Mr. Cheney: the waiting game in Iraq is already over

Vice President Cheney has suggested that those in Congress who seek to bring the American military adventure in Iraq to an end--at least he no longer calls them "Democrats", because more and more Republicans are leaving the sinking ship of the administration's foreign policy--are undercutting the war† effort. His logic is that if we establish a time limit, the enemy‡ will be able to "wait us out". The problem with this logic is that there was never any serious question about who will win a waiting game in Iraq.

The Iraqi people, including Saddam Hussein even before the invasion, understand very well how much is is costing America to maintain a military occupation so far from their home base, in a region where there is very little support from neighboring countries. How much does it cost for an IED or a suicide belt, compared to the cost of an attack helicopter, a nuclear aircraft carrier, or a stealth bomber?

An useful parallel can be drawn between the colonial insurgents during the American Revolution, compared to the British soldiers. Once the fighting began, the British, who in effect became military occupiers of what was formerly considered their own soil, could no longer count on getting food and other support domestically. They were separated from their home base by weeks of sea travel. Once the French navy made it impossible for English ships to come and go freely, the war was effectively over for the British. The American rabble starved and had a miserable time of it at Valley Forge and so on, but anyone who looked at the situation in the longer term understood that in the end, England simply couldn't win the waiting game.

In fact, there no longer is a question as to whether we can win a waiting game. The actions in Congress and in the public polls can't cause us to fail, because what they clearly indicate is that we have already lost. This "war" is already longer than the American portion of World War II. Even though the Iraq action is, from the American perspective, much smaller than WWII (probably it doesn't seem so small to the Iraqis), we are war-weary even though much of its dust has been swept under the mass media rug in this country, and by "dust", I mean the toll in terms of death, injuries, broken lives and families, not to mention the true cost in $$$. For the American people, most of them, the thrill is gone. This wasn't true in the adventure's first year, although I'll never understand why it wasn't, but it certainly is now.

As usual, it is easy to complain about a war, but harder to suggest an alternative (although see my post on this blog called Cheapskate philosophizer's Iraq withdrawal plan). I think that we must withdraw, because as I just said, almost all of the violence in Iraq stands on one shared leg: the occupation. Once our military leaves, that leg will be gone and much of the support for the violence will be gone with it. So leave we must. But we also have a moral obligation to the Iraqi people to repair the damage we have done to them and to their country, and these reparations can most usefully take the form of foreign aid, not in the form of bringing in Halliburton and its clones to make thousands of millions rebuilding what our bombs have destroyed, but as aid to the Iraqi people as directly as possible. Let the Iraqis themselves rebuild what we have destroyed, on our dime but according to their preferences and on their timetable.

Will there continue to be violence once we're gone, and will the violence spread throughout the region? There will be, as there has been for centuries, violence among religious factions in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. Did anyone really think that we could stop that by establishing the neocons' erstwhile "stable democracy"? Does it contribute to the magnitude of the failure of our invasion and occupation to admit that there will still be civil, interconfessional violence there? I think not.

Will the violence spread throughout the region? Well, perhaps it will, but hasn't been obvious for years that foreign involvement against America in Iraq has been largely motivated by a perversion of the Bush-Cheney mantra that we are fighting them in Iraq so we won't have to fight them at home? That is, if you are really angry at America and want to harm Americans, then even if you could never amass the time, materiel, and other resources required to mount any kind of attack against the American homeland, you can still hitchhike to Jordan and go across the border into Iraq, where you'll be given the means and the opportunity to make your attack. In other words, our occupation forces are a magnet and an accelerant for violence in the Iraq region. I believe that the odds of regional violence will decrease, not increase, once we leave.

There could be one important exception, but it is a self-limiting one, I think. If Iran, in cahoots with the present Shiite-dominated national government, attempts to annex militarily part of Iraq, then there could be regional violence, because Iraq's and Iran's other [Sunni] neighbors would not sit still and let that happen. The most straightforward way to prevent it would be to have negotiations in advance with the Iraqi government and those of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and so on, in order to establish limits and consequences. Neither America nor Isreal should be present, although I see nothing wrong in those nations working behind to scenes to make the meetings happen. And even without formal meetings of that sort, the balance of power is fairly well known there, and while Iran can be belligerent against American-occupied Iraq without serious regional repercussions, I don't think the same would be true once the Americans leave. There is a somewhat similar, but (I believe) less likely possible scenario with the Kurds and Turkey, who of course fear that a stable and largely independent Kurdish nation will destabilize their own Kurdish region. However, there are also natural counterweights to any major action by Turkey against Iraqi Kurdistan, including the potential intervention by neighboring countries. Furthermore, Turkey's own ambition to join the EU, which would seriously harmed by blatant militarizing against the Iraqi Kurds, reduces the likelihood of action by Turkey.

The bottom line has three parts: (1) Mr. Cheney, we have already lost the waiting game and never had a chance to win it in the first place. (2) We must make reparations to the Iraqi people after we withdraw our forces, and we should do it in a way that maximizes the role of Iraqis in the rebuilding process. (3) Violence, and the threat of future violence, will go down only once our military forces leave Iraq.

Well, Cheney calls it a war, but it seems to me that while there was a very brief war against the former government of Iraq, which we won in a few weeks, and even declared victory, more or less, or at least displayed banners that said "Mission Accomplished", what we have there now is nothing more than a post-war occupation. Iraq is occupied territory, and while there are quite a few factions that are going around killing people, the one thing that unites most of them is their desire to throw off the yoke of the occupier.

Again, Cheney views the people who are blowing each other up as "the enemy", which I suppose is shorter than a more accurate characterization. But they aren't really our enemies in any conventional sense. First and foremost, once we leave, very few of them will have any interest in attacking us any more. To the extent that they attack Americans at all, their purpose is simply to get us to leave. But far more of the attacks are on their fellow Iraqis, and are motivated by both attempts to seize and to consolidate power that will remain after the current chaos resolves and the Americans leave, and by ancient animosities and recent grudges and the desire for vengeance against their former oppressors, or for re-vengeance by the former oppressors against those who have already taken vengeance. So it would at least be more accurate to call them "the enemies", since almost all of them are someone's enemy. But calling them "the enemy" as Cheney has done is a grossly misleading oversimplification of the problem. I'm 100% certain that he damn well knows that, and that his terminology was chosen very carefully in order to cast the Iraq occupation for the American electorate as a conventional war, with "enemies" and "victory".

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