“Won” or “Lost” Isn’t the Issue

Josh Marshall has an excellent, succinct post about the misguided thinking about whether the war in Iraq is “lost,” as Harry Reid has said, or is able to be “won,” as Bush and the Republicans hollowly maintain. As usual, what’s being talked about is the smoke that obscures the reality, something Americans have been subjected to for, oh, going on six years now. Sorry for the long quotation, but it’s worth it:

Frankly, the whole question is stupid. Or at least it’s a very stilted way of understanding what’s happening, geared to guarantee President Bush’s goal of staying in Iraq forever. A more realistic description is President Bush’s long twilight struggle to see just how far he can go into one brown paper bag.

We had a war. It was relatively brief and it took place in the spring of 2003. The critical event is what happened in the three to six months after the conventional war ended. The supporters of the war had two basic premises about what it would accomplish: a) the US would eliminate Iraq’s threatening weapons of mass destruction, b) the Iraqi people would choose a pro-US government and the Iraqi people and government would ally themselves wtih the US.

Rationale ‘A’ quickly fell apart when we learned there were no weapons of mass destruction to eliminate.

That left us with premise or rationale ‘B’. But though many or most Iraqis were glad we’d overthrown Saddam, evidence rapidly mounted that most Iraqis weren’t interested in the kind of US-aligned government the war’s supporters had in mind. Not crazy about a secular government, certainly not wild about one aligned with Israel and just generally not ready to be America’s new proxy in the region. Most importantly, those early months showed clear signs that anti-Americanism (not surprisingly) rose with the duration of the occupation.

This is the key point: right near the beginning of this nightmare it was clear the sole remaining premise for the war was false: that is, the idea that the Iraqis would freely choose a government that would align itself with the US and its goals in the region. As the occupation continued, anti-American sentiment — both toward the occupation and America’s role in the world — has only grown.

I would submit that virtually everything we’ve done in Iraq since mid-late 2003 has been an effort to obscure this fact. And our policy has been one of continuing the occupation to create the illusion that this reality was not in fact reality. In short, it was a policy of denial.

Of course, the damage that’s been done over the last four years of denial is immense — damage to ourselves, to the Iraqis, damage to Middle Eastern security and our standing in the world. So walking out of the bag isn’t easy and it won’t fix things. But the stakes alleged by the White House are largely illusory. Most of the White House’s argument amounts to the threat that if we walk out of the bag that we’ll have to give up the denial that the White House has had a diminishing percentage of the country in for the last four years. The reality though is that the disaster has already happened. Admitting that isn’t a mistake or something to be feared. It’s the first step to repairing the damage. What the president has had the country in for four years is a very bloody and costly holding action. And the president has forced it on the country to avoid admitting the magnitude of his errors.

I wonder if the remaining 28% of the country that fervently supports Bush will ever stop and realize that they’ve been fed nationalistic lies since he came into office. I doubt it. Bush and his administration is firmly tapped into the base of world-fearing warmongers (start with Dick Cheney and move on down), so facts aren’t likely to intrude on their reality.

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