Five months turn into five years, war still a reality
Rumsfeld’s prediction proves ridiculous, bloodshed continues to be widespread overseas
“Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that.” – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Nov. 14 2002
The Iraq War has not garnered as much attention as it merits in the 2008 presidential race. As we reach the fifth anniversary of the invasion March 19, Iraq policy sits on the periphery of a contest for the Democratic nomination which is increasingly vicious and still frustratingly devoid of substance. Senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain have all voted consistently to continue funding the war. All three have levied various criticisms of the war’s execution, and so embroiled themselves in a fair amount of nuance on the issue. Ultimately, this nuance amounts to triangulation and does not reflect any of the lessons America should learn from the costly and embarrassing atrocity we have wrought in Iraq.
The “surge” strategy inaugurated 13 months ago has made impressive progress toward suppressing a violent insurgency, a task the American military was not designed to accomplish. But Iraq remains one of the most dangerous countries on Earth, its infrastructure is far from its pre-invasion status, and its government still faces the possibility of disintegration. McCain would attribute these difficulties to the mismanagement of the early stages of the occupation. This ignores the painful political reality in Iraq: The nefarious dictatorship of Saddam Hussein was tolerated and on multiple occasions abetted by the United States because he preserved stability in the Persian Gulf.
When the Bush Administration decided that this Reagan-era realpolitik maneuver didn’t matter, and that the war would be of real benefit to the United States, they were massively, colossally, epically mistaken. By insisting on not understaffing the occupation, McCain was perhaps 10 percent less mistaken. Under his model of the occupation, we would have half a million troops holding together the artificial political borders of Iraq in perpetuity, instead of the current 150,000 struggling valiantly to do the job until their inevitable withdrawal.
How to get out of the Iraq imbroglio is an important issue which does receive some attention in the presidential race. By contrast, the question of how America got into this situation and how we should avoid similar disasters is rarely addressed. Volumes could be written on what was wrong with this invasion, but a responsible discussion might include the mendaciously selective intelligence used to justify the war (the Pentagon released a study March 12 finding, yet again, that the supposed collaboration between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda never existed), the malfeasant contracts awarded to arms producers and construction firms closely connected to the high-level administration officials, our military’s tolerance for collateral damage, and the extra-constitutional authorization of the war by Congress.
That last topic demonstrates the anemic resistance carried on by avowedly anti-war Democrats. Obama makes much of the fact that he spoke out against the congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq in Oct. 2002 while Clinton voted for it. But his record and that of his rival are substantially identical during their three years together in the Senate. Both have joined the majority of their party in capitulating repeatedly to the administration on Iraq policy. Both promise change, but their proposals center on restoring diplomacy as the primary foreign policy tool. There is no discussion of the military industrial complex and its integration with the executive branch. It is by no means obvious that the next president will address these fundamental questions. In this respect, the prospect for change in this election is meager. The five-year duration and staggering cost of the most egregious overseas fiasco in American history have not imputed much insight on the Washington establishment.
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