Saturday, July 01, 2006

Days of Obligation

Let's look at Iraq right now. Is there some way we can pull out?

We're going to have to pull out of there. But the hard truth is that even those of us who tried like hell to prevent this catastrophic mistake are now bound to share in the moral consequences of whatever choices we as a nation make in the manner of our leaving. We have to pursue two objectives simultaneously, and that's always hard. The first objective is to get the hell out of there as quickly as we can. The second objective is to avoid the moral mistake of doing even more harm to those people in the manner of our leaving than we did in the manner of our invasion. And, tragically, it is possible to do even more harm if we are not alert to the ethical choices that we have to make as we prepare to leave. Unfortunately there are no "good options," because Bush and Cheney have driven us into an ethical cul-de-sac. General Odom, who used to run defense intelligence, said last year that the invasion of Iraq "will turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history."

Al Gore, 3.0
Rolling Stone, Issue 1005/1005

The last few days, I have been trying to think about the catastrophe that is Iraq and what our country can and should (the two not being the same) do with regards to ending our involvement.

The Republican plan is clear – do nothing, milk the situation for as many votes as possible, make sure that their constituents get a cut of the military money, then run like hell after the 2008 election when a Democrat takes the White House. They will then spend the next four years blaming the Democrat for "losing" George Bush’s war.

We know this up front. Whomever has the thankless job of following Bush in the Oval Office is going to be scraping W’s shit off the walls and carpet for every day of his or her tenure. This situation is simply a given, so what remains is what are the Democrats going to do about Iraq?

Here’s the brutal truth – the Democrats who say we cannot simply withdraw are right because we have incurred obligations to Iraq. This is not Colin Powell’s juvenile “Pottery Barn” analogy, as though America possesses another sovereign nation, but a sober acceptance that we have done irreparable harm to these people, and must do our best to do no more. Al Gore’s statement above is the best summary I have yet read about the conflicting obligations of our days – to do right by both our own nation and by the one we have wronged. Blustering about the criminality of the Cheneyites and proclaiming one’s own innocence in the conduct of the war is irrelevant to the reality. Iraq remains in agony because of the actions of our nation.

Any Democratic leader worth his or her salt will be caught between the devil and deep blue sea – facing demands for immediate, unconditional withdrawal and demands for open-ended waiting for Godot. Both are foolish, though the first has the advantage of fewer US troops dead and maimed as well as fewer Iraqis in a similar condition due to US troops’ actions. The second has no advantages as our presence is not enough to secure goods or conditions advantageous to the US, and it destabilizes Iraq. But taking one extreme or the other is simply evasion of the obligations laid upon us by the past acts of the nation.

The question, in truth, is not whether the US must leave, but what the continuing US presence in the area will look like. This is one of the points Wes Clark has been making all along, as he discusses here in The Way Forward, though I fear that the window of opportunity for many of his proposals may have closed. I think changing the rhetoric from "withdrawal" to "redeployment" is the right one to take, but only if it means exactly that – reorganization of our presence, not slinking off from the devastation and hope no one notices. Not only is the latter the Republican plan, it is morally indefensible.

We have entered the terrible days of obligation, when, to be Americans, we may not repudiate the acts of our nation, no matter how vile, with the claim that those other guys did it, not our fault, not our problem. In this way, more than any other, the legacy of Iraq will be like the legacy of global warming.


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