Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Column 76 - Iraq

Wars do strange things to presidents – they often become insular, defensive, and paranoid about dissent. This phenomenon is not limited to presidents of either party or to the current president. We saw it, for example, with both LBJ and Nixon during the Vietnam era.

This President, and his advisors seem to have a view of the war that fewer and fewer people share with them. This has been true to some extent for most of the three years since we invaded Iraq. The President has his own set of facts that often do not coincide with what is observable to others, starting with WMD’s and yellowcake from Niger, and now including “victory” and “civil war.”

Mr. Bush said this week that we will stay in Iraq until we achieve victory, and clearly expects this involvement to extend well beyond his administration, but he has yet to define what he has in mind by “winning.” If the goal was to bring democracy to Iraq, they have a democratically elected government, and a recent poll of the Iraqi people found that 87% of them want us to leave. Democracy would seem to indicate that if we leave at the request of a government that represents the will of its people, we’ve won - Zbigniew Brzezinski has proposed just such a plan.

Former Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi stated unequivocally this week that Iraq is in a state of civil war, but the President denies it while admitting that there is a “significant insurgency.” This is mincing words at best, and when Donald Rumsfeld says that leaving now would be like turning post-war Germany back to the Nazis, it seems to indicate that (a) there is a civil war and (b) we are propping up the weaker side, but the President denies that there is a civil war.

This week President Bush said “if I didn’t believe we would win, I would not send our young people over there,” and I believe he is sincere in that statement. What bothers me is that this President is willing to send our troops in harm’s way based on his private belief, a belief that is not shared by military strategists that are far more expert than he is.

The President’s justification for our long-term commitment in Iraq is based in his “War on Terrorism” which, as Brzezinski has pointed out, is a euphemism. War is “a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations,” but terrorism is not a nation or state, it is a strategy of killing people to alter the political process.

Notwithstanding this, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld continue to use this “war” as a justification for an unprecedented accretion of power to the Executive Branch, and when others object, they again redefine reality. For example, no serious Democrat has, to my knowledge, advocated eliminating the use of surveillance against suspected terrorists – they have objected to doing this illegally, particularly when fast, effective legal means exist. Yet the President in last week’s news conference said that if the Democrats are against using these weapons against terrorism, they should run on that platform, blithely ignoring the key factor, namely his breaking the law.

At the end of the day the issue is not whether we should be in Iraq. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis and an increasing majority of Americans say we should not. The issue is why we are there and how we will exit, and this president seems to think we should trust him on the first and to be content to leave the second to future presidents to work out.

Lastly I’d like to take a few things out of the conversation. I am unequivocal in my support for our armed forces. My opposition to the war does not in any way disrespect those who are, in line with their commitment in joining the armed forces, prosecuting it to the best of their ability. Second, I reject any imputation that dissenting from the administration’s policies or actions is in any way unpatriotic –I concur with Jefferson’s statement that “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.”

That I have to say all that, to me, speaks to the sorry state that political dialogue in this country has come to.

No comments: