Sunday, August 17, 2008

WHAT WOULD T.R. DO?

July 18, 2007

Well, what would you do about Iraq? Go ahead: fantasize, free-associate, be imaginative, develop your own scenario. Your ideas are just about as good as those of the President, the candidates, the legislators, the generals, the so-called intelligence community, the media commentators, and the professors and ex-operatives who’ve written all those books that everybody talks about but nobody reads.

Remember "Stay the course"? It used to be Bush’s mantra of gritty resolve, contrasted with the wimpish "Cut and run." Now it’s an apt description of national immobility - foreign policy on autopilot, mere maintenance, acknowledgment of helpless stuckness. You know where Condi Rice has been lately? Staying on the golf course.

Though the President discarded "Stay the course" some months ago in favor of "creative engagement" or whatever he called it, he continues to repeat the word "victory." He once had a personal definition of victory, remember? - "An Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself." But he’s gone minimalist lately; the word "victory" just dangles there out of his mouth, alone, a beautiful Cartesian self-evident truth. Victory is victory.

The problem with the word "victory" is that it is a war-word. And the problem with the country as a whole, from the politicians to the generals to the media to the man in the street, is that it thinks it is at war when it is not.

Yes, there once was a war in Iraq. It took place in 2003, beginning with the invasion and ending with the capture of Saddam Hussein. "Mission accomplished," the banner on that aircraft carrier proclaimed. We won the war four years ago.

Then came the period of occupation, the deployment of forces to maintain order while elections were held, a new government was created and recognized, a constitution was devised, and an army and police force were re-formed. Had those steps resulted in an Iraq that could govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself, the occupation would have ended right there. The troops would have gone home, proud that another mission for good had been accomplished.
But that has not yet happened, nor is there much hope that under present circumstances it ever will. The work of the armed forces in the reconstituted Iraq is mostly policing, holding together what we keep telling ourselves is an autonomous government and an independent nation, while caught in the middle of multiplying factions waging their own mini-wars against each other, and us if we’re in the way.

With policing, as every cop from New York to L.A. knows, there is no such thing as victory. Fighting crime is forever. The only question for us in Iraq now seems to be: How long will we let forever go on? And on that question, everyone is paralyzed.

Just look at the Congress, with its dozens of bills floated but unpassed: immediate withdrawal, drawdown in 120 days, wait till October and see, pull into enclaves to protect the borders, draw up some more benchmarks and see, etc., etc. The only bills that pass are the full-funding ones, continuing the vicious circle.

To break the impasse, one must look again at why the Bush administration invaded Iraq in the first place. As we all know now, the weapons of mass destruction were just a pretext. The invasion was primarily a social experiment, an attempt by the neoconservative cabal to implement their utopian conviction that given the opportunity, all human beings will naturally choose democracy. Like all utopias, the experiment died a-borning. Democracies are not natural; they must be formed in a society’s collective mind over decades. Still clinging to the na├»ve hope that given enough time, Iraq can form itself into a model democracy for the Middle East, the great superpower has tied its own hands.

Given the possible alternatives of withdrawal - social chaos or radical Islamic takeover - why not consider the opposite approach: good old-fashioned American imperialism?

Bush says he admires Theodore Roosevelt. What would T.R. do in Iraq? Typical of his era, he was unafraid to take over countries and shape them to his purposes. This is a venerable American tradition, from the Monroe Doctrine forward. As he did with Panama and across Latin America, he’d depose the Iraqi government, set up a puppet regime to serve American interests, have the opposition disposed of, appropriate the oil fields, put everything under his thumb - in short, colonize Iraq.

Maybe it’s time to quit accommodating and just take over. To hell with those benchmarks; install a government that will do what we want it to do, now. To hell with the "surge," too; it’s emblematic of the chronic short-term thinking that has plagued this project from the start.
If the President had all the guts and resolution he always claims to have, he’d set before the people a 20-year plan for the pacification and reconstruction of Iraq.

Forget "embedding" a few U.S. troops in that clownish Iraqi army; make it a subset of our own. Commit all the forces possible, and immediately reinstate the draft to guarantee a long-term supply.

At the same time, give Iraq a New Deal, a massive Marshall Plan. Put everybody to work, WPA-style; fill the universities with American visiting professors of economics, political philosophy, and law; replace Halliburton with real businesses, foreign and domestic, large and small. And as partial payment, make every drop of oil the property of the U.S. government, with the oil companies as contractors.

The neocons thought that an Iraq free of Saddam would Americanize itself. They were wrong. Only America can Americanize Iraq. Make it a possession like Hawaii was - or California, for that matter. Teach them to think like Americans, show them how to play baseball, and give them their freedom when we’re satisfied they can handle it.

American imperialism just ain’t what it used to be. If you’re going to invade a country, do it right and do it all.

Now there’s a fantasy for you. Got any better ideas?

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