Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

I'm just trying to develop an online body of work (even if the work is throwaway nonsense) to advance my writing career.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Unhappy Anniversary

Today represents the seventh anniversary of the Iraq War, a conflict that has sapped unfathomable resources and funds with results that even the most optimistic would deem disappointing. Cynics, on the other hand, would undoubtedly call the effects catastrophic. These days, Iraq is calmer, not quite as volatile and not quite as visible; focus has shifted to Afghanistan or to domestic issues.

Without pride or shame, I can say to both readers of this blog that I didn't support the war at first, nor did I particularly oppose it. I was nervous, on-the-fence, wishy-washy. The pessimist in me foresaw some of what would occur in the years that followed the invasion, while the Pollyanna hoped for a quick resolution and transformation. I walked the line between naivete and bleak realism.

So what happened? What went wrong? A lot of this information is known. Some of it remains subject to speculation. I don't think the Bush Administration completely fabricated the WMD hype so much as it believed its own lies. With scant, outdated information, some of which was verified on the Internet--which we know never misleads--proponents of war made a decision first and gathered facts later. It's curious because the Iraq invasion took place nearly a year and a half after the conflict in Afghanistan began, yet the whole affair seemed rushed and slapdash. I don't know the reason for this, but I suspect it's because they ("they"? well, you know, not merely Bush and his colleagues but all those who were gathering data and assembling agendas for battle) dedicated too much time spinning and justifying the move and too little anticipating what would actually occur, studying the country's history and understanding the existing dynamics.

The results were mostly an embarrassing, humiliating shambles with a great many people killed, wounded or traumatized and a number of careers ruined. Admittedly, not everything went grievously awry. Saddam Hussein was caught and tried. His sons were killed in combat. People in Iraq actually have been permitted to vote in the intervening years, albeit under very difficult conditions.

I didn't detest President Bush and still don't. I believe his policies were misguided and the worldview of his administration too narrow and impractical to succeed. To them, democracy was almost like dessert, a nice big pie! Who wouldn't want it, they reasoned? The idea that most people want pie is not incorrect. The problem is, not everyone has the ingredients on hand to make the pie very well. And that's okay, too. No democracy works perfectly. But when an occupied nation is forced to assemble a representative government quickly and without a large grass roots movement insisting on the development of its framework, it's tough to imagine things getting anything but messy, especially when terrorist organizations, religious, ethnic and political factions are also involved. Of course the Iraqi people want democracy in principle; most people do. But the circumstances made instant success impossible.

So if we should never have invaded Iraq, what should we have done? In retrospect, the most tantalizing, though admittedly speculative, answer is let it fall on its own. No one lives forever; Mobutu Sese Seko didn't and Robert Mugabe won't. Meanwhile, the Allied Forces could have dedicated increased resources to the conflict in Afghanistan. Maybe Osama Bin Laden would have been caught. Would this scenario mean Afghanistan would now be as peaceful and quiet as Ontario? Probably not. But at least the Bush Administration and its allies would have appeared singularly focused on toppling the Taliban and Al Qaeda instead of being perceived as wildly incompetent, even sinister and megalomaniacal.

It's depressing. And it's not over yet, though I do believe the worst is behind us.

So how's President Obama doing? Here's what I like: he's not backing away from things that are difficult. Could it be he's dedicating too much valuable time to health care reform that is not being widely embraced? That's a possibility. With the overall economy improving but unemployment still high, many people are looking to the President for a shift in emphasis. Give up this complicated and confusing health care bill, they say, and turn your attention to job creation. That would be the more popular move, something that might get his approval numbers up. But maybe, just maybe, he's adhering to principle and doing what he said he would do during the campaign, something he thinks is best for the country, and the polls be damned.

There are complaints about Obama's foreign policy too, including whispers that he keeps US allies at arm's length. It does appear to me sometimes that he has too many irons in the fire, but on the other hand, I still admire his aspiration for greatness. I just don't know that his abilities to get tangible results are as yet commensurate with his obvious desire to do so. One knock on Jimmy Carter was that he tried to do everything himself, didn't delegate duties very well, and simply got ground up by the rigors of the job. Maybe Obama is suffering a similar condition, but he still has time to figure things out. If nothing else, he did look good when he addressed House Republicans: no teleprompter, no canned responses, just smart, sensible answers. Not everything he said was right, but he was correct more often than the opposition that day.

I still approve. It's a guarded approval and I understand and respect those reasonable people who are frustrated. I don't understand those who are still spewing the same tired, hysterical nonsense about Obama--un-American, Communist, evil, blah, blah blah--but his levelheaded critics on both the right and left have valid points to make. But I haven't turned against him and don't foresee an about face in the near future.