Sunday, September 5, 2010

Operation Iraqi Freedom

When the war in Iraq began, the lines for and against it were drawn rather hastily, and as it dragged on, as all modern wars do, it has become a diverting pastime to watch as the people on both sides stood on their own necks to hold their positions. Seven years ago, it seemed to many people of various political persuasions that the high ground in the debate was in favor of the war, and not at all because of the mysterious WMDs that fooled - or appeared to fool - alot of people. Cheney and Rumsfeld clearly had designs on Iraq whether there were WMDs or not. They knew damned well there were none, but they also knew that by the time this became public knowledge, it would be too late.

But people who would not ordinarily have spoken out about the war were coming forward to insist that America should assume an imperial role in world affairs. They often sounded like the Rudyard Kipling who wrote of America taking up "the white man's burden" in 1899 with its colonization of the Philippines. (1)

Most of those imperial power worshippers have softened their views, after the slaughter of somewhere between 150,000 and over a million (depending on whom you want to believe) civilians, 4,734 coalition troops (2), the disgraceful hanging of Saddam Hussein, and the expense of three-quarters of a trillion dollars. But most of them continue to argue that the result has left everyone (except the dead) better off.

But the reason for this preemptive war is still hard to take for many people, even if it had been a total success. "A preventive war," Orwell wrote in 1947, "is a crime not easily committed by a country that retains any traces of democracy." (3) Meanwhile Osama Bin Laden is still at large, and the Taliban are still in Afghanistan.

Thirty years ago, the Mujahideen, as they called themselves then (one of whom was Bin Laden), got the mighty Soviet army stuck in a war they couldn't win. When it became obvious to even the stupidest general, various exit strategies were concocted, ending in the final withdrawal in 1989. Afghanistan became the Soviet Union's Vietnam, and the Russian economy never recovered.

Once the U.S. announced its impending withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, attacks on troops and their civilian replacements are on the rise. The invariable interpretation of these attacks is that they are a direct response to our flagging commitment and our imminent departure. I believe this is true, but I don't believe it shows that the terrorists are very keen on our leaving. On the contrary, to me it appears that they are stepping up their attacks to persuade the U.S. that they should reconsider withdrawing its troops altogether.

Military leaders are always cautioning against "playing into the hands" of the terrorists when discussing an endgame to either war. But what does the enemy really want? Wouldn't they rather that American troops remain in Iraq and Afghanistan so that they can target them on Muslim soil? Isn't it in the interests of Al Qaeda to keep U.S. forces there for as long as possible, at a further expense of American lives and millions more American dollars? Aren't the generals themselves playing into the hands of our enemies by advocating a withdrawal only after absolute victory? (4)

(1) Kipling had three appalling weaknesses as a writer: his mysogyny ("A woman is a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke"), his racism ("new-caught, sullen peoples,/Half-devil and half-child") and imperialism ("Take up the White Man's burden!/Have done with childish days--/The lightly-proffered laurel,/The easy ungrudged praise:/Comes now, to search your manhood/Through all the thankless years,/Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,/The judgment of your peers.")
(2) As of this writing.
(3) Partisan Review, July-August 1947.
(4) "A phrase much used in political circles in this country is 'playing into the hands of.' It is a sort of charm or incantation to silence uncomfortable truths. When you are told that by saying this, that or the other you are 'playing into the hands of' some sinister enemy, you know that it is your duty to shut up immediately." Orwell, "As I Please", Tribune 2 June 1944.

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