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Facing the Music
April 15, 2004
By Raul Groom

"There must be some kind of way out of here, said the joker to the thief." - Bob Dylan, "All Along the Watchtower"

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 war.

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 to send.

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.

Ha, ha.

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 speak now.

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.

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