The events of 9/11 had a traumatic effect on the American people. It was the type of shock that could drive a society blind with rage or in our case, send us on a non-stop drinking binge. We were hurt, angry and determined to get revenge. We were vulnerable and in that moment we could be easily led to do many a rash thing. There is so much damage that can be done when a person is under the influence. Consider what we have inflicted on others as a nation drunk on power. During our wild swinging haze a group of men pointed through the fog and claimed to see our enemies. At the time we were ready to believe anything. We were ready to fight anyone and so we followed.
For five years our military has slaved away in Iraq. We have lost more soldiers on the ground there than in the rubble of 9/11. If only we could have seen past our rage. If we were sober that would have been one hell of a sales pitch. George W. Bush addressing the nation with unscrupulous honesty would have said, “My fellow Americans, Iraq is not a credible threat but we are going to invade for selfish reasons that I will never disclose to you. In Iraq we will spend unheard amounts of American money, so much that it will damage our own economy. In Iraq we will annihilate half a million people, many by accident, some of them innocent. In Iraq we will sacrifice the lives of four thousand U.S. soldiers and we will not compensate their families. I promise to bring pain, fear and insecurity to Iraq, to our country and to the world. The wounds of 9/11 shall not be healed. They will instead be exploited. Our national suffering has only begun.” Had the President said the very things that turned out to be true, we would not have followed him. We would have impeached him.
So here we stand at another such crossroads, being sold a shiny new keg of lies. If we are to face the current situation in Iraq without a buzz we’ll need to know which of the current narratives will produce the best outcome. Our Washington representatives have clung to two of the more popular speculations as pertains to our effectiveness and direction. One is that American power, culture and democratization will take root in a foreign land seeding their sand with the genes of capitalist ambitions. The other is that Iraq is a land under siege by an unwanted military presence which secures enough of the infrastructure to ensure that blood, oil and money will fatten the pockets of a handful of Texas millionaires.
Are we helping Iraqis or stealing from them? How cynical our choices have become. Have we saved their country or sold it for a profit? Should we stay and install Marine guarded McDonalds on every street corner or should we allow the citizens themselves to start their own business chains? Are we forcing self-determination? Can it be forced?
It’s easy to assume that there is no practical solution but we are Americans. We’re not fond of failure. If there is no solution we’ll pick one that markets well. It will be focus group adjusted and prepped for popular consumption. We’ll apply it and then pretend that it succeeded. We’ve already done so with the surge. There is no reliable proof that the surge has worked. There is no measurable substance behind the enthusiasm of war supporters who are thrilled that deaths have shifted away from Baghdad and towards Basra. The competitive primary race has allowed our corporate media to shift attention away from the off camera bloodshed. This lack of focus gives political leverage to pro-war pretenders while simultaneously insulting the troops who continue to fight and die every day.
Should hypocrisy remain our national face then all we are doing now is waiting for a new product to spring up. It will be a simple, bumper sticker catch phrase that allows the average American to presume clarity and understanding where there is none. This spectacularly selling dynamo will provide cover for our embarrassment about lying our way into a false invasion. Once the commercials start running we can dance our way out of this conflict having convinced ourselves that Iraq will be the New York of the Middle East. Hey, maybe we could build another World Trade Center in Baghdad? Problem solved.
If you are not a fan of delusion then we might have to dig a little deeper into our souls and accept that some painful realities are about to kick us in the conscience. Once the President is gone, with no one to spike our kool-aid, we still have the matter of practical resolve to deal with. If our forces pull out of Iraq we have been promised that it will become the chaotic epicenter for terrorist activity. Really? News reports indicated that Iraqi security forces are fighting on par with the Mahdi army and doing so without the assistance of American forces. It sounds like they’re doing fine on their own. Isn’t that what we wanted?
But what if they are right about a coming civil war? Who really cares? As heartless as that sounds, the truth is that our people won’t be dying if we leave and over two million of Iraq’s middle class have already fled the country. They were the best and brightest and they are gone. Iraqi parliamentarians have second residences in other countries. Members of their government are stealing the oil money meant for reconstruction. Corruption is already rampant. So who exactly will be killing who? Al Qaeda is made up of Sunni’s while most Iraqis are Shia. They certainly won’t be working together so will the terrorists and insurgents be killing each other? That sounds like an acceptable conflict.
It is likely that American personnel both military and civilian will continue to die on a regular basis for as long as we intercede. If, as John McCain suggested, we remain there for one hundred years then it is possible that we could be accepting casualties for the duration. This is hardly comparable to WW2. The Germans and Japanese were cultured, industrious and honor bound – Al Qaeda is not. We are hated in the Middle East and they have long memories for atrocity. There are Arabs and Persians who still talk about the injustices of the crusades. Our invasion will not be forgotten and it might never be forgiven. If we are there for a century, we will be targets for a century.
So, how strong is your stomach? How durable is your patience? Will you be comfortable knowing that we destroyed a nation, scattered its citizens and then left them to pick up the pieces? Will you sleep better knowing that our valued men and women in uniform are safe at home where they belong? Or, are you ready for the long haul? We could be endlessly building relations with a part of the world that diametrically opposes our way of life. Are we determined to convert as many as possible in the hope that these modern few will guide the way for the rest? Isn’t that how our country began?
We must remember that our educated and determined forefathers took the reigns and threw out an occupying force in order to declare their independence. Aren’t we assuming the Iraqis will do the same? At the end of this sequence of events aren’t we secretly hoping that the Iraqi people find their gumption? Realistically, that is the only way we will respect them and, more importantly, it’s the only way they will respect themselves. Either way both narratives lead to one inexorable attainment. The end of the story is just as ironic as the beginning. We will succeed only by empowering those who will expel us. Whether it be next year or in one hundred years, we will be driven out of Iraq.
I’m not going to pretend that I have all the answers but I do have some common sense conclusions. Staying where we are guarantees instability while leaving assumes instability. Let’s admit that we cannot give them what we do not possess. Our enemies declare victory every time an American dies over there and they will declare victory when we leave. We have no control over their propaganda. If our struggles are about perception then why delay the inevitable? Allow them a cask of delusion instead of drinking it ourselves. The buzz won’t last, it never does. Ours is fading fast and it’s about time. 9/11 was seven years ago, our self-pity is all used up. It’s time to end the binge, put down the bottle and accept that we cannot control everything. Instead of projecting our insecurities onto another nation we need to clean up our own backyard. It’s been neglected for far too long.