The Washington Post reports: "President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday defended the
A light at the end of the tunnel. It doesn't matter how clear and unchanging the goal is if experience proves anew every day that you are in the Tantalus Zone, endlessly reaching for the unobtainable. Bush, Rumsfeld et al. will not acknowledge that they've based their hopes not on something that is largely within our control -- a military operation, say -- but on something that is utterly outside our control, the willingness of a Middle Eastern tribal society to adopt a pure democracy, which even the United States is not thanks to the good sense of its founders.
With the possible exception of the majority of Kurds, Iraqis don't want us there. Conceivably, given some time and no doubt more bloodshed, Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites might work out some kind of modus vivendi. It won't be a shining beacon of democracy in a blighted part of the world, but it might be better than the Saddam Hussein regime. If that happens, it won't be because our military are there trying to act as lethally armed marriage counselors between the factions.
Meanwhile, the men and women of our military serving in Iraq have targets painted on their backs. The last I read, 78 have been killed so far this month, although by now the number could be higher. Yes, we have a volunteer military, and everyone who signs up knows that at some time they might have to put their lives on the line. But they have a right to know that if they do, it will be for the good of their fellow citizens.
Even if some of our uniformed people in Iraq believe theirs is not to reason why, the rest of us need to. The only honest answer now is: so El Presidente and his neoconmen won't have to admit they were wrong. That is not a reason worth fighting for, much less dying for.
George Bush is incapable of changing his mind. I don't know whether he actually, as some of his critics say, imagines that he receives his policies via a hot line from God, but he behaves as if he does. There are times when holding steady despite criticism from all sides is a virtue, but when people from all over the political spectrum are telling you you've gone haywire, you'd bloody well better ask yourself searching questions. Bush is like the gentleman about whom Samuel Johnson said that he had but a single idea, and that one was wrong.
As nutty as the idea of nursing Iraq into full health by setting up elections at gunpoint always seemed to those of us not of the neocon faith, I can't entirely blame him for trying when a long-shot success might have had the desired sequels. But the time for that excuse passed about two years ago. To continue in the same delusion while spending American lives to maintain it is a criminal folly.
True enough, if Bush and Co. did face reality and by implication admit a mistake, the Democrats would make a meal of it. (If the situation were reversed, Republicans would do the same.) It's dangerous for the Republic when partisan total war makes it politically impossible for a politician to tell the public he's learned from experience and wants to use what he's learned to head in a different direction. Intelligent flexibiliy ought to be rewarded, not punished. In any case, Bush's insistence that we have to stay on his course no matter what is unlikely to buy him anything this November; Americans are pragmatic even when they're patriotic.
There is nothing left to win in Iraq. We should respect the wishes of the Iraqi people and get gone, except possibly for cordoning off a Kurdish state and leaving enough of a garrison to defend it. Our might is great, but it is not infinite. We'd best withdraw it from where it can do no further good and keep it in readiness for another time and place where it can.