Heresy? Maybe. But we must fail in Iraq

Bush spoke as if Monty Python wrote his foreign policy rationalizations.

by John Troyer

I do not agree with critics of the U.S. war in Iraq who compare the destructive and violent turn current U.S. foreign policy has taken with Vietnam. Comparing the two does the travesty of both events little justice because historical analogies are used as a way of saying, “Because this or that event already happened once in U.S. history, important lessons have been learned.”

U.S. policy-makers (a group of people far larger than marquee names George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Karl Rove and Condoleezza Rice) rarely learn important historical lessons because a rigorous rethinking of the amorphous historical past would mean really thinking about the historical past. If these supposedly important historical lessons had been learned, U.S. military forces would never have invaded Iraq if, for any reason, the nebulous “exit strategy” that numerous policy-makers discussed would be acknowledged as rarely existing.

There is, for lack of a better phrase, no exit from Iraq. U.S. troops cannot leave, nor can their numbers dwindle. When power – or whatever it resembles – is suddenly handed over to Iraqis on July 1, U.S. troops will not leave. In fact, I fully expect to see U.S. military personnel in Iraq this time next year at about the same numbers. The body count on both sides will be substantially higher as well, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Iraq will be liberated one soldier and one Iraqi at a time.

I didn’t plan on writing about Iraq this week, but I was aghast and perplexed by the president’s press conference Tuesday night. Different people will have different takes on Bush’s performance, but I felt a strange sympathy for a man so clearly beyond his intellectual skills in a geo-political environment where rhetoric about Americans being chosen by the Almighty to spread freedom is ludicrous. I was struck by how Bush spoke as if Monty Python wrote his foreign policy rationalizations – but without any irony, sense of humor or intentionally funny bits.

A good friend of mine made a point of explaining how the only way I could feel any kind of sympathy for Bush was because, as an American, my physical livelihood was not being destroyed in the Iraqi cities of Najaf, Fallujah or Baghdad. My friend is, of course, correct, but it is a point lost on most people in this country. So the only way I foresee any valuable, substantive U.S. foreign policy changes coming from the war in Iraq is by decisively losing. I know what I am saying is heresy, even to many liberals, but I do not see any other productive outcome for United-States-the-ignoble-Superpower-we-have-become than complete loss.

In thinking about this proposition, I remembered a short monograph in City Pages on April 2 by William S. Lind, the director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation, a conservative think tank. In the essay, Lind described why the U.S. war and occupation in Iraq will fail. He made a more important point about how and why U.S. foreign policy bringing democracy to the world will also fail. The last line of his essay is a point I think about a lot these days: “The real question is not whether the American drive for world hegemony will succeed; it will not. The question is why we are attempting it in the first place.”

The real problem now is making sure the United States, as it loses, doesn’t bring down the entirety of Iraq and the Middle East with it. But the persistent juvenile behavior exhibited by a number of current policy-makers in Washington (who can never admit to making a mistake) must fail in no uncertain terms so in years to come their delusions of providential grandeur might be remembered. Maybe.

That said, I am rarely hopeful about mistakes becoming any kind of future lesson so I return to the Vietnam War. In 1982, former Army Col. Harry G. Summers wrote the book “On strategy: a critical analysis of the Vietnam War.” In the book he has the following exchange with a Vietnamese colonel: “You never defeated us on the battlefield.” The Vietnamese colonel replied, “That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.”

John Troyer welcomes comments at [email protected]