November 01, 2006

Give Up the Fatal Contradiction -- and Get Out Now

[Please see the Update at the end.]

Since some readers may be joining me in mid-discussion, I should immediately clarify what I mean by "Get Out Now." I explained it more fully in this post. As everyone knows, but as many people dishonestly ignore in their effort to score cheap political points, no one who suggests immediate withdrawal from Iraq means that all U.S. troops should leave in days, weeks or even a month or two. But as I proposed (and as I have proposed for several years), we should set a deadline for withdrawal of all U.S. troops within, for example, six months. Anything more than that will inevitably begin to shade into a prolonged continuation of our futile, destructive occupation of a country that never threatened us, and which we had absolutely no right to invade. My earlier post also indicates the means by which we can attempt to make those reparations that are possible, although such reparations will never merit forgiveness for what we have done.

There is now much discussion of exactly who is in charge in Iraq: more specifically, of who is in control militarily. Atrios approvingly links to Andrew Sullivan about the story concerning the missing U.S. soldier. Atrios is one of my favorite bloggers; I read him several times a day. (On the other hand, Sullivan is most definitely not.) Atrios is unusually perceptive on many subjects, and I often agree with him. Of course, since I'm a leftist-anarchist-libertarian -- and Atrios isn't -- we also often disagree, as we do in this case.

But Atrios is wrong here, as is Sullivan. In my view, their perspective -- and their apparent prescription for how to resolve the terrible dilemma involving the U.S. soldier -- rests on a dangerous oversimplification of the central problem. To be more accurate, there is a fatal contradiction involved in our occupation of Iraq, one that has been present since the first day of this disastrous, murderous and immoral catastrophe.

The problem is clear in the first sentence from Sullivan that Atrios quotes:
The U.S. military does not have a tradition of abandoning its own soldiers to foreign militias, or of taking orders from foreign governments.
And there it is: the idea that there is a "foreign government" -- that is, that there is an independent, sovereign Iraqi government.

In fact, there is not. And that is by conscious design, as it has been from the beginning. Bush's propagandistic justification for the endless slaughter is that we are creating an independent, "democratic" Iraq, which will then serve as the magical means for transformation of the entire Middle East. But the administration will only permit an "independent" Iraq that conforms in all significant ways to the administration's own goals, and its own demands. In other words, Iraq is to be "independent," but it is to be ruled by a puppet regime, one that we direct.

I recently excerpted a Patrick Cockburn article that addresses this exact point. Here is the critical passage from Cockburn:
One theme has been constant throughout the past three-and-a-half years - the Iraqi government has always been weak. For this, the US and Britain were largely responsible. They wanted an Iraqi government which was strong towards the insurgents but otherwise compliant to what the White House and Downing Street wanted. All Iraqi governments, unelected and elected, have been tainted and de-legitimised by being dependent on the US. This is as true of the government of the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki today as it was when sovereignty was supposedly handed back to Iraq under the prime minister Iyad Allawi in June 2004. Real authority had remained in the hands of the US. The result was a government whose ministers could not move outside the Green Zone. They showed great enthusiasm for press conferences abroad where they breathed defiance at the insurgents and agreed with everything said by Mr Bush or Tony Blair.

The government can do nothing because it only came into existence after ministries were divided up between the political parties after prolonged negotiations. Each ministry is a bastion of that party, a source of jobs and money. The government can implement no policy because of these deep divisions. The government cannot turn on the militias because they are too strong.
The title of that post was, "A Genuine Mission Impossible." And that is the point: we have created an impossible situation, one for which there is no good solution. That also has been true from the beginning, which is why some of us opposed the invasion before it began.

As has been true for several years, we are faced with a very stark choice, but it is one that none of our political leaders will face honestly and openly. For to state the choice explicitly, and to dispense completely with all the tattered excuses for the unending slaughter, is to acknowledge just how terrible the results of our actions are. On the one hand, we can fully embrace our role as occupiers. That would mean we give up the pretense of Iraq being a "sovereign" nation, but one which does exactly as we demand on every matter of importance. We make it unequivocally clear that we call all the shots, and no one else. And to establish the order and stability that are nowhere to be found at the moment, we fully embrace brute force as completely as may be required. To put the basic point very bluntly: we kill as many people as we have to.

With the exception of the most bloodthirsty hawks, no one wants to do this -- and no one will admit that this is one of only two possibilities now before us. Certainly the Bush administration will not admit it. But no prominent politician will admit it, because they would then have to admit that this entire episode was doomed from the outset. It's not that it was handled "incompetently," or that it might have succeeded if it had been "managed better." It was impossible -- and immoral -- from the moment it began.

The other choice is equally obvious: get out as quickly as possible. But the administration, and all other leading politicians, also refuse to embrace this option -- for to do so would also be an admission that the invasion and occupation could never have succeeded, and that it was always wrong.

As a result, we remain trapped in this nightmare -- as do all the Iraqis. They cannot begin to establish a genuinely independent Iraqi government, because we will not permit them to do so. But we will not leave. So the slaughter, the suffering, and the death go on, without end.

But it is worse than futile to try to solve the problem discussed by Atrios and Sullivan (or any similar problem) in isolation, disregarding this much more fundamental issue. If we're in charge, if we call the shots, then do it -- and be prepared to accept all the consequences. We don't get to choose just those consequences that are "acceptable," or that will not be too bloody or too horrifying. If we're going to be occupiers, then be occupiers. If we want to destroy the country in order to save it, then do it, and be judged accordingly.

Otherwise, get the hell out. We have no right whatsoever to be there, and we never had any right to be there. Not one American soldier should ever have set foot in Iraq, so get them out.

No, obviously I do not expect that to happen. Countless more Americans and Iraqis will die, and be horribly maimed. Many more lives will be destroyed and altered forever. But we shouldn't fool ourselves as to the ultimate cause. We have a choice, one that has been clear since the occupation began. But because we refuse to admit how disastrously wrong our invasion was, we refuse to make that choice.

And this is why we are inexorably led to Sullivan's question: "Who is really giving the orders to the U.S. military in Iraq?" We will not answer that question clearly and consistently, just as we refuse to answer all similar questions, because we will not admit what the answer means. If we are giving the orders, then there is no "independent" Iraq. If we are not, then we continue to place our troops in an impossible situation which will never be resolved, and more of them will be slaughtered every day, just as more Iraqis are slaughtered every day. And if we are not giving the orders, then it is obvious that we must leave. We will not admit either possibility.

It is a terrible thing, to watch a bloody nightmare go on day after day after day -- and to know that it can be stopped, if only we faced the truth squarely. But we absolutely refuse to do so.

Just as in Vietnam, circumstances will finally force us to admit the truth, and to act accordingly. But it will be much, much later then, and many more lives will have been lost. And it will all have been for nothing.

SIGH (AN UPDATE): I cannot believe certain of the emails I receive. Or rather, I can, but I'd prefer not to.

A few "readers" (I employ the term very carelessly, as carelessly as they appear to have read my essay) recoil in horror from two statements in particular: "we kill as many people as we have to"; and: "If we want to destroy the country in order to save it, then do it, and be judged accordingly." Oh, Arthur, these (mercifully few) readers wail, how can you be so monstrous as to propose this? How can you?

If these people could think at all, they would understand that I'm not proposing or endorsing any such course of action. I am pointing out that this genocidal result is the inexorable and logical end of our policy. As I also explain, none of our leaders will admit it, although it is painfully and horrifically plain at this point.

My solution is obvious, and it is the one I've proposed since the beginning (in fact, since before the beginning): Get. Out. Now. But we will not, so this catastrophic, entirely unnecessary tragedy will go on, from day to day and year to year, with no end in sight. And I would have thought that when I said, "and be judged accordingly," my own judgment is more than clear.

That judgment is, very simply, one of damnation. All those who devised, encouraged, supported and implemented this policy should be damned -- as, in fact, they already are. The judgment varies in degree only, depending on the particular responsibility of the specific individuals involved. But they are all guilty, and they are all responsible. I will offer further thoughts about the degrees of guilt and responsibility involved, when I complete my essay, "On Evil, Guilt and Responsibility" (with Part II here), which I hope to do soon.