There is some gruesome truth to the words of Josef Stalin: "One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic."
So, with the risk of oversimplyfying an extraordinarly complex situation, here are two possible scenarios:
- We go with what seems to be President Bush's new plan...the vaunted "surge." We will know for sure on Wednesday, but if press leaks are to be believed (they seem to be one of the few clear channels of communication anymore), Mr. Bush wants to make a final surge with 20,000 new troops to quell the violence in Baghdad, rid the city of Sunni insurgents, Shi'ite militias, Ba'athist loyalists and then get on with the program of rebuilding civil society so that political stability can flourish and our troops can finally come home.
- We go with the plan proposed by the Iraq Study Group and (as it seems) the one supported by the new Democratic majority in Congress. This would not give the president a "blank check" to spend more money and would instead couple phased troop reductions with a diplomatic offensive in the region to attempt to enlist the support of other states in the region in quelling violence and re-establishing some semblance of order, especially in and around Baghdad.
Will either of these new strategies work? Of course not.
Let's take the President Bush plan first, shall we? The notion of a "final push," one last effort by a bewildered fighting force to give it a final go and maybe defeat the enemy is as misguided for overall policy as it is suicidal for the troops involved. 20,000 new troops? From where? Even if we can field this many people, it will be little more than a drop in the roiling bucket that is Baghdad. A final push? When, in modern warfare, has this ever worked? All it will succeed in doing is sending more troops, condemned by this damnable strategy, to the morgue.
Why would the president suggest such a plan? Surely he has heard the heel and cry from all corners, official and otherwise, that this war has no popular support left to fuel it. People from top military brass to Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle to Henry Kissinger have said that a military victory is impossible. Why then the continued drive to such an elusive victory?
I can say it no better than it was said by MSNBC's Keith Olbermann in a commentary on his show "Countdown" last week. Watch the video here. In fact, peruse the list of all of his special comments here. They are all outstanding.
The president is never wrong. He never apologizes. He is consumed by his own superinflated ego and backed by a vice president who is likely the mastermind behind this total and unmitigated failure. A grim echo of Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey, indeed.
What then of the Iraq Study Group plan, and the one that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid seem to support? Equally unworkable. Diplomatic offensive in the region? To whom will we be dispatching these armies of diplomats? Iran? Saudi Arabia?
The best that could be hoped for diplomatically is to become more engaged in the Israel-Palestine peace process, something that has not occured in the State Department under Condoleeza Rice. What will this do? Maybe nothing, but it sure seems (and when did you ever expect to hear this) that there is a greater chance of success dealing with the Palestinians and their elected leadership (which we wish had not been elected) than, well, whatever else is on offer.
Can Iran be dealt with diplomatically? After all, it has been the case for some time that the dominant political and economic mover in the region is no longer the predominantly Sunni areas led by Saudi Arabia, but the Shi'ite orbit headed by Iran. Years of feeble sanctions and diplomatic buck-passing put us in the situation we are in with Iran and allowed them, with considerable help in the fact that the Soviet Union collapsed when it did, to get the knowledge and materials to go nuclear.
So, no, to answer the question, Iran COULD have been dealt with diplomatically but it is too late for that. Any diplomatic overtures to Iran, seen in the light of their incessant baiting of Israel, will call into jeopardy our relationship with the Israelis, as these overtures will be seen as ignoring Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial and aggressive nuclear strategy. If anything gets started with Iran it will be by Israel, who has dealt with Iran's funding of Hizbollah for years now. We must prevail on Israel that, despite having a possibly plausible reason for going after Iran, the result could be regional nuclear conflict.
This only scratches the surface and probably does more to confuse you, dear reader, than to clarify things.
What will happen in Iraq in 2007 and beyond? I suspect that we will all be reacquainted with the term and concept of "ethnic cleansing" as the sectarian violence will spread as the Sunni minority in the center of the country is systematically killed or chased off by the Shi'ite majority.
The idea of revenge cannot be forgotten: the majority of the Iraqi poulation are Shi'ites and they lived under the frightful thumb of Saddam Hussein for the better part of 40 years. They are in control and will do everything they can to destroy the Sunnis in their midst.
As this process continues, and the Shi'ite ethnic cleansing spreads west from Baghdad, the country will be split into two halves, one in control of the Shi'ite government in Baghdad and the other by the Kurds in the north. What Sunnis are not killed to forced to flee (creating a refugee crisis elsewhere, possibly in Jordan, Syria or Turkey) will have no part in the real "new" government of Iraq.
This new government, as it will emerge, will at best be a loose confederation of a partitioned Iraq of Kurds in the north and Shi'ites (fully backed by Iran) in the south. At worst, these two partitions will engage in a new cross border war with each other over the terms of the partition and anything resembling the "devolved government" of the new Iraqi constitution. The Shi'ite south will then become nothing more than a client state of Iran, a satellite of the growing power in the region.
This, in turn, could also cause the aformentioned attack by a jittery Israel, seeing an Iran on the march as a credible threat (which it would be). Then comes that regional war that everyone does not want to admit is possible but that, um, really is.
What of the U.S. role in all of this? We can merely serve as a catalyst, an accellerant to the mounting conflict if we continue as we have. Our presence there serves as a short term deterrent and stabilizing factor, but this is the proverbial Band-Aid on the gaping head wound. In the long run, we are not making it better, just helping it to bleed for longer.
So, you are no doubt saying, Will is in favor of cut-and-run now? Not really. What I am saying is that what we are doing now is not working and I doubt that sentencing more innocent U.S. forces to death will make it any better.
What I am saying is that the situation is not ours to direct anymore. This will be decided by Iraqis and Iraqis alone, not anything we decide to do or say. Peace will not come until the machinery of a post-war Iraq can be concieved and then erected, something that will not come soon or at a cheap price in human life.
It is the Iraqis situation to deal with now, not ours. While we cannot wash our hands of responsibility for it, neither can we pretend that we are completely in control anymore. We made our bed in Iraq, but we are no longer welcome to lie in it.
Who is to blame for all of this? Easiest question I have answered yet in this piece. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and George Tenet with complicit support from Colin Powell.
Feeling powerless, cornered and friendless is never easy, is it?
We would all do well to consider what this feeling means for us, our country and our world.
If we don't, then it's all over. For all of us. Forever.