The Long and Winding Road

It seems like not a day goes by without a headline to the effect of “Bad Thing Happens in Iraq.” Soldiers killed or injured. Suicide bomber. Weapons cache found in graveyard, leaving occupying forces to either desecrate graves, or expect an attack. A mosque is blown up. Infrastructure at risk. Police cadets killed. Journalist killed. Political unrest. And Saddam himself has joined Osama Bin Laden as an Arabic Elvis, despite a large bounty on his head, and despite the fact that everyone was sure he was dead a month ago. According to the Washington Post, American Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez reports an average of 13 attacks on American and/or British forces each day for the last 6 weeks. In the face of this opposition which is not supposed to exist, the President of the United States says “Bring them on!” With this daring taunt, he places American military forces in harm’s way — men and women with families who miss them as they serve their country. Furthermore, he endangers the innocent Iraqis they were supposed to be helping.

This is to say nothing of the ongoing problems of destroyed infrastructure. Ordinary citizens have serious problems getting clean, safe food and water. Roads and electrical service are spotty. Inasmuch as “liberating” forces have taken out the Iraqi government, it is not unlike waking up and discovering that anything with “Federal” in the title was damaged or destroyed. In many cases, even local government is tenuous. Make no mistake, the Hussein regime was not a bunch of nice friendly guys dedicated to the betterment of its subjects. However, there is no evidence that liberating forces have improved the situation in the short run.

Even so, don’t say “the Q word” — quagmire — in front of Donald Rumsfeld. Like the former Iraqi Information Minister proclaiming that all is well and there are no approaching armies and a curse on whomever dares to say otherwise, Rumsfeld insists this is nothing to be alarmed about. Everything is coming along, things are getting better every day, give us some more time, and we’ll pack up and leave as soon as we can. This might be more convincing if we hadn’t heard the same thing about Afghanistan. The new administration, while philosophically a huge improvement over the Taliban regime, has yet to bring law, order, and government services much beyond metropolitan Kabul.

However questionable the reason American and British forces are involved in the first place, the current problems cannot be solved by packing up our tanks and going home. That tactic will breed a generation or two of anti-western militants who grew up in harsh conditions and crushing poverty. However, somebody needs to have a Plan with more depth than awarding some construction contracts and installing a governor. Not only does there need to be a Plan, it needs to be culturally sensitive to avoid faux-pas such as imposing western banking when Islamic law strictly speaking forbids both paying and receiving interest — why not give away ham and beer in the humanitarian aid packages, sheesh! Beyond this, the Plan has to have buy-in from the people we are supposedly there to help. Failure to cooperate with people there, who aren’t necessarily fond of us, will result in failure of the Plan. And failure of the Plan will mean having to go back and crush a dozen Osamas and Saddams in a decade or two.