Alright, the war. I've been past the ever-present urge to stick a gun in my mouth for a while now, and until fairly recently I've been in a phase where I just take my goddamn pills and more or less try to ignore the larger world. Now I'm just pissed off.
Things I'm not going to address: 1. Myself. 2. The ridiculous, shit-for-brains arguments that have surrounded this issue (blood for oil, nuke 'em all, 911 conspiracies, presidential daddy issues, etc.). 3. Afghanistan, as in hindsight most everyone agrees on this one, some forgetting their prior drivel about a central Asian pipeline.
Premise 1: Governments rightfully exist for the protection of their citizens, both of their innate rights and of their physical safety.
Premise 2: Militaries are instruments of force.
Conclusion: The proper use of the military instrument is to employ force in pursuit of the rights and safety of citizens.
What's wrong with the war in Iraq:
Fundamentally, our error in Iraq is a failure from the beginning to properly employ the military instrument. Having made the decision to employ force, half-measures are a recipe for disaster. Failure to lean on Turkey as successfully as we did on Pakistan resulted in a massive reduction in the force brought to bear on Iraq during the invasion. Failure to see the long road ahead (mission accomplished, greeted as liberators, etc) led to an 'end to major hostilities' far too quickly and before the military instrument had been brought fully to bear throughout much of the country. Failure to stomach what had to be done in Fallujah for nearly a year created far more bloodshed than the eventual solution. The list goes on.
Underlying this failure is an unwillingness to face certain realities. Primary among these, is that force is the opposite of freedom. In fact, it's the opposite of reason, reason and force both being means. My meaning here is that the use of force is by definition a removal of the freedom of the recipient of that force. You can, contrary to the popular argument, "impose democracy at the end of a gun" (see Germany, Japan), but you cannot execute a military action (force) while at the same time extending freedom to the target of that action.
We have in this administration all the idealism of the Kennedy years tempered by none of the realism of Truman or Reagan, the latter of which combined realism and idealism fairly well, in my opinion. In their rush to create a democracy in the 'heart of the Middle East', they have hobbled our ability to win the war that still rages. Iraq now has a president who is literally three degrees of separation from Iran, which is one of the two great enemies of the U.S. and with which we are now engaging in a proxy war in Iraq. Sadr, without whom Talabani would not be in power, is Ahmadinejad's chief lieutenant in Iraq. We've just been ordered out of Sadr City in Baghdad by this puppet of a president--and complied!
We occupied and ran Japan for seven years. Their new constitution, imposed by us, went into effect two full years after the war's end. In it, we stripped the Emperor of all practical power, instituted three coequal branches of government, demilitarized the country, and enshrined human rights and nondiscrimination. This in a country with a very distinct, non western culture where people literally worshiped the Emperor as a god. Iraq is not Japan, of course, not the least because it is three separate non western cultures in conflict with one another, but this argues all the more for an approach more similar to Japan, 1945. Instead, we have a constitution a year after the conflict began created by a committee including the enemy! It enshrines Islam while paying lip service to freedom and human rights. While the conflict drags on, we kowtow to a government with which we're half-way at war, because we're apparently no longer made of the stern stuff that enabled our grandfathers to create thriving, economically powerful republics out of the dust of dictatorship.
Thoughts on common arguments:
They weren't there. Major failure of the world intelligence community, not an invention of Bush's addled brain. The administration's failure was in relying on this rational almost exclusively, even though it certainly wasn't the only reason for the war. We've been at war with Iraq since 1991. They never complied with the ceasefire agreement, attempted to assassinate two presidents, and were a rogue state in the center of an volatile region. A dictator has no more right to rule than a mugger has to mug, and anyone with a purpose other than to become the new dictator has a moral right (though not an imperative) to off the sonofabitch.
Saddam was bad / There are a lot of other baddies:
Both sides of this discussion are, of course, technically true. The administration flipped to this argument when the WMD branding evaporated. Everything they say in support of this argument is absolutely true. Saddam and his regime were unspeakably, undeniably evil, but that was not the only, or even the chief reason for going to war, which leaves them open for the standard response: Sudan, Zimbabwe, Cuba, China, North Korea, and others all have bad regimes doing bad things to their people, but we're not invading them. I doubt most who raise this argument actually favor intervention in any of these places, but that doesn't excuse the administration's sloppy and perhaps disingenuous argumentation. The real and justifiable reason we went to war with Iraq is that they were a threat to us and our allies. Reasonable arguments can be had about the severity the threat Iraq posed and how this compared to various other threats, but not the existence of the threat. The reality employers of the second argument should admit is that to actually intervene in a situation, we must have a reasonable chance of success when compared with the risks. Clearly we're not succeeding in Iraq, but few would argue that our probability of success vs. risk is better in Iran or North Korea. I would also argue based on the above premises that humanitarianism alone is not an imperative for use of the military instrument, which puts me at odds with both the administrations' argument an the instincts of many good folks on all sides of this issue.
He's a motherfucker, but he's not the only one, or even, any longer, a principal. The folks most likely to use the 'there are bad regimes all over' argument usually also seem unnaturally focused on this guy while others plan and execute terrorism in planes, trains, and automobiles the world over--not to mention buses, restaurants, subways, and nightclubs.
Pull out now:
This is almost in the 'not to be addressed category', but I think it's a position arrived at honestly, though emotionally by a lot of people. The instinct is understandable, and one I share, "things are fucked up, let's get the hell out." The reality is, however, that a pullout would create a situation much more threatening to the U.S. and our interests than Saddam's regime before the invasion.
Stay the course:
The course is wrong! Fiddle or dance, shit or get off the pot, and so forth, already! This is pure political branding and it's as just as despicable as the opposition politicians' spurious 'bring the boys home' positioning. What we need is to win, to succeed. This recent bullshit about changing tactics is just that, bullshit. Of course we change combat tactics, what we need is to change strategy, to commit to victory even (or especially) if it means abandoning our altruistic fantasies.
I don't have all the answers. There are a lot of hard and undesirable choices that need to be made, and I'm not sure what the right course is in every instance. My point is, I have a family to feed and it's ultimately out of my control--these are not my choices to make. What pisses me off is that the people we entrust to make the difficult choices that will affect all of us for decades aren't having an honest and open debate with the good of the country at heart about what we should actually do. Washington is full of Neros fiddling via soundbite while Baghdad burns.