Monday, December 04, 2006

Painted into a corner

It occurs to me as I reread my last post that my words could be taken as somewhat disparaging ... or rather, that I was making a blanket commentary in which I sneered at non-academic responses to academic presentations. Hopefully, it was not taken as such: as I said, one of the things I love about public lectures is, very specifically, the fact that non-academic responses tend to keep us -- or me, at any rate -- on my toes because they don't get couched in obfuscatory academese.

Anyway, I come back to this because the question that I did make some fun of has ended up being somewhat haunting, largely because I've been following the arguments and debates following the election of the Democratic House and Senate. I don't envy those guys. They were elected principally because of the general disgust with the increasingly egregious errors made by the Bush Administration, and the arrogance with which those errors were made. They face a multi-trillion dollar debt,* and a war that has become a no-win situation. What's the answer? The Democrats won't have one, for two very simple reasons: (1) any action of any decisiveness will be hamstrung by their own divisiveness, their own lack of vision, a recalcitrant White House, and a hostile and vindictive media, and (2) there is no answer ... at least none that is palatable.

When history writes the book on George W. Bush and company, I sincerely hope that they are damned for painting the country into an impossible corner. Personally, I think the most sensible thing is immediate withdrawal from Iraq. It would be catastrophic, but not as catastrophic, I think, as tends to be portrayed. One has to wonder: how much worse can it get there? Of course, the answer to that is entirely dependent on the degree to which the American presence is a deterrent or a catalyst ... not something

Of course, this is a moot point. Sooner or later, the stream of flag-draped coffins coming home will pass a tipping-point (if it hasn't already), and withdrawal will be a political imperative. But that, I think, in spite of the weight of opinion now against the war, will be later rather than sooner. Even as opinion shifts, the memory of the Fall of Saigon and the twenty-year stigma of having "lost" in Vietnam must be in the front of politicians' minds. Simply abandoning Iraq altogether would seem too much like being chased out by a rabble of insurgents.

More significantly, there's the simple humanity question: having made this mess, it is the United States' responsibility to fix it. But again, how? Staying longer means more American deaths, more Arab resentment of the American presence, and more possibility (indeed probability) of Abu-Gharib style debacles. Immediate withdrawal means total descent into civil war, the probable ascension of a militant theocracy (in at least parts of the country), and the creation of an Afghanistan-style terrorism enclave.

All of these are just possibilities, of course. The point is that we are now officially in a lose-lose situation, which has been dropped in the lap of the new Congress and will be similarly left to whoever occupies the Oval Office in two years time. I can't imagine that the new Congress will do anything more than proceed by way of baby steps, which is already in some circles being portrayed as a vindication of the Bush Administration's policies. Whatever happens from here on in will prove disastrous in one way or another, and what drives me up one wall and down the other is the near-certainty that the people actually trying to solve these problems will be blamed. It needs to be remembered that we were brought to this point by a small number of people whose arrogance, inflexibility and willful blindness brooked no dissent and dismissed contrary views as anti-American.

I don't envy the new Congress; I don't envy whoever next occupies the Oval Office; and I don't envy Americans generally. The wisdom of Solomon would be insufficient for the current situation.


*from America's inception up to 2000, 42 presidents borrowed a combined total of $1.01 trillion from foreign governments. From 2001-2005, the Bush government borrowed $1.05 trillion.

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