come as little surprise that
most of the people pushing this course of action, including
our President, happen to profess religions that teach that
the end of the world is going to be a pretty swell time, at
least for people like them.
Behind Door #3 lies a prolonged military occupation of Iraq,
requiring the complete commitment of the lion's share of U.S.
foreign policy attention for at least the next decade, and
probably longer. As noted above, during this time we can expect
thousands upon thousands of American casualties, along with
millions of Iraqis killed and wounded, plus many more poisoned
by the toxic environment left behind by modern warfare.
In theory, there is some percentage chance (let's be generous
and say 10%) that at the end of this long and bloody occupation,
a free and democratic Iraq would emerge and become reintegrated
into the international community as a desperately poor country
with a devastated economy and a visceral, gargantuan hatred
of all foreigners. History buffs with a warped sense of humor
might appreciate the irony; these are the same conditions
that precipitated the rise of Hitler in Germany after World
War I, whose example would later be used to justify the American
invasion of Iraq.
If we choose Door #3, that's what success looks like. Failure
is just Door #1 with more dead bodies.
Of course, global military strategy isn't quite as simple
as "Let's Make A Deal." It's possible there is someone out
there more creative than I am, who can envision a future for
American involvement in Iraq that does not fit neatly into
one of the three categories just described.
If there is such a person present here in this vast electronic
blogosphere who can hear me above the confused din of theoretical
wrangling over exactly how many troops, how many meetings
with rebel leaders, how many bombs, how many bullets, and
how much blood it will take to "fix" Iraq, let them
If, on the other hand, no such plan is forthcoming, let
us now begin an honest conversation about what to do with
the gigantic mess we have created over so many decades of
Anglo-American meddling in the affairs of Iraq. Continuing
to talk as if we can choose options that do not exist or bring
about outcomes that are not possible is helping no one except
those few powerful men and women among us who want nothing
so badly as to postpone this necessary spring conversation
until the winter chill is again upon us, when We the People
might be more inclined to support the Final Solution in Iraq,
or at least less in a position to prevent its implementation.
It is a near certainty that history will not look favorably
on the American press for anything that we have done during
this whole shameful episode. The time has come to forget fanciful
visions of vindication or even redemption, and view the situation
as it is, a pile of bleached bones and a river of blood whose
nature has been decided, but whose magnitude is still, for
now at least, under our control.
All along the watchtowers of the earth, the world's people
are waiting for us to take this crucial step, to emerge from
our self-hypnosis and face the world as we, the most powerful
country in the world, have shaped it. If we cannot now learn
to face the fact that history will judge all of us harshly,
it may well be that history as we know it will never get a
chance to judge us at all.
Or, as it was put during a time not so unlike this one,
by a much better man than I, "Let us not talk falsely now,
for the hour is getting late."
And later still.