President Bush is once again on the campaign trail trying to sell the American public on the war in Iraq. What I find disturbing about all this is that both Bush and his opposition seem to have completely missed the point. They’ve both defined the debate in a way the precludes any real thought. The President keeps reiterating “stay the course”. Those opposed to “staying the course” have reduced their comments to timetables for withdrawing from Iraq. In other words, we’re faced with a discussion that we either do it the President’s way or we hit the highway.
Neither of those alternatives is feasible. And neither of them really addresses the fundamental problem the American public has with the war. The unarticulated uneasiness we have with the war isn’t over the justice or injustice of it. It isn’t over whether or not Saddam had WMD. It isn’t even over whether or not Iraq is the frontline for terrorism. The uneasiness is over the perception of ongoing incompetence at the highest levels that has resulted in one misstep after another.
The President and his aides have recently begun calling terrorism/ militant Islam “the new fascism”. They’ve then described the war in Iraq as the equivalent of WWII. That analogy is not entirely correct. The current situation in Iraq is more akin to Europe AFTER WWII - during the period of the Marshall Plan. Except that the Marshall Plan era went smoother. While there can be no mistake that suicide bombings and sectarian violence were not de rigeur in post WWII Europe, the goals of the Marshall Plan were essentially the same. There was a recognition at the time that rebuilding the infrastructure of Europe was essential to avoiding a descent into chaos.
There might be cries that it is “unfair” to compare the societies of post WWII Europe with that of the current Middle East. Some might say that 1940’s Europeans didn’t have a penchant for roadside bombs or other forms of sabotage and that, as a result, success in Europe was easier to come by than it is now in Iraq. Such arguments, even if they are true, are irrelevant. It is the responsibility of those go to war to count the cost BEFOREHAND1. Those who do not are not worthy of continuing to hold positions that affect the lives of so many.
The debate today should not be a false choice between “staying the course” when that course runs into a ditch OR “cut and run”. Instead, the debate today should focus on how to fix the problems that exist. Neither major party is helping to achieve this goal. Both seem so focused on politics that neither is able to carry on a reasonable discussion of the real issues. We have a President who is barely able to admit that he’s ever made any mistakes and legislators in both the House and Senate who seem to think that the only alternative is to wash our hands and leave. AND we have a press corps that is so focused on sound bites that they reduce what should be an important national dialogue to political sniping.
Resolving the issues in Iraq requires a true understanding of the culture, geography, and environment of the country and region. It requires enough security to enable rebuilding the economic infrastructure. It requires jobs for Iraqis so that they have a stake in their future. And it will require 20 years worth of education in democratic free market capitalism before we can be relatively sure they won’t slip back into despotism.
The cost is going to be high. And it’s going to get higher if we don’t start addressing this in a realistic manner.
1) Luke 14:28-32