It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

So the Democrats have won back the Congress without a coherent plan to get us out of the war, and no wonder; Bush is still Commander-in-Chief and his lawyers have argued the President's position on Constitutional matters to the point that to call it a 'coup' would be stretching the truth only slightly.

The Democrats, on the other hand, are playing things close to the vest. A friend of mine used the phrase "backbone transplant" to describe his hopes for the Democratic party. Hopefully the surgery is scheduled soon, because so far the Democrats have been awfully conciliatory. Speaker-elect Pelosi has gotten John Conyers, the burgeoning head of the Judiciary Committee, to abandon the cause of impeachment (which he had so thoroughly and elegantly made when there was no hope for such a thing). Then there's Iraq.

Two of my favorite Representatives have wildly different strategies in calling out the administration, and gotten the same cold response from their party's leadership. Dennis Kucinich, a man who would be president if only this wasn't America, has made the eminently reasonable suggestion to cut off funding for our disastrous occupation of Iraq. If the lame-duck congress has enough time to sneak in Heritage Foundation approved nutjobs to various appointments, it has the time to give the military enough money to finish winning the war in Iraq in advance of the Democrats' "Cut And Run Act of 2007."

Surely it warms the heart of every true conservative to know that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have become the largest discretionary spending item in the largest government budget in history. But calling for military funds to be cut off sounds a lot like the Republicans of yesteryear saying they were going to cut all discretionary spending in the name of smaller government and libertarian principles. It's a kind of bluster, a straight-faced joke. Neither idea would ever pass in Congress.

The king of this news cycle, when it comes to this kind of legislative blustery, is Rep. Charlie Rangel of Harlem, who has long advocated a return to the draft. a{”>Said Rangel}a,
"There's no question in my mind that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed we had a draft and members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm's way,"
Sorry Charlie, but that's horseshit. A permanent draft and a militarized society would be as a{mp3/Tom_Lehrer_-_So_Long_Mom.mp3″>eager to go into nuclear armageddon}a as your compatriots who voted for the war on the premise that Saddam had 'constituted nuclear weapons.' We went into plenty of wars with drafts in effect and somehow the fact that we had large, steadily supplied armed forces did not prevent us from using them to what we thought was our advantage.

Charlie Rangel did not vote for the war, of course, and for that he earns my undying respect. Anyone from either party who voted for the war deserves little but scorn. If the Democrats want to prove they are leaders and not just reactionaries, the litmus test for the primaries in '08 has got to be the vote to authorize the Iraq war. (This is the subject for another post, but I did want to bring it up.)

Rangel then made a point I raised a{permalink.php?uid=235″>earlier in this blog}a:
"If we're going to challenge Iran and challenge North Korea and then, as some people have asked, to send more troops to Iraq, we can't do that without a draft."

If there's one thing I admire, it's rhetorical consistency. And the raspiest New York accent in Washington. I'm unbelievably excited to see what Kucinich and Rangel actually do next Congress.

But the rest of the party will be making the decisions about Iraq, and their options are as bad as they've ever been. It's obvious that the Baker commission will confirm what Henry Kissinger said to the BBC: this is not a winnable war. We broke it and we are not going to be able to fix it. I know we Americans pride ourselves on our can-do attitude, but this is seriously beyond our capacity.

Iraq will have to be sorted out by Iraqis, in one way or another. All of a{permalink.php?uid=232″>the horrible stuff that the President and other war supporters warned us would happen if we left has already happened}a, and it continues under our watch. Our kleptocracy, along with our signature Crusader-like delicacy has engendered a puppet kleptocracy supported by death squads and ethnic cleansing. As I said regarding our invasion of Afghanistan, we think we're fostering a new democracy when in fact our incursions just restart the old cycle of political violence, crushing soldiers and civilians alike under its weight.

If we left Iraq tomorrow, there would undoubtedly be chaos, and in all likelihood, chaos in which the rate of deaths could increase. Unfortunately, this is the price the Iraqis must pay for our mistake. We are going to leave and there will be a power struggle, even if it takes 50 years to resolve itself satisfactorily. These events do not have to occur in any particular order nor are they mutually exclusive.

We don't need a change of course in Iraq. We need a course out of Iraq. We won the war and lost the peace. We decimated a sovereign nation (twice in the last generation, mind you), and in doing so have reanimated jihadist ideology and started new bacterial cultures of these terrorist movements all over the world. Had we treated 9/11 as a police matter, we might have stopped Al-Qaeda; using military force spun the situation out of control not only in the United States, where the war spending along with huge tax cuts have left us economically and structurally vulnerable (see Katrina, 2005). We used to live in fear that the Chinese would launch a nuclear missile against us, but in reality they could ruin us with a phone call if they decided to call in our debts.

The situation has soured, and Republicans are waiting to see how the Democrats deal with the mess they've inherited. How long before Republicans start blaming violence in Iraq on the Democratic Congress instead of Bush? (I invite estimates of the odds on this in the comments.) But within themselves, GOP war supporters are incredibly conflicted about the war they cheered so hard for. Viz, one a{″>Charles Krauthammer}a:
Are the Arabs intrinsically incapable of democracy, as the "realists" imply? True, there are political, historical, even religious reasons why Arabs are less prepared for democracy than, say, East Asians and Latin Americans who successfully democratized over the past several decades. But the problem here is Iraq's particular political culture, raped and ruined by 30 years of Hussein's totalitarianism.
According to Krauthammer, we are relatively blameless in this matter–a few tactical mistakes like not shooting looters and killing enough people earlier in the post-invasion occupation. No, obviously this is Saddam's fault. No mention of the fact that we had been propping him up for 20 years and then trying to starve the country into a civil war against him for another 10. It's the Iraqis, and maybe all Arabs, who very well might be incapable of democracy anyway. Blasted savages! Why must they torment us?

The issue is not whether the Arabs are ready for democracy. The question is, are we ready for Arab democracy? If we are to be any kind of "light unto the nations," America needs to reclaim the sort of civil libertarian participatory democracy that is supposedly our birthright as Americans, not destabilize and discredit democratic movements in faraway places like Iraq (and Iran). It is not our obligation to make democracy more appealing to warlords and religious fanatics by stooping to fascism and theocracy here in the name of preserving our values. I think, after the recent election, that most Americans would agree.

Democracy was the secondary goal of the invasion of Iraq before the administration ran out of cover on the WMD story. Now that we've installed a government, Iraq's leaders may be elected, but the force keeping them in power is the presence of American troops, and 87% of the Iraqi people wish to those troops to leave. The individual politicians, on the other hand, often have the support as well as the enimity of militias and rival armed factions. Government employees are continually attacked, kidnapped or killed. The country is maybe one or two assassinations away from a total governmental collapse.

It doesn't bode well for a country to be built on factional violence, terrorist attacks against occupying soldiers and ethnic cleansing. But then again, I was referring to the United States. (Maybe "ethnic cleansing" isn't quite the word. The Native Americans had an expression, but I haven't seen any around here for some time.) If the Iraqi parliament acted like the Continental Congress, we'd be tempted to invade it again, War-of-1812-style.

We moved toward pluralism and equal rights and religious tolerance from a nation legally self-defined as a white slave-owning patriarchy, and Iraq could do something similar, someday. But we are not going to do it for them, even though some of us feel like we can and should. The militias will take control of Iraq, whether through parliament or feet on the ground. The state may fail, the war may worsen, but that's what is happening and will happen.

Pulling out our troops, though, isn't enough. Iraq needs to rebuild and our efforts have simply devolved into a profitable venture for some Americans and a disaster for Iraqis. The buildings Bechtel and Halliburton erected are already crumbling. (a{”>Einst


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