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A Tragic Mess

Jan
9
2007

Before Christmas, there was lots of talk about whether the conflict in Iraq could be classified as a “civil war.” It was another of those slow-news navel-gazing exercises that members of Big Media like to engage in periodically with the help of what’s called the “blogosphere”.
The description “civil war” was controversial. But it came up short in all directions. Iraq is, indeed mired in a civil war with its ethnic factions, Sunnis and Shia fighting this century’s episode of a conflict that’s raged for centuries and been reinvigorated by the U.S. invasion and criminally careless occupation. That’s why it’s more accurate to describe Iraq as being mired in a “U.S.-intiated Civil War.”
It’s a conflict we caused; one we are clearly unable to peacefully end . And it might not be a bad idea for news anchors to have to say “U.S.-initiated Civil War” every time they talked about American casualties, or Iraqi civilian deaths or market square bombings or mass murders. That would be an eye-opener for everyone contemplated the tragic mess that’s been created. If nothing, it might make them think harder about solutions.
Never one to shy away from an argument rigged in his favor, President George Bush will take to the airwaves tomorrow to tell us how he’s going to “fix” Iraq. This is just as silly a conceit as the debate over the use of the inaccurate term “civil war.” Last time George Bush spent this much time thinking and listening to analysis and opinion, he stopped federal funding of embryonic stem cell research despite pleas – from Democrats and Republicans, scientists and religious leaders – that he not do so.
Stem cell research took four years to re-emerge as a national political issue and it’s still poorly understood. Research is taking place at the state level with little oversight so, don’t worry, we’ll reap the consequences of this laissez faire system – eventually. So the idea that Bush actually listened to anyone who was seriously able to tell him that such research wasn’t just medically desirable and necessary but that it was economic desirable and necessary is and was ridiculous.
He did what he wanted to do with a barely courteous nod to those who disagreed with him. The result is a split-baby decision that creates more trouble for researchers than a full-on research ban since it limits paths of scientific research that, under other circumstances, would be explored as a natural outgrowth of discovery and scientific theorizing.
The president will do something similar with Iraq. Monday’s New York Times carried the official leak on Iraq segments of Bush’s State of the Union Speech. Among other things, the president will tell the Iraqis they have deadlines to meet to end sectarian violence and to begin to police themselves.
Sounds great. Won’t happen.


Why? Read John Burns’ account of the execution of Saddam Hussein that appeared in The Times over the weekend.
This Iraqi government leadership is keen for revenge of the various, serious and sustained crimes that Hussein committed. It’s hard to blame them. But they don’t much care about the consequences and it doesn’t seem as though American diplomats are very good at persuading them otherwise. The chain of events leading up to Saddam’s hanging – including but not limited to the cellphone recordings of the final, sad, vindictive insults hurled at him by Shi’ia guards – is too sad to be truly funny and too harem-scarem to qualify as anything but absurd.
Which brings us the equally repellent idea of adding troops of troops in Iraq. The only reason to add more is to make sure that something that looks like “peace” breaks out in Iraq so Americans can slowly draw back their forces to the permanent military bases that we’ve built in that country. Make no mistake: The Bush Administration has no plans to pull entirely out of Iraq. And neither, I bet, do Congressional Democrats (and some newly formed anti-war Republicans), who seem to think that their ideas about letting Iraqis govern themselves will solve this mess. It might – but the lives lost won’t be American.
The invasion of that country was motivated by many things and members of both political parties played along. An Iraqi presence gives the U.S. a way to keep an eye on Iran – a nuclear armed state run by madmen – as well as Pakistan, Afghanistan and, yes, Somalia. Iraqi bases are a way to preserve Israel’s standing in the region and they create monitoring sites that are necessary parts of U.S. defense in the administration’s fantasies about a uniform, war on terror. Moving troops to Iraq takes heat off Saudi Arabia which is under pressure from its religious fundamentalist to end that relationship and yes, the U.S. dependence on oil part of the equation. These items were uppermost in the Bush Administration’s mind when it drew up war plans. Not any idealistic chat about regime change, human rights, or democracy in the Middle East. That’s also why you’ve got guys like Sen. Joe Biden saying – correctly – that if Bush wants to stay in Iraq, if he wants to up the troop limits – he can. And folks like Sens. Joe Lieberman and John McCain supporting the idea of sending more troops.
The causes of this war were never clear, never questioned and inadequately challenged by those who pretend to lead the “opposition.” It was an invasion rooted in lies and half-truths that no one but the U.S. government – Republicans and Democrats, thank you – ever believed. It was a panicked reaction to a devastating event – 9/11/2001 – that scared the Bush Administration witless, too witless to do anything other than – literally – shoot first, ask questions later. And the Democratic Party? Well, they cowered under their desks.
That we – all of us – are now going to try to impose order on a country we have done our very best to disrupt – if not destroy – isn’t just absurd. It’s surreal.

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