Thursday, November 08, 2007

Feeling like a broken record

By Carol Gee

What is success in Iraq? Our Current President (OCP) seems to feel that his legacy will be the outcome of the war in Iraq. Each week means a new pronouncement about how things are (or will) get better in Mesopotamia, though, OCP does not use that word because of his ignorance of such a derivation. The dilemma for me, and I suspect for thousands of us, is whether to wish OCP well or ill in his quest for success in Iraq. On the one hand, how could we let him win in such a misbegotten adventure, wrong from the start? On the other hand, how could we wish for the indefinite continuation of death and destruction for the Iraqi people and their fledgling government?

Glenn Greenwald has done it again. One of my favorite tough and incisive bloggers, he wades into this question with which I have often wrestled and occasionally written, "What if things got better in Iraq?"

His post today is a very interesting read with an equally intriguing set of comments that follow it. It explores the issues raised by the politicization of war. It reinforces the what seems now to be an antiquated premise, that politics should stop at the water's edge. The war is utterly political when you define it as a win or loss for either party. The November 8 post title reads: "Democrats in big, big trouble because of the Great Iraq War -- again." To quote:

. . . if the violence in Iraq continues to decrease -- and even if one accepts the most dubious of premises in order to see it all in the best possible light (the decrease will endure, it's because of the Magical Surge, the de facto ethnic cleansing can reverse itself, etc.) -- that rather obviously doesn't mean that the war has achieved anything positive, either in that country or for our own. It just means that we have begun to contain some of the monstrous harm which our invasion unleashed there.

I started writing about this idea back in the middle of 2006, well before the Democrats won so handily in the congressional elections that seemed to be a referendum on Iraq. It is important to remember how discouraged Democrats were five months before the election, and how optimistic OCP was. But I was being idealistic. In a (6/14/06) post, "Who Does Not Want Success?" I concluded with this:

Sharing power with the Opposition -
The Iraqi constitution is very new. It is yet to be modified to the satisfaction of all the people living in Iraq, so that power can be shared equitably by all. The U.S. constitution is very old, much modified, and also still vulnerable. If we are not very careful, the executive branch will have far too much power, and the original framers' careful separation of powers doctrine will be in shambles.
Loyal oppositions in both countries want both national their administrations to be successful, but not too successful at gathering power only unto themselves. Utterly partisan leaders cannot have it both ways. There are terrible trade-offs with power grabs. In Iraq lots of people are dying. In the United States, lots of people have opted out of the political process in disgust. Will the 2006 election turnout be as equally disheartening as the other recent ones?

About a year later it was time for another inventory. Democrats now had theoretical control of both houses of congress. Surely things were on the way to getting better with the war. And OCP continued to reiterate that we needed to wait for the official reports promised for September. On 6/19/07 I wrote "Another year without success in Iraq." This time I was trying to be realistic. I quote what I wrote:

The war in Iraq will never be successful as visualized by our current president (OCP) - The incursion was a mistake from the beginning. But the Democrats won the election in 2006! Surely we cannot be disheartened. But we are, because members of Congress have not acted on their election success. They have ceded power to the opposition. So what is the answer now?

There was never a merely military answer for Iraq. The military is a great institution when it sticks with what it does best, defend the United States against enemy attack. Iraq never attacked the U.S. We attacked Iraq - Mistake Number One. But we cannot undo that now.

Iraq has its own answers, which it will discover or not. The U.S. military was never designed to facilitate such processes. (OCP) Bush definitely eschewed "nation building" during his campaign for president. And now that Iraq must rebuild politically from within its own opposed forces, we have kept the military in charge of supporting their efforts, rather than the State Department. That is Mistake Number Two. And we can and must undo that now.

Congress has the answer. Will they find it? The Executive branch of government does not represent the American people. It has not served us, but itself. Nor has Congress, who actually does represent us, has yet to answer as it must. Congress has to withdraw financial support from the military in Iraq, and increase support for diplomatic efforts to help Iraq succeed, if Iraq decides it wants to succeed. Democratic Congressional leaders are making Mistake Number Three. Democrats must not leave the leading to their loyal opponents, the Republicans. These leaders can and must undo their mistake soon.

By August of this year we Democrats had begun to wail about how little success a Democratic Congress had achieved. Civil libertarians among us were livid about the passage at the last minute of the so-called "Protect America Act." Using the same S/SW post title, "Who would not want success?" I focused on disappointment with Democrats and Congressional actions. To quote my conclusion:

A Democratic Congress must succeed when it comes back into session, against the destructiveness of the current administration. And Democratic Congress watchers must find reconciliation with erring legislators, find ways not to "eat our own kind" for behaving badly. It is hard and a stretch, as I said last week in "Dems get mixed reviews," but it will pay off for the country in the end.

It is November 2007 and the election is now less than a year away. Whomever becomes President in 2009 deserves our best wishes for success, but what would that be? I was still left with the recurring question, "Who would not want success?" But I do not have to go through my unrelenting ambivalence any more. My on-the-hand/on-the-other-hand internal argument is over. Glenn Greenwald answered it for me with his conclusion,

. . . if the violence in Iraq continues to decrease . . . that rather obviously doesn't mean that the war has achieved anything positive, either in that country or for our own. It just means that we have begun to contain some of the monstrous harm which our invasion unleashed there.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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