There are some things Bush supporters should stop saying. At the top of the list is the one about supporting the president 110% and how only he was man enough to take the fight to Islamo-Faschists, a term preferred by the right these days.
In addition, support for “completing the mission” has become one of the least understood rallying cries regarding our efforts in Iraq. Pictures of our troops firing into the streets of Baghdad or across barren stretches of land make one wonder just who is being targeted. Is it Sunni insurgents, Shiite death squads or terrorist invaders? Is there in fact a clearly-defined enemy – – because if there is not there is little hope of “winning” in Iraq.
And because the president insists on making erroneous connections, our status in the Middle East is confusing to observers here at home and incendiary to our enemies in the region. Al Qaeda was never the motivating factor behind our invasion of Iraq, but because it sells better, Bush and his supporters have taken to spinning the importance of a wider terrorist conflict that in the end only serves to make our occupation and our goals even more problematic. If logic were to prevail, the notion of knocking off all terrorist activists, organizers or states is so ‘out there’ as to fall just short of total lunacy.
Likewise comparisons between what happened when we left Vietnam and what would happen if we left Iraq are non sequiturs that defy rational application to current events. For a president who disputed similarities to the quagmire into which we descended in Southeast Asia and the dead end we seem to be approaching in Iraq his current approach represents a startling departure from historical fact. Is his point that we were about to expand the war into Cambodia back then? After all it was the Khmer rouge that engaged in the genocide that overtook Cambodians not the Vietnamese. And it was a complicated web of affiliations along with the part we played that led to the political upheaval in the region and the horrific “killing fields.”
To conflate the problems of two distinctly dissimilar areas simply adds another layer of confusion to an already muddled state. What does seem to be a possible outcome if we leave Iraq in a state of violence with an unsettled political landscape is that there would indeed be increased sectarian violence. On the other hand, if our troops moved to the perimeter and secured the borders, the electrical grid and the oil fields the country might develop a more effective government, perhaps divide itself into corridors of self rule that could serve, ironically, to create a unity of purpose. Without the constant irritant of our troops patrolling their streets the Iraqi people might organize to repudiate Al Qaeda, resist incursions by neighbors and begin to generate an indigenous power structure. All of which would probably mean getting rid of Maliki and the corrupt partisans in his fold that the US, due to a lack of options, feels obliged to support.
There is questionable validity to the assumption so many of our politicians make that Al Qaeda will prevail if we do not maintain a stronghold in Iraq. Many experts in the field think this view fails to take account of the fact that most regional states don’t welcome terrorist groups into their governments. Neither do they accept the idea of a caliphate across the region. If we were actually to address the problem of terrorist enclaves and the promoters of violence and anti-American sentiment we would have to confront leaders we currently embrace as friends. There was no Al Qaeda presence in Iraq before we invaded because Saddam Hussein wouldn’t allow them to gain a foothold in his country. Lest we forget, most of the attackers on 911 were Saudis, none were Iraqis.
Nevertheless, the administration continues to make the case for war with whomever presents the most convenient target whether it’s the Taliban in Afghanistan or the collection of disparate factions, including Al Qaeda, in Iraq. The damage to our credibility and our failure to gain support among indigenous populations is the result of what in other conflicts used to be called “collateral damage.” The killing of non-combatants in Afghan, for example, in our pursuit of the Taliban engenders distrust and hatred. No doubt local Afghanis ask themselves from time to time what the greater threat to their security is – – a doctrinaire Taliban or indiscriminate US bombing raids. There is, however, some evidence that tribal leaders in Afghanistan have turned on the Taliban for operating out of civilian areas, a welcome sign that could work equally well in Iraq if locals there rose up to protect their neighborhoods, and began to build a future for themselves.
There are of course more maybes than there are definitive answers. But one thing seems abundantly clear: repeated surges will likely produce only piecemeal, temporary solutions. The president’s current definition of success that commits just to a more acceptable level of violence is hardly a recipe for achieving a national construct capable of withstanding internal divisions.
Iraq should be forced to come to grips with its destiny, and we should face up to the reality that we may not be helping. Platitudes about democracy are meaningless; if the current regime is incapable of making progress it should go. Everyone seems to agree that endless conflict will not solve the crisis in Iraq; the question is can a political solution be forged in a country so at odds with itself? In the end our time in Iraq will have been wasted if the people of Iraq fail to establish a framework for mending the terrible divide that now exists.

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