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25 Mar 2007

Who remembers our last days in Saigon? Iraq is even more hopeless. American interests are best served by making friends, not enemies, and certainly not enemies of former friends. Yet that is exactly what we are (and have been) doing in Iraq for nearly four years now. If Collateral Damage means civilians killed peripheral to a military venture, then the national collateral damage to Iraqi society is easily on the order of a half million people. Sure it is Iraqis killing Iraqis, but who enabled that situation? One way or another, and no matter how you slice it, the buck stops at the White House.

As soon as possible means in orderly fashion with the least damage. A multi-sided civil war with mutual genocides have added to the woes brought on by our inept occupation and corrupt attempts to force a foreign culture on a proud people whose heritage arises from the ground, the very cradle of civilization as we know it. Mr Bush is a self-proclaimed War President, so perhaps we should expect nothing more.

While we wish for better, we are now in such a corner, that there is no alternative. It is too late now to secure even Baghdad. Had general David Petraeus been in charge, supported and given a free hand, Iraq might have had a chance. Not being a sympathizer of the Neocon methods, that was not in the cards. Now, even he is too little too late; we hate to write these words for he deserves better, has earned better.

Even the Green Zone is failing its moral purpose. It has become symbolic of our ineptitude and a festering sore, alienating our remaining friends. We cannot rebuild Iraq without Iraqi help. Yet Iraqis, still in a mood to help us, risk death daily, yes daily. The vital economic issue of jobs for the middle class goes begging. A surge of even a million soldiers using Neocon policies could not subdue Iraq. Even if they could, what would we have? A powder keg is what, a powder keg where we would have to be as despotic and murderous as Saddam Hussein to maintain order. It is not even possible, considering the enmity toward us such an occupation would create in all quarters of the world. No thanks, and the American public agrees, forever one would hope.

It is also easy to blame the Iraqis themselves. Of course they comprise three groups whose histories have been perennial wars with each other over two important issues of 1) whose god is God and 2) power itself. But that has been their history; it is in hundreds of modern books, blow by blow, war by war, power by power. And we ignored the pulses. In fact, we added to them.

George Packer sums up how we got there for all to see:

There were warnings from experts that Iraq is a more a notional than a real country, and that it was bound to divide once the lid of totalitarianism was lifted. But the people who mattered in the Bush administration brushed all those warnings aside, often borrowing the language of the left: "You're saying Arabs can't rule themselves. You're saying democracy can't thrive in a Muslim country. What kind of talk is that?" In their ideological rigidity they [the Bush people] ignored very helpful advice by people who were not their enemies. So instead of getting the liberal democratic Iraq of their dreams they have a Huntingtonian, clash-of-civilizations nightmare."

"...The armed militias are running the show. The young and the dispossessed and the angry and the religious have become the wave of the future. They've been released by the invasion to impose their own vision of Iraq on the country, usually at the point of a gun. It is no longer mostly about an anti-occupation insurgency. That is the short-term battle and in a way the cover and the pretext for the power struggle among Iraq's major groups."

Packer also wrote Assassin's Gate: America in Iraq. Packer is that rare individual who is both sensitive enough to feel the human tragedy and tough minded enough to see the way forward, however difficult.

Chris Hedges, foreign corrspondent and bureau chief, chimes in:

"Power exercised with ruthlessness always is able to crush the gentle and the compassionate. But I don't believe it always wins. Thucydides wrote about the war with Sparta that, yes, raw Spartan militarism in the short-term could conquer Athens. But that beauty, art, knowledge, philosophy, would long outlive Sparta and Spartan militarism.

"And he consoled himself with that. I think in the short-term, yes, violence and force can win. But in the long-term, it leaves nothing but hollowness, emptiness. It does nothing to enrich our lives or propel us forward as human beings."


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