I listened the other day to a couple hours of the testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee of General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
Here are a couple politicians (and I think anyone who makes it as far up in the Army as General Petraeus has is self-evidently a political animal) sitting in front of another bunch of politicians, everybody with their own agenda which may or may not involve a simple exchange of information. Republicans on the Committee inevitably begin their allotted time with an expression of thanks for these gentlemen's service and for the sacrifices of our Armed Services, and, depending on their degree of fanaticism, perhaps with a sermon about the merits of the mission itself. Democrats also often begin with an expression of thanks for the visitors' service and hard work, but then would come an expression of frustration, the dish-breaking of the impotent. In some cases, the politicians' speeches took up their entire allotment of time.
I think the whole nation must listen to this coverage with their fists clenched. And I think this is because discussions about whether the situation is becoming better or how soon we'll be able to bring the troops home don't really get at any core issue. The elephant in the room is the fact of the invasion of Iraq itself. We're five years and a minimum projection of three trillion dollars and nobody knows how many thousands of lives down this road and most of us are scratching our heads at this point wondering how we got into such a shitty quagmire. Every administration statement about the situation is like the doctor who has intentionally given a fatal disease to his patient talking about how great she looks in her evening gown and walker.
We're at risk in this election cycle, I think, of falling for a kind of political reverse-image version of exactly the lowest-common-denominator pandering that put W in office. Both times. Eight years ago he just baldly promised to lower everyone's taxes--a sure-fire cynical vote-grabbing tactic which calculatedly misstated his real plan--and then in 2004 he simply repeated over and over again "You are not safe." Nothing captures the television-watching mind like simple statements of black and white. But the situation in Iraq simply cannot be understood, much less fixed, in simple terms, and I fear we're wanting to flock to whomever makes the best one-line statement.
I suspect our progress in the war and the troop levels there are probably largely beyond any incoming president's sphere of influence. This much is certain: someone who is merely a candidate at present will gain a quite different picture of the conflict when they take office. For now, these things are simply what they are, and it seems a pandering to (very justifiable) voter outrage to say "I'm going to fix a situation that everybody hates." I just don't quite believe that easy option is really on the table.
But that's precisely what makes this all so maddening and tragic. A really small group of people have put our entire country on a disastrous no-exit track quite without any real discussion or any meaningful approval. And there has been no accounting for this catastrophe, or even an admission of the fact. These guys' terms of office are about to expire, after which they'll sail off into the sunset without facing any fire for the incalculable damage they've done. And they'll sail off having seriously altered the offices which they held in trust for us, and we're not even close to reclaiming those offices. The ramifications of all this extend out decades or longer.
There were plenty of people at the time of the invasion that predicted much of this outcome, and I think any approval for the invasion would have dried up quickly and completely if we had stared our present situation in the face.
The issue before us is not how soon the troops get to come home, but rather addressing how we got here and atoning for--and correcting--the original sin.