Killing hornets with a baseball bat

Way too many people are writing about politics these days, and most of them are smarter than me on the subject. But it’s election day, and I’m despondent for the future, so what the heck. I’ll post this tomorrow, whatever the results.

In 2003 the US made it clear that it would invade Iraq, come hell or high water. At the time, I compared the venture to trying to kill a hornet by smacking its nest with a baseball bat. I’m sure it wasn’t an original comment, but it has always seemed like a good analogy.

Back then, questioning the rationale for war was tantamount to treason. We had Freedom fries, the Dixie Chicks’ dates were cancelled, and anyone who suggested that maybe – just maybe – aggressive action in the Middle East wasn’t likely to produce the results we would like – well, the invective directed against such people was vicious. It was pointless even to try.
Now it’s 2006, and it looks like we’ve Seen The Light; the Administration’s unpopularity is directly attributable to the war; and there’s going to be at least a divided congress because of it.

But if this is a protest vote against the war in Iraq, I think we’ve missed the point.

If we’ve become disenchanted with the war because of how badly it has been handled by the Adminstration, then we’ve missed the point that we had no right in the first place to attempt to impose our vision on another country.

If we’ve turned against the war because almost 3,000 American servicemen and women have died, we’ve missed the point that 300,000 Iraqis have also died for our adventurism.

If we plan to pull out without consulting with other interested parties, like the UN and Iraq’s neighbors, we miss the point that we got into this mess by ignoring international opinion in the first place.

These are not idle grumblings, in my very uneducated opinion.

First, if we fail to recognize that we had no right to impose our vision, it won’t be too long until we’re gung-ho to do it again. Saddam Hussein was an evil, genocidal dictator. But he was no threat to the US, and that was clear, which is why the Administration had to twist the facts so thoroughly to claim justification for invasion. We know this now. But if the Administration knew before the war that he was no threat, why did we invade?

Why, to bring Freedom and Democracy, of course. There was no secret about that. We know who the architects were, we know that they’d wanted this to happen for years, we know that they believed that Freedom and Democracy would have a ripple effect through the region, bringing peace and stability. Rajiv Chantrasekaran’s book Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone makes it very clear the the architects had Plans, and it wasn’t just Democracy that they intended, it was good old American Democracy, i.e. free-enterprise capitalism, which is why the health administrator was more interested in selling off the health sector and insuring Iraqis (Iraqi health care had been state-provided) than in getting supplies to hospitals.

Until we recognize that we invaded Iraq not because it was a threat, but because we had Good Intentions for the country, we won’t recognize when the next politically-motivated catastrophe is beginning.

Second, the death of almost 3,000 Americans is a tragedy. It’s absolutely right to be furious with the planners of the war that so many of our best have given their lives for this unneccessary action.

But the Iraqi death toll hit 3,000 many years ago, and has climbed exponentially. Quite apart from the hypocrisy of ignoring the soaring human tragedy of Iraqi civillians, men, women and children, there’s a strategic problem that we’re only beginning to recognize, but that should have been obvious three and a half years ago: that every casualty attributed to us increases the hatred towards us and motivates the next generation of terrorists.

By not recognizing the devastating effect of the war on the Iraqi public (economic as well as social), we’ve fertilized the ground for terrorists, jihadists, suicide bombers, whatever – and done so well beyond Iraq’s borders. We took international outrage at the 9/11 terrorists – outrage that even allowed Iran and Syria to aid our security services – and turned it into international outrage against the US, so that Al Qaeda can recruit would-be martyrs on the streets of every Islamic nation.

Until we recognize that, we will not recognize the terrible position we’ve put ourselves in.

Third, we invaded without international backing. Countries that didn’t want to be cut off from US trade and aid, and – god knows why – Britain – these made up the “coalition of the willing”. Countries with extensive diplomatic experience of the Middle East stayed away. Countries that listened to the huge majority of their population stayed away. I’ve always felt it was a great irony that we castigated France for following the will of its people while we were “bringing democracy” to Iraq.

We took this action in the face of public opinion everywhere outside the US, and in the face of the reactions of their governments. And we failed. Now many Democrats want us to withdraw – but in a manner as unilateral as when we went in. That tells me that even the Democrats haven’t recognized that Iraq is not just an American problem.

At this point, we’ve probably screwed the situation so badly that everyone knows it’s unfixable, and the UN and Arab League will not be willing to sacrifice their own forces in trying to calm the region. But if we don’t make the effort, we’ll be blamed even more, within the Middle East and by the rest of the world, when Iraq implodes.

We do not recognize that Iraq was never a US-only problem to solve, and that other nations are being harmed by its meltdown. That gives the whole world a reason to hate US arrogance.

Because we don’t recognize these things, anything we do to try to solve the problem will backfire on us.

More than that, we have two years now before the next election, when a provenly cynical, prevaricating Administration will blame the just-elected congresscritters for interfering. By 2008, the catastrophe will have been spun as a Democratic problem, and the theorists and empire-builders of the right will be selecting their next target. And they’ll believe that they can make a success of it.

And we’ll be swinging that baseball bat at another hornet’s nest.

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