The Great Paradox of Iraq

It has been there from the start and it still, frankly, confounds me. We were told by the president that the Iraq war was the critical battle in the war on terror, an effort of enormous stakes that we couldn't possibly lose. And then he went to war with half the troops necessary to win, with no plan for the aftermath, and refused to budge even when this became obvious to anyone with eyes and a brain. He says there is no greater friend or supporter of the troops, yet he sent them to do an impossible task, with insufficient numbers or support or even armor to accomplish the job. He said we face the equivalent of the Third World War and yet he has done nothing to increase the size of the military to meet the task. He said the invasion was to advance the principles of freedom and democracy, and yet he immediately abandoned those principles in our detention policy and has done more damage to the moral standing of the United States than anyone since the Vietnam war. He says he wants to build democracy, and yet he has gutted reconstruction funds, and withdrawn support for building democratic institutions. He said he will keep troops there until the job is done, and yet sustains a policy to draw down the troops as soon as possible.

There has always been a military solution to Iraq. There still is, as Fred Kagan recently showed in a long article in the Weekly Standard. It just required resources to achieve it, to pacify a post-totalitarian society, provide order and the context in which politics can happen. The American public would have approved the resources necessary, and made sacrifices if asked. And yet Bush has deliberately and by conscious choice allowed anarchy and terror to decimate Iraqi civil society. None of this helps the war; and none of it helps him. There are many times when I am simply baffled by the whole farce. Is he this stupid? Is he this blind? Or was this never a serious venture? Did Cheney and Rumsfeld never want to build a democracy in Iraq, just reduce it to rubble and chaos, while ensuring that Saddam could get no WMDs? Even now, I have no idea. But something here doesn't add up. Incompetence doesn't quite capture the enormity of the failure or the incoherence of the project. And so we stagger on, desperate for hope, but forced to confront the worst-managed war since Vietnam. Except the stakes are far, far higher than Vietnam. And the consequences of failure close to existential. I know that in part because Bush keeps telling us. Is he lying? Or is he just drowning in a job that he is simply unable to do?