ONCE YOU HAVE IRAQ, WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH IT -- AND WHAT WILL IT COST?
I got one of those down-home, folksy stories to tell. Like most such stories, it's true, sort of. When I was a kid a bunch of us went camping one summer along a creek in the woods of Wilkes County in North Carolina. Of course we stayed up all night talking and carrying on. At some point we started telling legends about animals and one kid said he had heard that if you pick up a skunk by the tail, it can't squirt you. This, of course, was greeted with derision, followed by challenges for the nature expert to prove it. He was stuck, and had to prove his point or lose face. So we took off from our campsite to find a skunk. It wasn't difficult to find one, and soon enough we had one facing us down in a clearing. "Okay, Billy, go get 'im" we called to the braggart. He wasn't quite sure how to go about picking this skunk up -- after all, if he got close enough to grab him by the tail, he was sure to get squirted up to the point where he got the skunk off the ground, thus losing the benefit of his experiment. Finally Billy decided to grab the skunk at a dead run. He got up a full head of steam, leaned down, grabbed the skunk by the tail, and sure enough, had a pissed off skunk -- but one that couldn't do anything but snarl and try to bite him.
We congratulated Billy and he was pretty full of himself. Then someone asked: "Hey, Billy, whatcha gonna do with 'im now that you got 'im?" That was a helluva good question, and Billy himself didn't have a good answer. Finally he decided to set the skunk down just as he picked him up -- at a dead run. Once again he got up a full head of steam, leaned down, put the skunk on the ground, and ran like the wind -- smack into a pine tree.
The skunk, seeing his chance for revenge, covered Billy with humiliation that stayed with him for days. We, on the other hand, didn't. We took off in all directions and wouldn't come near our buddy for at least a week. And he caught no end of teasing for years afterwards.
Now the moral of this story is this: we're about to get into Iraq, and I'll bet that Rumsfeld has a pretty good plan to get into the country and drive Saddam Hussein out. He may even have a plan to set up a military governorship so we can "establish democracy." But is he going to know what to do with it once he has it? Will Bush know how to get rid of Iraq if it starts to bite at him? And what's it going to take to hold on to Iraq?
of the Miami Herald has a few thoughts on the subject. So does Tapped
. Galloway points out one thing that hadn't occurred to me that now scares the living shit out of me: this Iraqi thing is the first war to be planned by civilians since McNamara's Vietnam strategy. We all know where that went. Galloway:
McNamara knew that he and his Whiz Kids and their computers had a much better grip on the situation than any uniformed military commander.
He ignored both their advice and their deep-seated reluctance to being drawn into a quagmire that took the lives of 58,229 Americans and ended with a devastating American retreat.
Not since then have a secretary of defense and his closest civilian advisers demonstrated so thorough a contempt for the counsel of America's military leaders, who incidentally are the last generation still wearing the uniform to have served in Vietnam. The last who know the true price of failed and flawed political leadership in war.
If there is any small group that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his closed circle of advisers - none of whom have worn a uniform since Boy Scouts - ought to be listening to, it is the four-star generals and admirals of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
It sounds to me like the well-intentioned gang at the Pentagon, like my buddy Billy, knows a little bit about skunks. They know how to stop a skunk from squirting poisonous chemicals. But once they catch him, what do they do with him -- and how do they get out of the situation without having it all blow back on them?
The answer, of course, is that they
can't. LBJ got us inextricably bogged down in Vietnam, after listening to McNamara. Nixon got elected by simultaneously saying he would win Vietnam and get us out "with honor." Of course he did neither -- and destroyed confidence in the office of the President forever in the process.
There is nothing honorable about the beginning of this war. It is founded on lies from all sides; on diplomatic bungling; on using what should be a forum for all nations to work together for the benefit of one nation. There can be no "honorable" way to get out of it except to get out when Saddam is gone and the weapons factories that we suddenly "discover" are destroyed.
In a year or so, when we are bogged down in Iraq, after Saddam is gone but the Kurds are fighting the Turks, the Shi'ites are fighting the Sunni, those who got cut out of the new government are fighting to get cut back in, and we have a couple hundred thousand American troops trying to keep them apart (since the UN will tell us "you wanted in so badly, you deal with it yourself!"), somebody is going to offer to get us out of Iraq "with honor" or to "win in Iraq" and use that as his gimmick to get elected. Let's try to learn from last time. Let's be very careful about who we elect and what he's offering us. No secret plans to end the war. Just honesty. That would be a nice change.