Changing course in Iraq
by Frank Kaufmann
December 19, 2006
The Bush campaign in Iraq was defeated on November 7, 2006. At the end of the day 17% per cent of Americans stand with the president in pursuit of an imaginary "victory in Iraq" (see whitehouse.gov). On November 7, 2006 Republicans garnered not one Senate, House or gubernatorial seat from Democrats. Not even one, suffering massive, nationwide losses despite the fact that Republicans broke all of their fund raising and voter contact records this year. Analyses of these election results range in imagination and defensiveness, but the obvious problem Republicans faced was being registered in the same political party as Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz, and William Kristol.
Odd things happened during and since the election. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was fired on November 8 (I don't think anyone has been able to make sense of that), the 10 wise (and bipartisan) men (and lady) descended from on high with the Iraq Study Group, ... er ... uh, I mean the Hamilton-Baker report. Iraq president Talibani beat president Bush to rejecting it, while Iran nosed in at 3rd accepting it. Newsweek's poll has 68% of Americans in agreement at least with the the report's now best known line: "The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating."
The need for a course change in Iraq is obvious, but the president depressingly seems to have re-emerged with old rhetoric ("we'll succeed unless we quit"), a new Iraq review group of his own, and Rumsfeld still whispers from the shadows. The odd optimism on which politicians and their chroniclers forever sup now directs a dreamy gaze at a next friend of Dad, Robert Gates, who if anyone was listening said point blank, "There are no new ideas on Iraq." The partisan character of American political society (including the 4th estate) has burdened us all with maddening and scurrilous semantic folly, - 50 ways to not say "stay the course," (stay on the bus Gus, keep he same plan Stan), nor "civil war" ... er ... uh I mean sectarian strife.
The only hope for genuine progress away from the Iraq debacle requires reflection at two points so far not addressed by major figures in political and media industrial complex. The search for a course change has not been conducted at deep enough levels. Two things must change before we will see better analysis and sound new policy direction. We must be willing to examine at the most basic and foundational levels the following:
1. The thinking that allowed invading Iraq to seem reasonable to some.
And related to that,
2. Our present goals in Iraq
What made invading Iraq seem reasonable to some?
In short it is the obsolete and antediluvian notion that one can, in this day and age "defeat an enemy" militarily.
There are countless ways to come to the conclusion that sanity and good old fashioned military campaigns parted ways quite some time ago. Spiritual people know that political, social, economic instruments designed for the systematic and substantial dissolution of resentment, and the resulting curative of reconciliation is the only path to lasting peace and genuine freedom. But thankfully even military-minded people (who somehow retain operative categories that include things like "defeating" other human beings) have equal access to the fact that an army cannot "defeat" a global network of ideologically driven opponents who do not value their own lives nor those of civilians. By the grace of God both the tree-hugger and the weapons procurement specialist can easily come to the same conclusion that should be obvious to all. Sending in an army to "defeat enemies" in the 21st century is like rubbing two wet sticks together to bring the dawn.
What do we want now?
The second area that must be reformed fundamentally before we can have hope to move past our current tragedy in Iraq requires a deeper examination of our present response, our present goal.
Current rhetoric revolves around the question, "how soon can US troops withdraw from Iraq" without creating an unacceptable level of regional destabilization.
This is the wrong question and wrong set of goals. The current debate over increasing or decreasing troop strength in the short term occurs in this invalid context of seeking a way out of Iraq.
The real question should be "How can we bring about the good we meant for Iraq that in part contributed to our harebrained and calamitous decision to invade Iraq?"
All the reasons we erred as we did are still in place. We still should want a wonderful and bounteous life for all Iraqis and all people in the region. Americans properly are not on anybody's side in particular, that's the whole original point of America.
For this reason, the only cure or repair for the horrible missteps and imbroglio over which we now stew as a nation, is NOT how to we get out of Iraq, but how do we STAY IN IRAQ.
We know only too well that militarily is surely NOT the way to stay in Iraq. Hopefully we know or will soon know soon that the freedoms we enjoy in an American and Western style way must surely be possible in other cultural types of ways as well. And we should know that the blessedness of America must carry some obligations as a nation and a people to help create opportunity for others far and wide.
Just how to stay in Iraq is the right starting point and starting question to find the path America and the whole world is looking for in these days. As soon as we embrace a positive response and a truly American purpose at the ground of reflecting on our current difficulties, answers and visionary policy will begin to flow.Frank Kaufmann is the executive director of the Inter Religious Federation for World Peace. The opinions here are his own.
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