24 September 2005

Responsibility

There were anti-war rallies today in several different cities. Watching the news reports from the rallies, I am left with painfully ambivalent feelings. As I've written before, I very strongly feel that we have an absolute responsibility to do everything in our power to make sure that we don't leave the Iraqis worse off now than they were when we invaded.

I don't think that anyone can argue if I say that the Iraqis are worse off now than they were when we invaded. Being freed from the yoke of a dictator is a fantastic thing, of course, but it's probably not quite as wonderful as being able to walk down the street without wondering if you are about to become another innocent bystander.

Some argue that we are the cause of the violence, and that things will get better if we leave. We are the cause of a lot of the violence, but I don't know that it will get better if we leave. Al Qaeda didn't have any significant connection to Iraq before we invaded, but they are sure as hell there now, and they really are opposed to democracy. I see absolutely no reason to believe that they will simply leave Iraq alone if we pull out. I think it's more likely that they will continue to fight against whatever government is in place when we leave.

Let me be clear. I do not like this war. I do not think it was a good idea. I do not think that the administration took any of their prewar responsibilities - making sure that they were using all the best intelligence available to make their decisions, listening to the army chief of staff, planning what to do if we weren't greeted with candy and flowers, postwar planning in general - seriously. At best, the administration was incompetent, at worst they were downright dishonest.

Mistakes were made.

Scratch that. The passive voice doesn't do that justice. People in the administration, starting with the president and the cabinet, made lots of mistakes. Some of them were minor, but a tragically large number have been major. They have gotten us into a war, their pitiful excuse of an exit strategy didn't work out, and now we're in a bad place. Those things have happened, and they are responsible for them, although it is extraordinarily unlikely that they will ever be held accountable in any real sense of the word.

Unfortunately, they made those mistakes while leading the United States. That means that we are responsible for them, too. It doesn't matter what you think of Bush. It doesn't matter whether or not you think that his victories have been "legitimate". He is the president. That is reality. How he became president does not change that fact. Whether or not he should have the power to drop the entire country into a quagmire that makes quicksand look like rock is irrelevant. He has that power, and he has used it. And there we are.

Right now, one of the many forces holding us in that muck is responsibility. We have a responsibility to do our best - our full, complete best - to fix the things that we have messed up. We may not be able to do so ourselves, but we still have a responsibility to make sure that things do get fixed. Maybe we can find someone else who would be willing to help, but unless or until that is firmly in place, we are stuck.

The thing about this particular force, though, is that it is largely self-imposed. Nobody is standing there with a stick forcing us to do our duty. Responsibility can only hold us there as long as we decide to let it. Ignoring, escaping, or denying our responsibility has a seductive allure. We can pull our forces out of Iraq in a very short period of time, if we so choose. We don't have to let any more of our men and women come home maimed or in body bags. We don't have to stay in a situation which has made IED an acronym almost as familiar and unpleasant as IRS. We can just walk away any time we want.

It gets better - if we pull out and walk away, we won't have to sacrifice anything tangible. It won't cost us a single dollar - in fact, we'll save about a billion dollars a day. That's enough money to fund an enormous number of schools. In less than a year, the savings will cover the clean-up costs from Katrina. The deficit will be reduced, and we won't be putting such a huge burden on our children and grandchildren.

So what the hell, why not. After all, what's responsibility. It's just a word, right? It's not even like it describes something concrete - it's nothing but an abstract concept. It's not even one of the sexy abstract concepts, like freedom, or liberty, or mom's apple pie.

In my eyes, however, responsibility is a noble cause. Responsibility means doing what is hard, for no other reason than that it has to be done. What frustrates me almost to the point of rage is that I seem to be almost the only one who feels this way. To my right, the world seems to be filled with people who don't think that things have really gone all that wrong. To my left, people seem to be focusing on bringing everyone back from Iraq now, regardless of our duty. Why is it so hard to admit what the rest of the world knows - we've really screwed up this time. Why is it so hard to admit that making mistakes also makes us responsible for making sure that they are fixed?
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