Saturday, November 11, 2006

This Veteran's Day-- support the troops. Change the mission.

Today is Veterans Day.

The Eleventh of November. Because the guns fell silent across the Western Front on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, ending World War I on November 11, 1918.

And so today we again find ourselves in a war.

And we should support the troops. And I mean that in the purest sense. Somehow Republicans have co-opted the term to mean 'support the President's foreign policy.'

But it does not mean that.

Where the mission is clear and the objective is made clear then absolutely we should support its completion, whether we agreed with the initial decision to go into a war-- any war-- or not. And we were told in March of 2003 that the mission was to get rid of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction. So, even opponents of the war came together to support it once the bombs started falling.

And Saddam Hussein was deposed. And captured. And tried. And convicted. And sentenced to hang. All of the places where there were thought to be weapons of mass destruction were exhaustively searched. Even the soil was tested. Nothing, other than a handful of old and apparently long forgotten mustard gas shells left over from the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980's that we didn't even find for years.

So then the mission became to fight 'terrorists.' Never mind how this war pushed the war in Afghanistan (where the terrorists who were behind the 9/11 attacks are in hiding to this very day) onto the back burner. Never mind how we have seven times as many troops fighting in Iraq as we have in and around Afghanistan. Never mind how the whole argument about 'fighting them there' is bogus-- as we've seen in the Bali, Istanbul, Madrid and London bombings having terrorists in Iraq is not an all exclusive to having terrorists elsewhere, and it is hard to understand why a terror strike that originates in some cave in Afghanistan or Pakistan and reaches fruition in New York or Washington or Chicago or Los Angeles involves Iraq. The mission became 'fighting terrorists' apparently since the first justification didn't bear fruit.

But then that also didn't hold water. It became clear that while there were a few hundred al-Qaeda members in Iraq, most of the people we were fighting were home-grown Iraqi insurgents. Patriots who fought an invading and occupying force just as we would protect our homeland from an invader. Anyone who finds this at all surprising hasn't read thousands of years of history.

So then the justification changed again, to establishing a democratic government in Iraq. Only when we got one, it was composed of religious fundamentalists, who wanted to impose Afghan or Iranian style sharia in the country. So we helped them gain the cloak of legitimacy by ensuring that they got elected. And they have responded by leading anti-American demonstrations and burning American flags in Baghdad. When al-Qaeda in Iraq leader al-Zarqawi was killed in an American airstrike, the phone numbers of several elected members of the Iraqi parliament were found on his cell phone. Well, Iraq may be a 'democracy,' but don't think of it as a success.

So then when the 'democracy' turned out to be run by the same bad guys just in politicians' clothing, the 'mission' changed yet again. To 'making Iraq stable.'

Unfortunately, Iraq won't be stable in its present form (unless a brutal strongman comes along and holds it together by fear and force.) It is really three countries (I've been saying that for a long time, but unlike a year ago when I was one of the only people saying it, most thinking people-- both in and out of the United States-- have reached much the same conclusion.) Most of its boundaries were drawn arbitrarily with little regard for ethnic, religious or tribal boundaries by British and French colonialists when they hacked up the Ottoman empire among the spoils of World War I. Trying to hold the three regions of Iraq-- Sunni, Shia and Kurd-- together puts us in the position of a Gorbachev or a Milosevic. Gorbachev couldn't bring himself to be a Stalin (who simply exterminated anyone who opposed him) and Milosevic didn't have the power to be a Tito (who was also ruthless to anyone who opposed him.) Lacking a Stalin, Tito-- or a Saddam-- Iraq is no more going to be held together than the former Soviet Union or Yugoslavia were as multi-national states. All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty back together again. And they still can't today. We have to begin any plan for Iraq by recognizing that stark reality.

I could support a mission in Iraq which was realistic enough to recognize that the best we can do is help smooth a transition to three separate states, and then sets out to do that. But lacking that, we have no realistic mission we can achieve there, so the best way to support the troops is not to 'support the President's foreign policy,' but rather to oppose the President's foreign policy. Losing more Americans while fighting against the inevitable is stupid, and we should not be afraid to say so.

All rights reserved.
Disclaimer And Comment Policy