Monday, July 16, 2007

Nobody Talks About the True Dilemma in Iraq

And the only people I fear
are those who never have doubts
Save us all from arrogant men,
and all the causes they're for
I won't be righteous again
I'm not that sure anymore
- Billy Joel, "Shades of Grey," from his 1993 album "River of Dreams"

President George W. Bush's world is very simple. There are good guys and bad guys. You're either wrong or you agree with him. And, you never change your mind, no matter how much evidence is presented to you. Taking reconsideration of your positions out of your daily routine must make life blissfully simple, and being happily ignorant must be quite peaceful. But, it's no way to run a country.

Republican senators, remembering the loss of Congress in the 2006 election over the Iraq issue and fearing another electoral drubbing in 2008, have started to slowly move from under Bush's coattails on the war. For example, a Yahoo!/AFP article from Saturday discussed how GOP Senators Richard Lugar of Indiana and John Warner of Virginia on Friday released a plan that called for the beginning of troop withdrawals from Iraq by the end of the year. Bush's response? Of course, he's not changing his policy, even at the behest of members of his own party, saying that there are two courses on Iraq: Either you believe U.S. forces will fail there, or you believe America can still succeed.

Again, everything is simple to Bush. You're a winner or you're a loser, period.

The problem with the Iraq debate is that nobody, not the Democrats nor the Republicans, have moved off that basic bipolar approach to the situation. As with most things in life, the issue is much more complicated than Bush would have you believe. Remember, this is the man who couldn't predict that the three hostile groups in Iraq -- Shias, Sunnis and Kurds -- would be at odds with each other once they were released from Saddam Hussein's iron fist. (There is no shortage of people who wonder if Bush even knew there were three kinds of followers of Islam when he made the decision to invade Iraq.)

I would love to hear a politician, from either party, realistically look at where we are in Iraq and then make an argument of what we should do next, rather than repeating the same "should we stay or should we go?" arguments that have come out over the last few months.

Maybe we could come up with an effective Iraq strategy if a bipartisan group of moderate Republicans and Democrats chose to frame the issue this way: "The United States is caught in an ethical dilemma. The President skewed intelligence to drag the country into a war that was wrong, and he executed the operation with a total lack of planning for what would happen once Hussein fell, so America is clearly responsible for what is happening in Iraq. But, no matter what cause of action we take now that the mess has been made, we risk acting immorally and in a way that will cause repercussions for the nation down the road. On the one hand, every day that we remain in Iraq, we are perpetuating our mistake by staying in the country and putting the precious lives of U.S. soldiers at risk for no good end. Plus, the Iraqi political leaders, despite having a U.S. military presence for more than four years, have done nothing to solve the underlying issues that will have to be addressed before there can be peace. But, on the other hand, despite the initial invasion being a mistake, the fact is that we're there, and there are people fighting each other because of us, and it is up to us to stay there as long as possible to give the Iraqi people a chance to settle their differences and to avoid the possibility of genocide or a full-on civil war with millions of casualties."

Such a positing of the issue, to me, is the most honest and accurate way of assessing the situation, and lends itself to a more productive discussion of what the right ways forward are. In such an argument, it would be hard for one side not to respect the position of its opponent. You can reasonably make either argument.

Instead, Bush acts as if the Iraqi invasion was not a mistake, as if we are not bogged down in the middle of a tragic (more than 3,000 dead U.S. military personnel) and costly (as I wrote on July 10, a Yahoo!/AP article put the cost of the Iraq war at half-a-trillion dollars this year) civil war, and as if he has not played right into Osama bin-Laden's arms and acted as the top recruiter for Al-Qeda. Bush keeps moving forward, ignoring the reality of how his policy has failed, and how his actions are viewed in his own country, Iraq, and the rest of the world.

Instead of strongly rising up to move the debate to a place where the premise is that Bush has presided over one of the biggest foreign policy catastrophes in the country's history, the Democrats have been tepid, caving on the funding legislation when Bush held firm against them earlier in the year, and never really recovering enough to provide a strong counter to the White House's policy of "stay the course ... further into hell." It will not be lost on voters, I fear, that no real pressure was put on Bush until Republican senators started breaking ranks in the last few weeks.

The current debate on Iraq has to change. We need a new voice. We need to accurately assess what has happened the last five years, and how we now find ourselves in a virtually no-win situation in Iraq. The total fabrications of the administration, all perpetuated in the service of political posturing and the pursuit of now-discredited ideologies, have to be dismissed. Without knowing where we really are, any discussion of what we should do next lacks a basis in fact and is doomed to fail.

I am a proponent of the "it's time to go" approach to Iraq, but even I could not be too upset if someone made the argument we had to stay, so long as that person acknowledged the disaster of what has gone on up to now. But, there is no excuse for Bush's head-in-the-sand, full-steam-ahead policy.

Bush is the ultimate "arrogant man" Billy Joel wrote about in "Shades of Grey." But while our president may like his world black and white, the world, in real life, is far more grey. He should not be allowed to continue on a course of failure for one day longer. Each day that he does, the situation in Iraq gets that much worse. Bush may not seem to notice or care, but the rest of us certainly do. It's time for us (and the members of Congress of both parties) to show it.