We’ve had an extraordinary week of leaked candor about the catastrophic state of US foreign policy under the Bush/Cheney regime, predictably followed by Presidential denials that al Qaeda is back and blatant propaganda that we’re making “satisfactory” progress on the few Iraq benchmarks that are virtually meaningless. The White House, which has always confused inflexible standards and testing with genuine education and wisdom, has been reduced to giving out report cards on itself that translate to “improvement needed” on everything that really matters.
But the reality based assessments dominated the news. First it was the intelligence community’s pre-denial assessment that al Qaeda has been allowed to regroup along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to become as threatening as ever, both for Europe and possibly the US. The obvious conclusion is that the President’s six year global war on terror is not only an abject failure but a growing threat to our security.
Then there were the pre-spin reports about the virtual absence of any meaningful progress in achieving the objectives of the US troop surge. And Thursday Bob Woodward released his history of intelligence briefings the CIA gave the Iraq Study Group last fall, briefings that revealed what Condi Rice described as “the dark assessment” that security conditions had so deteriorated as to be “irretrievable,” while the al Maliki government was so inherently ineffectual, that there was virtually nothing the US could do to make things turn out right in Iraq. That sobering assessment was reaffirmed this week by Stephen Biddle’s op-ed explaining why the only realistic but unavoidably awful choices had narrowed to “go deep” or “get out,” since staying the course had become increasingly untenable and morally dubious.
We are left with the unspoken and unspeakable conclusion that the real rationale for keeping so many U.S. soldiers in harm’s way – in the middle of Iraq’s irreconcilable sectarian and civil wars — is that they serve as our national punishment for the inexcusable blunder our government made in invading and occupying Iraq and opening this pandora’s box in the first place.
By their unanimous vote for Senator Webb’s amendment to give our troops a break between hellish deployments, the Democrats in Congress clearly sense the moral hazard of asking our soldiers to pay an undeserved penalty for the blunders of their leaders. The President and his Senate supporters showed their true colors in providing (with Lieberman) the 41 votes needed to obstruct Webb’s proposal, the only genuine “support the troops” measure before them.
Yet even that is not as shameful as having deliberately misidentified and conflated our multiple opponents in Iraq as the same al Qaeda that flew planes into the Twin Towers, as the President did again Thursday. What is incomprehensible is that Democrats who should know better have allowed this President to maneuver them into agreeing to leave combat forces in Iraq indefinitely to fight these terrorists, even though it is doubtful that most of those we’re fighting want any more than to get us out of their country; there is scant evidence that they identify with Osama bin Laden or his aims.
Despite Thursday’s 223-201 House vote for “redeployment,” much of the current debate in Congress is deeply dishonest. The Senate is considering various proposals, all of which agree to keep an unspecified number of combat forces in Iraq for “limited” purposes (including counterterrorism), but there is no basis for assuming this President will implement such ambiguous language in good faith. No matter what we do, it is foolhardy to leave any further planning and execution to this President, whose lack of competence and candor in dealing with dark truths seems boundless. Allowing the decision to be manipulated behind the scenes by Vice President Cheney and his neocon minions who championed but are still in denial about their fiasco would require an act of collective, national insanity.
To avoid extreme cognitive dissonance, it will be tempting to do the next least upsetting thing and decide not to decide. Congress seems likely to enact some deceptive proposal that adopts the rhetoric of withdrawal but allows the President to continue doing what we’re doing now with as many troops as we can sustain, because we can’t face the consequences of doing anything different. In the meantime, the Republicans and their neocon allies will continue to delude themselves into hoping the American people will not figure out or remember who got them into this awful dilemma, and Democrats will bet that no one can see through the sham.
I fear we will stay in Iraq, not because it makes any sense, not because there is even a remote connection between staying and the furtherance of any justifiable US strategic objective in that region, and certainly not because it helps deal with radical terrorism when it so plainly exacerbates it. No, we will stay because to do otherwise would require our leaders and the media to acknowledge their collective responsibility for the suffering we have unleashed on the Iraqis and our own soldiers. Has any nation ever managed in its own time such painful self recognition?
Staying the course, even under the dishonest guise that it represents a “consensus” rather than a moral quagmire is not a defensible policy. Rather, it is an implicit punishment imposed on the hundreds or perhaps thousands of US soldiers who will yet die or be maimed to atone for the errors of everyone who first authorized or still promotes and sanctions this war. But there is no prospect that George Bush or his Libby-loving supporters in Congress will agonize one minute over this, let alone insist he use his authority to commute the infinitely excessive sentences inflicted on our soldiers, who did no more than obey their Commander in Chief. And it will all be sold as “supporting the troops.”
Photo credit: Larry Downing/Reuters: Bush at press conference