Fool me once, shame on, shame on you, eh, fool me, uh--can't get fooled again.
--George W. Bush
The newest trend in conventional wisdom regarding Iraq, going as unexamined by the major media as every previous stage of denial masquerading as incontrovertible fact regarding this war, reads something like this: Iraq is certain to descend into greater chaos and potential genocide, become a terrorist haven, spark a regional war, and elevate Iran to a position of dominance in the Middle East if we leave now. This cannot be allowed to happen.
Forget that the case has by no means been made that this worst-case scenario will come to pass. That is irrelevant. The question is now, as it was before the war, of whether or not we have the right; the right to escalate the war in Iraq against the wishes of its people and government, or the right to expand the war by attacking Iran.
When the fabrications that were the flimsy justification for the invasion of Iraq were made plain to all by the stunning lack of WMD ( vindicating the assertions of the IAEA), and by the copious documentation of Dick Cheney’s manipulation of the intelligence reporting process until the CIA coughed up the disgrace that is the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, the nation faced a crisis. The war was revealed as unwarranted and unjustified.
Had we been paying attention to all the lofty talk about how the consent of the governed validate its leadership in a democracy being offered as the basis for supplanting Middle East dictatorships with democracies, indeed, if the neocon's who offer these arguments actually took them seriously, we, and they, would be forced to acknowledge that a democratic people therefore have a responsibility for the leaders they elect and the actions those leaders take. This one's on us, always was.
But when the veil fell from the Administration's connivance, we chose to avert our eyes. The other, ancillary justifications offered for deposing Saddam were all furtively moved up a spot. Like the disgraced subject of a Soviet show trial, the WMD/terrorist threat was erased from the offical history. It was never primarily about WMD became the line (and besides, everyone thought he had them, straight-faced). Such a blatant lie requires the complicity of its intended audience.
Why did we play along?
Holding our leaders accountable would have entailed acknowledging the thing for what it was: a national disgrace and a crime. Because there’s no entity more powerful than the United States, there is no one to hold its leadership accountable other than the sovereign American people.
When we took a pass we disgraced ourselves and damaged our republic in ways we won’t know for years to come.
By refusing to accept the consequences inherent in holding the White House accountable for the crime it committed against Iraq, not to mention against the American people, we leapt from a moral precipice. We were the world’s last line of defense against a criminal gang that had gained control of the most awesome military power the world has ever seen, and we deserted our post. The crisis passed with nary a whimper of protest from the vast majority of the public and the major media because at the moment the war had not yet revealed itself as the military and strategic failure that it is. Murderous aggression we can abide; losing, on the other hand, not so much. We should hang our heads in shame.
Now the vice president and his minions at Fox News, those in his ever loyal right-wing radio regiment, and of course the risibly oblivious-to-the-death (of others) war bloggers, have declared it is incumbent upon those who advocate a withdrawal to lay out what they would do to prevent the complete catastrophe that the vice president's actions now make inevitable. They can't see the absurdity of their argument for the audacity of their words.
I suppose it's too much asking that this at least be accompanied by the acknowledgment that this greater cataclysm would be a direct result of the war, and therefore those who lied repeatedly to provoke the war before executing it with fatal negligence should be held responsible. That this isn't the starting point of any debate on the now exigent question, what to do now, demonstrates how perverted public debate has become by party politics and our curious and durable pathology of triumphalism.
Our inability to acknowledge that we can do wrong as a nation now protects those who do wrong to the nation.
That this perversion of debate is allowed reveals a deeper, more fundamental crisis that goes beyond politics to the very condition of modern American society. We have to ask why we are letting them get away with it.
Dick Cheney makes an argument that is a direct condemnation of his actions, yet he makes it confident of its effectiveness. He's right, too; the ruse is working. Worse, this rhetorical assault is deployed not merely to, remarkably, put off the responsibility it implies, but to further his designs for the next strategic blunder, war with Iran.
It's as if the sheer surrealism of its amorality and audacity render us incapable of recognizing the logical madness of it. Some say Dick Cheney should be in jail; no, like a deranged serial killer, he should be confined for the purposes of psychological study for the rest of his distinctly unnatural existence. This man is not evil, he is a marvel.
Apparently yes, accountability is too much to ask for, because too few near power are asking. Aside from their own complicity in the fiasco, the Democratic leadership remains more committed to attaining power than justice on behalf of a nation disgraced and betrayed, and are therefore content to pass non-binding resolutions against the "surge" and watch the Administration twist in the wind while what's left of its supporters fall one by one, like the soldiers and Marines who continue to be fed into the mill.
Make no mistake: for the next two years, and perhaps well beyond, many more American boys will be sacrificed not just for the purpose of Dick Cheney's delusional designs on the Middle East, but also for the Democrats' designs on the White House. But it goes beyond Iraq. Content to milk the catastrophe for maximum benefit, not unlike the Bush Administration's previous wringing of advantage from 9/11, the Democrats are now allowing the nation to drift sideways into an even greater mistake, an attack upon Iran.
Perhaps we can at least put the question back to the vice president, just once: the responsibility is on those who support the surge and an open ended commitment to the war to make the argument as to why ending this mistake is itself a greater mistake. Because if one was to rely on the evening news he wouldn't know that, like the case for Iranian arming of militias, the case that withdrawal will be catastrophic has not been made.
This bears repeating: there is no consensus that Iran is actively involved in arming the Shi'ite militias. Britain, having had responsibility for much of the southern, Shi'ite region of Iraq and its border with Iran, is not convinced. Furthermore, the idea that Iran is arming their enemies among those who directly target American forces, the Ba'athist/nationalist insurgency and al Qaeda,remains highly unlikely.
We can be certain that Iran is positioning itself for our departure and greater influence in Iraq precisely because this is in its national security interests. It is in fact such a predictable outcome of deposing Saddam that it's very difficult to believe that it was unexpected, even by this chronically inept Administration. Of course, they had sugar-plum visions of rose petals and parades, a quick end to combat and on to the next victim-er, liberation. Who do you suppose that would have been?
President Bush's hypocrisy in toying with an alliance with Iran's closest ally in Iraq, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, whose own militia, the Badr Brigade, has been every bit as brutal as al-Sadr's gang, while at the same time declaring Iran's interest in Iraq sinister should be all the evidence you need that he is, once again, leading the nation to war on false pretenses.
Al-Hakim's favor in our eyes, by the way, may stem from his willingness to allow permanent military bases and more generous terms regarding the development of Iraq's great untapped oil fields. One more thing you'll never learn from the evening news is that one of the primary concerns of Iraqis and their neighbors is the likelihood of a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq. Many have called on president Bush to allay these fears by promising not to seek such a presence. He has not been forthcoming.
Lost still is the principle involved; we still make no effort to discern, much less respect, the wishes of the Iraqi people or their government. Those much bally-hooed elections that Cheney et al seem to think warranted the deaths of thousands and the irrevocable loss of American prestige, not to mention the possible extension of the terrorist threat into the next generation, have in fact given Iraq a democratically elected government that we continue to restrain from actually governing and whose sovereignty we refuse to recognize. Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki begged the U.S. today to refrain from making Iraq the battleground for its war with Iran.
His plea also points out the arrogance of one of the tertiary rationalizations for the war offered after the WMD ruse was exposed: that a major goal was to make Iraq “an ally in the war on terror.” Imagine, we crushed this nation to compel it to act as our proxy in war. Check out the balls on us.
We must finally accept the principle of war only as a last resort. This includes Iran which, despite the absurd comparisons to Nazi Germany, hasn't invaded any of its neighboring nations, and hasn't shown a particular ability or willingness to do so, President Ahmadinejad's demagoguery notwithstanding.
For us to paint Iran's involvement in Iraq as aggression, after having declared "regime change" our official policy toward Iran, after having declared it a member of the "axis of evil", after engaging in covert actions on its territory--in short, after having declared a state of war with that nation and quite possibly having engaged in acts of war against it--goes beyond arrogance into madness.
Of course Iran is positioning itself to influence Iraq; of course it is inserting itself into Iraqi politics and society. The fact is Iran would be derelict if they did not. Our arrogance, again, blinds us. Of the many brutal actions of Saddam Hussein, perhaps the most brutal was his war on Iran, encouraged and assisted by us. Iran, not the U.S., is threatened by a belligerent or chaotic Iraq and always has been, and there's no need to fix intelligence to make that argument.
The fact is Iranian activity in Iraq is just the sort of result of toppling Hussein that should have been accounted for--and probably was. Iranian involvement in Iraq was provoked by our, yes, illegal invasion of Iraq. Everything set in motion by that crime must be laid at the feet of those who committed it, not used as justification for the continuation or expansion of what, as the man said, is worse than a crime, a mistake. Nor should it be cause for more and greater mistakes. Enough.
Citing Iranian involvement in Iraq now as a casus belli is little different than declaring the resistance in Iraq as the reason for the continuing occupation; it is a twisted circular reasoning, citing the effects of an action as its cause.
Let's not let them get away with it again.