Kerry and the War in Iraq

At a time when the occupation of Iraq looks more and more hopeless: 1,000+ dead American military service men and women (more every day), thousands of (often severely) injured soldiers (more in the last few months than the entire preceding period of invasion and occupation), and an insurgency that appears ever more effective and able to engage in large scale co-ordinated actions (one that, in fact, effectively controls several major cities in Iraq) – at this time, when Bush should be completely vulnerable and easily confronted with a failed policy of war and occupation in Iraq, Kerry finds himself unable to capitalize on the incumbent’s weakness.


Simple – Kerry, like the rest of the American establishment, like Bush, has no idea where to go from here. He hasn’t the faintest credible idea of how to stabilize the situation in Iraq (or Afghanistan, Iraq’s forgotten step-sister), and he can’t conceive of us withdrawing without doing so… the upshot of this is that Kerry is as committed as Bush is to occupying Iraq indefinitely, regardless of the cost in American (and Iraqi) blood or money.

Put another way: Kerry’s forward policy on Iraq is essentially identical to Bush’s — which leaves him unable to challenge the incumbent on his current and future policies in Iraq (and no ability to capitalize on the disaster the occupation has become). No wonder every statement he makes comparing his positions with Bush’s is backward looking: “I would have done everything differently.” This is talk that is not only cheap, but meaningless.

Kerry himself says:

“As complicated as Iraq seems, there are really only three basic options: One, we can continue to do this largely by ourselves and hope more of the same works; Two, we can conclude it’s not doable, pull out and hope against hope that the worst doesn’t happen in Iraq; Or three, we can get the Iraqi people and the world’s major powers invested with us in building Iraq’s future.”

Remarks at Westminster College on April 30th, 2004

Option one appears to be Bush’s plan, more or less – continue spending America’s blood and patrimony on a war that has no end, against an enemy that appears as faceless and unidentifiable as Al Quaeda and “global terrorism” – or put another way: as completely generic, decentralized, and unstructured as Al Quaeda (which at this point in many ways more resembles a movement, than an organization).

Option three appears to be Kerry’s plan – share the burden with our allies… the problem with that is two-fold:

1. It doesn’t change any of the essential characteristics which make our current policy ineffective: replacing some or even the majority of American troops occupying Iraq with NATO troops won’t prevent or stop any of the car bombings, kidnappings, and drive by shootings that dominate the headlines every day. Militarily, Iraq is very much like Vietnam – we win every battle, sometimes by hugely disproportionate margins, but are losing the war. How many American deaths have been the result of formal combat (vs. car bombs, mortars, and other non-force engagement type events)? Not terribly many.

The Mahdi Army suffered enormous casualties in combat against American forces in Najaf over a period of weeks – literally hundreds of fatalities, compared to a number that is unknown to me but unquestionably vastly smaller on the American side. But did that matter? No… simply by continuing to exist, by continuing to resist in any form whatsover, the Mahdi Army emerged essentially victorious. Another 40,000 troops (even another 400,000 troops) wouldn’t change the fundamentals of this equation – conventional forces can’t do much against suicide bombers and car bombs, or a political/military situation in which conventional formulas for victory are meaningless.

2. Our allies in NATO show no enthusiasm whatsoever for taking over the occupation of Iraq: most of them were against it in the first place, most of the European “street” is still against it, and those of our allies who supported it are paying a high political price that is likely to scare off any of them contemplating a change of heart. In this, they appear very rational. What evidence does Kerry offer that he is going to be able to change the basic political calculus of European politics? Or, put another way, how is he going to change the fact that no sane leader is going to want to wade into the quagmire that is Iraq today? Kerry argues that it is in the self-interest of Europe to not let Iraq descend into chaos. But the average European (and his/her representatives) don’t seem to agree. Nor does the European elite (see the Financial Times/UK editorial below).

So we see that, in effect, option three is essentially option one – because if we can’t persuade our European allies to assume almost the whole responsibility for the occupation in Iraq, Kerry’s non-plan leaves us as fully committed as Bush’s.

This leaves option two:

Cut and run. It may be brutal. It may be humiliating. But we’ll survive it. And, ultimately, the cost of “peace with honor” in Iraq, as in Vietnam, will be very very high … and, in the end, make little to no difference in the ultimate outcome.

The Financial Times/UK just published an editorial saying essentially the same thing.

Here’s an excerpt:

The core question to be addressed is this: is the continuing presence of US military forces in Iraq part of the solution or part of the problem?

As occupying power, the US bears responsibility for Iraq under international law, and is duty-bound to try to leave it in better shape than it found it. But there is no sign of that happening.

The time has therefore come to consider whether a structured withdrawal of US and remaining allied troops, in tandem with a workable handover of security to Iraqi forces and a legitimate and inclusive political process, can chart a path out of the current chaos.

*** end excerpt ***

Read the rest of the editorial – it end by saying that we need to prepare to “step aside and let the Iraqis try to emerge from it [chaos].” The FT is not some wingnut leftist rag – it is the voice of the European financial elite. What hope does Kerry have of dragging the rest of Europe into Iraq when a leading publication, in the home of our one major European coalition partner, is already advocating that we get out now?!?

If Kerry wins, and doesn’t pursue an immediate and unconditional withdrawl from Iraq on a definite timetable, he (and the Democratic Party) will pay a terrible price. Four years from now, the war in Iraq won’t be Bush’s war – it will be Kerry’s… the thousands upon thousands of fatalities and injuries incurred over the next four years won’t be on Bush’s head – they will be on Kerry’s. And so will the political consequences.

At that point, perhaps the biggest benificiary will be the Green Party, whose candidate, David Cobb, advocates exactly this: “an immediate withdrawal of US military from Iraq”.

As a Green, the prospect of the Democratic Party rendering itself completely discredited as an effective alternative to the Republican Party on the defining issue of our time, the war in Iraq, leaving the Green Party as the sole credible voice of opposition should be pleasing – but as an American, the cost is far too high to contemplate with any ease. How many men and women of my generation have to die (or lose a limb, or two) before the American political elite is dragged face to face with reality? Another 10,000? Twenty thousand? Fourty thousand? 57,000?

It isn’t worth it. All I can say is I devoutly hope that Kerry wins, and when the impossibility of pursuing option three becomes readily apparent, is willing to bite the bullet and get us the hell out ASAP, rather the following through on his pledge to keep us in Iraq through the next election cycle.

Kerry won’t have my vote this fall, his non-policy in Iraq, among other things, makes that impossible – I’ll gladly cast my vote for the nominee of the Green Party for the third election in a row (along with many other Californians, I hope), but my heart and my hope will be with Kerry, for a victory nationwide, and a bout of common sense, post-election.