This is by way of being an introductory Iraq post. It gives my basic position on the politics of the conflict as a whole, and my reasons for simultaneously expressing two opinions that are rarely seen together: the administration's entire Iraq policy has been an unmitigated disaster from the start, and we need to stay the course. These opinions may appear to be contradictory at first glance, but I think that the second is actually a moral consequence of the first.
For the last couple of days, I've had Iraq on my mind. The reports that have been kicking around about exit strategies and reductions in troop levels have left me completely torn. On the one hand, I really, really hope that we will, just so that my wife's upcoming (fall, 2006) deployment will be postponed or cancelled. On the other, I think that withdrawing at any point in time before Iraq can reasonably be expected to survive as some sort of moderately safe and stable society is just plain wrong.
I don't think we should stay in Iraq because it will benefit the United States - it probably won't. I don't think we should stay in Iraq because it helps our national interests - it probably doesn't. As far as I can see, there is only one reason for us to stay in Iraq: at the moment, Iraq cannot function independently, and that is our fault. Municipal services, local government, regional government, national government, adequate security services - you name it, they don't got it. And it is our fault, as a nation. Many of us did not vote for Bush, but that is not relevant. He was and is the president, and had the power to make those sort of decisions on behalf of the country. He may have made the mistakes, but we all share the responsibility for them. Responsible people do their best to clean up the mistakes that they make; the world has the right to expect that responsible nations do the same.
I do not approve of the decisions that the administration made that placed us in Iraq. I approve even less of the way that they conducted the war, and the way that they failed in their basic responsibility to prepare for the aftermath. Countless errors have been made through to this point in time, and virtually nobody has been held accountable for them. I am angry beyond belief at the administration for making so many arrogant mistakes, and I cannot forgive them for the way they have retained and promoted those who were most responsible for the errors. I am nauseated at the thought that more of our troops will die, and terrified that the casualty lists will include members of my own family. But if we are to maintain any sort of respect in the global community - if we are to be worthy of any respect - then I don't know what else we can do.
There is no easy answer to the question that John Kerry asked in 1971: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake." It is even harder for me to face, knowing that the people who may die for the mistake include many of my friends and neighbors, my brother-in-law, my brother, and my own wife. It sounds like something awful to ask, and it is, but I only see two alternatives remaining. We can either ask more American troops to die trying to fix American mistakes, or we can ask even more Iraqis to die to fix American mistakes. That's it. The situation is so totally fucked up that there is absolutely no way that it will get fixed without more deaths, and there is no doubt that the USA was responsible for a large amount of the fuck-up.
If we pull our troops out of Iraq now, as some have suggested, then we will almost certainly save the lives of many of our own troops. However, we will almost certainly be creating a situation where many Iraqis will die as a result of unrest and civil war. It may be that such a situation might have arisen after Saddam died, had he remained in power. It might also be that something like this might have happened as a result of a violent revolt against Saddam's tyrany. Unfortunately, the situation did not arise because of either of those events. It has come about because we sent troops into Iraq, threw out the dictator running the place, and then sat around with our thumb up our ass trying to figure out what to do.
The administration, with the assistance of members of both parties of congress, has gotten us into a humpty-dumpty mess. We have created a disaster in Iraq, and all the king's horses and all the king's men may not be able to fix it. Nevertheless, we are morally obligated to try our best to get it done, despite the sacrifices that it will undoubtedly require.