Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Out The Window

We had it won, and Obama threw it away. So say the sayers of sooth, all of whom got everything wrong at the beginning, and whose wrongness seems to qualify them as the most sought-after guests on what passes for news shows in the US. And so do all the followers of Foxolimbeckian prevarications. Ignoring, per usual, the facts: the withdrawal date was established by George Bush. When President Obama proposed a residual force, altering that agreement, the Iraqi parliament refused.

In thinking about this -- which I do a lot -- something occurs to me, and I assume it occurred to our president as well. There was only a very small window in time through which to extricate our troops from that ten-year debacle of frustration and death, and he chose it. It was a time that had been established by mutual agreement, before he took office. There was a sort-of government in place, elected sort-of democratically. There was a level of stability exceeding that since the invasion. The American people were for it. The Iraqi government was for it. Even John McCain, who never met a country he didn't want to invade, called it a great victory, giving all credit to George Bush, who belongs on the list of war strategists that includes André Maginot. It was then, or never. Never, ever.

We know Barack Obama was aware that Iraq was a powder keg from the day we chose to invade it. In a massive understatement, he'd called it a "dumb" war, choosing not to include "ill-advised, poorly planned, based on misinformation at best and lies in all likelihood; a war the reasons for which changed like the shamals; ignorant of the realities of that region... etc, etc, ad infinite nauseum." Had we left troops behind, they'd have been exposed (unlike Japan, Korea, Germany) to constant attacks from all sides, hated by all sides as occupiers and infidels; and eventually we'd have been faced with the choice of pulling out under fire or reintroducing another few hundred thousand soldiers, starting all over again with no reason to expect different results.

Barack Obama picked the one time that might have avoided constant war, forever. It was a brave decision, if for no other reason than he knew as well as he knew his country of birth that he'd be branded a quitter, or worse, a traitor, by the right-wing screamers of our airwaves. It was a gamble against great odds. George Bush had cast the die, made success nearly impossible, first by making the worst decision any president has made (other than, perhaps, choosing to go to a particular theater one particular night), and then by refusing to heed expert advice about troop levels and the requirements for managing the aftermath. 

Iraq is a pretend country, tossed together by the British a hundred years ago, inexplicably made to encompass factions at war with each other since mankind rode dinosaurs. It was only under a ruthless dictator that "stability" was maintained. Had we kept troops there, as the people who got everything wrong at the time are saying now, they'd have been there forever, trying to maintain order where none is possible. There was one moment, and one only, in which removing our troops made some sort of sense, while claiming some kind of victory by some kind of definition. In which we could leave and not be seen to do so on the run. In which there was a whisper of hope that, after the immeasurable sacrifice of troops and treasure, breaking our economy, weakening our military, the Iraqis could manage their affairs, find peace among themselves. 

Now it looks like it won't work out well. But after ten years of pointless war at a cost of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, a war which gave Osama bin Laden more than he could have ever hoped for in his not-cave in Pakistan, our president gave it a try, when the most favorable of unfavorable conditions had come together. I admire him for it. Those that hate him more than they love our country, don't.

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