Before the surge many policy experts said that billeting our troops off-base in Iraqi neighborhoods would put them at greater risk; military leaders agreed. And for once, projected outcomes were accurate. Casualties have indeed increased, and everyone from top commanders to war pundits seems to be saying ‘just what we expected’.
Ah to be so sanguine about the perils of war and what it all means for the future of Iraq, our troops and our country. Military leaders maintain that getting up close and personal in towns and villages is the best way to ‘take the fight to the enemy’. Unfortunately, the enemy is indistinct with factions constantly realigning themselves into whatever battle mode works best at any given moment. Enemy attackers can be Sunnis or Shiites, newly formed Al Qaeda offshoots and splinter groups of every conceivable affiliation.
Meanwhile the president labors to convince the American people that it’s all about Al Qaeda or, as he puts it, ‘the same people who attacked us on 911.’ Shamelessly, after all the efforts to clarify and reconstitute the mission we are conjured back to precisely where we began. Echoes resound as the reasons for invading Iraq are conflated once again with the 911 attacks. One might have hoped some sense of responsibility for a multitude of errors would have constrained Mr. Bush from re-issuing the bogus casus belli he and his team used to convince Congress and the nation to support a pre-emptive war in Iraq. But, predictably, this administration never acknowledges mistakes, and the president continues to retrofit reasons for decisions long since disproven.
And in a show of ‘what me worry’ the Iraqi parliament prepares to close down for two or three months. So, what of the political solution to which so many allude? Military and civilian groups alike insist that has to be the endgame. But what will this putative “unity government”, of which the president is so proud, decide to do? Or is Maliki’s band of parliamentarians in fact so divided and ineffectual and he so powerless that no useful coalitions can be formed, no decisive actions taken. Perhaps they have all decided that the safest thing they can do is close up shop and see what happens while our troops and a few of their own fight pitched battles in the streets.
Will anybody climb out of the rabbit hole any time soon and deal with the reality that defines daily life in Iraq? Major General Rick Lynch spoke the other day of ‘winning the fight’ but admitted there hadn’t been “significant political progress” saying “you can’t just build a government overnight” – – an obvious fact, but there have been a lot of nights since the president declared that democracy was ascendant in Iraq. And the death toll keeps rising as an effete leadership fails to deal with the underlying problems of its divided, warring population.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have left the country and, while this is understandable in some respects, the question remains, shouldn’t the Iraqi people want stability and a just political process as much as we want it for them? Without strong leadership and a unified population willing to assert its authority by the sheer force of its numbers we can never put things right in Iraq no matter how long we stay. While there is some evidence that people are growing weary of the constant violence it is far from certain that battle fatigue will lead to agreements among disparate groups and the purging of Al Qaeda intruders.
Often political voices in our country raise questions about the consequences of us leaving Iraq precipitously. Would a Taliban-like regime take over or an Al Qaeda-dominated caliphate be established across the region? But what is the likelihood that such outcomes would occur? Would Shiite Iran countenance a Sunni-Al Qaeda overlord subjugating fellow Shiites right next door? Or are any of the factions currently engaged in combat ready for a one-size-fits-all Taliban rule? And what are the consequences of our remaining? It seems that our occupation has fostered an indigenous population engaged in a giant fireball of rage and grief that finds expression in a mindless, agenda-less struggle born of despair and failed leadership. In much the same way that our forces aren’t always sure exactly who the enemy is, Iraqis themselves are a confusion of impulses without direction or purpose.
Ironically here at home, the war in Iraq affects the well being of our own people, as the devastating tornadoes in Kansas serve to remind us. Large numbers of that state’s National Guard and much of its equipment is in Iraq leaving citizens of that state under-served and under-protected. The same was true in the aftermath of Katrina, and other parts of the country would be equally disadvantaged should catastrophe strike.
When administration supporters say we’re ‘fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here’ they seem not to notice how poorly prepared we are here to handle either domestic emergencies or foreign incursions and how the term homeland security has become almost meaningless with government’s failure to control our borders or minister effectively to the needs of our own when disaster strikes.

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