Lost in the Desert
Iraq now evokes that old Jimmy Durante song that goes, “Did you ever have the feeling that you wanted to go and still have the feeling that you wanted to stay?”
It’s hard to remember when America has been so stuck. We can’t win and we can’t leave.
The good news is that the election finished what Katrina started. It dismantled the president’s fake reality about Iraq, causing opinions to come gushing forth from all quarters about where to go from here.
The bad news is that no one, and I mean no one, really knows where to go from here. The White House and the Pentagon are ready to shift to Plan B. But Plan B is their empty term for miraculous salvation.
(Dick Cheney and his wormy aides, of course, are still babbling about total victory and completing the mission by raising the stakes and knocking off the mullahs in Tehran. His tombstone will probably say, “Here lies Dick Cheney, still winning.”)
Even Henry Kissinger has defected from the Plan A gang. Once he thought the war could work, but now he thinks military victory is out of the question. When he turns against a war, you know the war’s in trouble. He also believes leaving quickly would risk a civil war so big it could destabilize the Middle East.
Kofi Annan, who thought the war was crazy, now says that the United States is “trapped in Iraq” and can’t leave until the Iraqis can create a “secure environment” — even though the Iraqis evince not the slightest interest in a secure environment. (The death squads even assassinated a popular comedian this week.)
The retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, who thought Mr. Bush’s crusade to depose Saddam was foolish and did not want to send in any troops, now thinks we may have to send in more troops so we can eventually get out.
Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, whose soldiers pulled Saddam out of his spider hole and who is returning to Iraq to take charge of the day-to-day fight, has given up talking about a Jeffersonian democracy and now wishes only for a government in Iraq that’s viewed as legitimate. He has gone from “can do” to “don’t know.” He talked to The Times’s Thom Shanker about his curtailed goals of reducing sectarian violence and restoring civil authority, acknowledging: “Will we attain those? I don’t know.”
At a Senate hearing last week, Gen. John Abizaid sounded like Goldilocks meets Guernica, asserting two propositions about the war that are logically at war with each other. He said we can’t have fewer troops because the Iraqis need us, but we can’t have more because we don’t want the Iraqis to become dependent on us.
He contended that increasing the number of our troops would make the Iraqi government mad, but also asserted that decreasing the number would intensify sectarian violence.
This a poor menu of options.
As Peter Beinart wrote in The New Republic this week, “In a particularly cruel twist, the events of recent months have demolished the best arguments both for staying and for leaving.” Noting in the same magazine that “we are approaching a Saddam-like magnitude for the murder of innocents,” Leon Wieseltier worried that the problem may be deeper than the number of our troops; it may be Iraq itself. “After we invaded Iraq, Iraq invaded itself. ... We are at the mercy of Iraq, where there is no mercy.”
Kirk Semple, The Times’s Baghdad correspondent, wrote about Capt. Stephanie Bagley, the daughter and granddaughter of military policemen who was enthusiastic a year ago about her job of building a new Iraqi police force. But that was before the militia so inexorably began to infiltrate the police, presumably with the support of some leaders in Iraq’s dysfunctional government. Now, with the police begging the Americans not to make them patrol Baghdad’s mean streets and showing her their shrapnel wounds, she just wants to get her unit home safely, without losing another soldier. She said her orders were to train a local force to deal with crimes like theft and murder, not to teach them how to fight a counterinsurgency.
Aside from telling Israel to be nicer to the Palestinians, as if there lies Iraq salvation, James Baker will mostly try to suggest that the U.S. talk to Iran and Syria. Yesterday, after the Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, an opponent of Syria, was assassinated in Beirut, President Bush said he suspected that Iran and Syria were behind the murder.
Maybe Mr. Baker had better find Plan C.
The Pentagon is trying to decide whether we should Go Big, Go Long or Go Home.