Monday, March 19, 2007

Narcissistic and National, Bonobo Buckles

There are thousands of bloggers that give their opinion on national political issues. Because of this, I've always felt that there are going to be many other opinions that are more informed and at least as well reasoned as any I may have, and that distracting my readers with mine was a waste of their time. Furthermore, beginning with 1994, and intensifying in 2000, the Republican Party has spoken with a remarkably unified partisan voice on most national policy issues. Because of this, there was no point in doing or saying anything that might contradict a Democratic politician, because without control of at least one part of one branch of government, the questions were moot, and disagreement among Democrats led to Republican electoral victories. Finally, I wanted Blue Bexley to be a blog with a specialization, the go-to place for Bexley and the districts within which it sits. National and Statewide politics dilutes that focus.

More and more, however, local politics are playing a backseat to bigger changes that have come from a Democratic takeover of the Executive Branch in Columbus and the Legislative Branch in D.C., and both of these major changes are increasingly intertwined with the unnaturally early race for the Whitehouse in '08. I'm finding it difficult to remain selectively neutral. I've been afforded the opportunity to discuss Statewide Issues at Buckeye State Blog, for which I'm proud and grateful. As far as national issues go, I figure that it's only fair to put my background opinions out there, so that anyone can adjust for my biases. So I'll start with the biggie:


Where I Stand --

Let's go back 4 years and some odd months. I sent out a letter to a listserv asking for comments, and the gist of the letter was this: Is it possible to enforce sanctions and keep inspectors on the ground without explicitly keeping the threat of force on the table? If Saddam does in fact have WMD, and has kept them by ignoring U.N. sanctions and thwarting U.N. enforcement, will the U.N. ever again be a viable entity for representing international will?

Now, one could make the argument, and do so convincingly, that ending up at the point where we were issuing an ultimatum of 'immediate unimpeded inspections or we go Shock and Awe on your ass' represented a stark failure of diplomacy, where we had painted ourselves into as much of a corner as we had forced Saddam into. Be that as it may, if I had been in Congress at the time, I would have voted to *authorize* force. That authorization was necessary at that point if one wanted to achieve the aim of thorough inspections and thorough compliance with U.N. resolutions. Remove the possibility of force and the inspectors would get kicked out again.

Of course, what followed was a betrayal of Congress, the American people, the United Nations, and everyone for whom the U.S. represented a moral beacon. Inspectors were on the ground. They had access to the exact sites that intelligence suggested might house WMDs. They were doing their job, and were confirming that, for whatever the rest of his serious flaws, Saddam had apparently complied with the letter of the resolutions requiring him to rid Iraq of WMDs and to shut down programs designed to create new ones. Our president then told the inspectors on the ground to leave Iraq, and commenced bombing. The worst of all possible outcomes had occurred. Instead of showing the world that you must comply with international consensus on issues such as WMD, or the international community will be forced to protect itself, what we did was show the world that you comply with U.N. sanctions at your own peril, as even if you unilaterally disarm, the United States will attack you anyway. There is nothing to be gained by complying, and you leave yourself defenseless to boot.

The United States had committed an unprovoked, immoral attack that significantly damaged 50 years of post-war efforts to create international oversight and cooperation. And by the U.S., I do not mean the Congress, Republican and Democratic, that gave the president the authorization to do so, but the President who abused our trust by acting in such an irresponsible and reprehensible matter.

The Troops.
We have an all-volunteer army. Implicit in the bargain when you sign on is that you might be sent to war, shredded by shrapnel, linger on in a hellish state for days or weeks, and then die. If you're not good with that, you shouldn't have joined. If you are good with that, then you certainly have my respect. I don't, however, think that being sent to Iraq makes you braver than being sent to Hackensack. And quite honestly, if you are injured or killed in the line of duty, well, that's an occupational hazard.

On the other hand, we have seen more than 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians die as a result of our invasion. Many of the innocent deaths can be attributed to people who are not fighting on our behalf, but tens of thousands are our direct responsibility. Dying in a war is not an occupational hazard typically associated with being a farmer, a nurse, or an elementary school student. Those are the dead that I truly care about. Those are the deaths that leave black stains on our souls, not the soldiers and marines who die in the line of duty.

Of course, I spoke of a bargain. Anyone offering their life in service to their country has an absolute and universal right to expect that the sacrifices they make will be in service to the Flag, and for the Republic for Which it Stands. This is a matter of trust, and for our military to be effective, that trust has to be absolute. I do not expect active duty military to question the rightness of Operation Iraqi Freedom. That is not their job, and is at best dangerous to their own survival. As I said, they need to maintain absolute trust. We, as the American people, need to hold the Commander-in-Chief accountable for betraying that trust. Let me be absolutely clear on this - the troops who have died, the troops who have suffered unimaginably painful and debilitating injuries, did not do so for a mistake or for an immoral purpose. They did so honoring their pledge to protect America, they did it for a principle on which all of us rely.

And if my respect means that I have little sympathy for the casualties these men and women have suffered, I do harbor some incredible anger on their behalf. There is a bargain, at times implicit, at many other times explicit. We will not put them in harm's way when it is not necessary for the defense of the United States and our allies, they will be provided with the best possible support, in terms of personnel, intelligence, hardware, and health, we will not unduly damage their civilian lives in pursuit of military objectives, and we will take care of their needs in transitioning to civilian life when their service is done, by assisting in their medical care, education, employment, and housing.

Needless to say, we have fallen short on every single one of these promises. By we, I mainly mean the Executive Branch of the Federal Government, but I also mean We The People, who knew that this betrayal had been ongoing for years and still re-elected the Commander-In-Chief. If you seek a scapegoat, look about you.

So what now?
A war we shouldn't have started has turned into one we can't seem to finish. Lots of folks want to point fingers and demand a plan from someone else. Many others want to get the hell out, and others want to keep plugging away until we are victorious. Me? I think there's some catching up and consensus to achieve before we can do anything that might be productive.

1) Stop Blaming Congress for the AUMF. There's plenty to fault them for in the months prior to and following that vote, but as much as it pains me to say it, I think I've got HRC's back on this one to a certain extent.

2) Admit that using force in the manner we did was not only morally wrong, but strategically wrong and tactically wrong. Hold the administration accountable. Hold the supporters of the administration who did not begin to acknowledge this, at least as of the release of Duelfer Report, accountable as well.

3) Realize that we won the war. For everyone concerned about "admitting defeat," remember our stated objectives were regime change and the removal of WMDs. Saddam is dead and there are no WMDs. We have struggled with the somewhat cliched and even more ironic "Winning of the Peace," but in terms of our military objectives, those were actually done even before W did his little U.S.S. Lincoln showboating.

4) Realize that we should never have gone to war, that having gone to war we achieved our stated objectives but caused an even greater amount of unintended damage to our country, their country, the region, as well as to the international community in general, and that our current obligations are to get our military out and to do so with as little harm to innocent Iraqis as possible.

5) Start over. Mentally treat this as a civil war that we intervened in, rather than as the dynamic continuation of a war we started. Put options such as the Baker commission recommendations, phased redeployment, and partition on the table. Take permanent bases off of the table. Get a meaningful pulse of who in Iraq wants us to stay, who wants us to leave, and show that some respect.

6) Remember that our objectives our getting our troops out, and doing so with as little harm to the Iraqi public as possible. What if such a solution were to damage relationships with Turkey? With Saudi Arabia? With Israel? What if a stable Iraqi government is not a U.S. ally? What if regional power shifts even further to the Iranians?

Deal with it. Those are separate problems. There's no need to cause new problems recklessly, and ignoring future consequences is what got us into this mess, but there are some bridges that we'll just have to cross down the road.

So anyway, that's me on Iraq.