No Winners

Politics can wear a person down. The endless push and pull, the lack of continual progress, and the realization that most of our leaders are in it for themselves and their paymasters, is enough to make even the most impassioned observers develop hard hearts. I look at the state of the capital today, and I have a difficult time mustering either enthusiasm or outrage. Politics is what it is. We, the people, are the sucker at the poker table. But, unlike in real life, we cannot just get up and leave. We are trapped here.

All the high stakes rhetoric, doomsaying, mudslinging, accusations, outright lies, insane denials, and ever more insane conspiracies, fails to raise my hackles like it used to. Articles like AlterNet’s weekly compendium of the worst right-wing moments, something that, six or seven years ago, would have threatened to burn a hole in my stomach, now just gets lost in all the noise. I find myself struggling to care about any of it, and that’s not because there is an endless string of things a person can find to be outraged about, but because I know the people who run this country care even less. We are far past the point where we can pretend that Congress or the White House (but mostly Congress) is working in the best interests of the populace. Washington has become a for-profit enterprise, designed to enrich politicians and those others who work the levers of power. My disgust has turned to apathy. I still do my duty. I vote. But in thinking back on my time in the voting booth, the instances where I vote for someone, are outnumbered by those times when I vote against someone.

But, as disillusioned as I have become, there is one subject that still gets me riled up, and that is the Iraq War. Even sitting here, thinking and writing about it, I find myself getting angry, the way I used to. The Iraq War is part of a larger story that began with the ascendancy of George W. Bush, and includes the 9/11 attacks, the expansion of the intelligence industry, and the war in Afghanistan. But of all these events, and more, that have served to embroil the United States in never-ending conflict, the Iraq War is the most egregious. It is the self-inflicted wound, one that should have been easily avoidable.

After the war began to go south in 2004, the refrain from the scoundrels responsible was that, yes, things are not looking so good, but the world is a better place now that Saddam Hussein is out of power. This article of faith has sustained Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al, as they faced fidgety journalists over the years. It was the final argument. A people had been freed from the yoke of a brutal tyrant. How could one possibly say that either the world, or the Iraqi people, would have been better off with Saddam and his sadistic regime still intact?

It’s always been a fallacious argument, but as long as Iraq maintained a somewhat tenable stability, it was one that need not be examined too closely. But now Iraq, the weak state we created, is in danger of total collapse. As the Iraqi army dematerializes, dropping uniforms and equipment on highways, reminiscent of the quick collapse of ARVN in South Vietnam in 1975, and city after city falls to Sunni extremists, it’s important to remember that this is our fault.

After Tikrit fell, there was an opinion piece in the Washington Post, written by John Nagl, a veteran of the war. It declared, righteously, that, “This is not [what] my friends fought and died for.” I have to disagree. In many ways, the military acquitted itself quite well in the war. They were sent in with little direction or long-term planning by civilian leadership. They struggled mightily to bring coherence to the mission, and struggled internally to shift direction and meet the challenges of counterinsurgency. They failed, but the blame cannot fall completely on the troops on the ground or those higher up the ranks. Rather, the president and his people failed them by sending those troops into an unwinnable war. Bush and company lied in order to get the country into a war it did not need or want. But they had a hard-on for Iraq from the day they first took office in 2001. There was no way they would let a little thing like reality get in the way of their war. Iraq was doomed from the moment the neocons returned to government work. Now Iraq seems further doomed to fall into sectarian hostilities that will probably flatten the country as effectively as the war in Syria. This isn’t what our troops fought and died for? It’s not what they, and we, wanted. But it was the only outcome. We not only lost the Iraq War. In doing so, we have destroyed a country.

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