It hardly seems necessary to tell the blogsphere that the occupation of Iraq is an unmitigated disaster. For most of us who consider ourselves progressives or independent thinkers, it's become painfully obvious that whatever it was that America set out to do in Iraq, we have failed. Every day brings fresh evidence that Iraq is descending into chaos: insurgent attacks are at a record high, and there are continuing reports of death squads and US atrocities. The war in Iraq is over. The US lost.
The problem is that too many Americans are unwilling to face the reality that we've lost and that our presence is doing more harm than good. The latest Gallup Poll indicates that a strong majority (57 percent) of those polled felt that the US "made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq". Nonetheless, respondents remained divided about what to do: 36 percent felt we should withdraw "some" troops; 28 percent thought they should all come home; 25 percent believed we should "keep as it is now"; and 8 percent wanted more troops. While a strong majority (57 percent) does not expect the US to win in Iraq, a significant minority (39 percent) believes that we "definitely" or "probably can win."
The crux of the problem seems to be that two-thirds of Americans do not believe that President Bush has "a clear plan for handling the situation in Iraq." Despite the President's claim that he sees the light at the end of the tunnel, the public recognizes that Iraq is a mess; the latest evidence being a new government that takes forever to form and then cannot agree on security ministers.
Nonetheless, 69 percent of the Americans polled by Gallup feel that we should keep at least some troops in Iraq for an indefinite period. This is both a political and a psychological position. The political aspect is pretty clear: Iraq is George Bush's war and the GOP is stuck with it. Repugs may try to divert public attention to immigration or gay marriage, but Iraq remains the dominant issue for most Americans. So the GOP adopts the Administration position, "Iraq is tough going, but a big win is just around the corner."
For many Americans, the problem is psychological. Citizens don't believe that Bush has a plan for Iraq; they feel that we went to war for the wrong reasons and have terribly mismanaged the occupation. Nonetheless, they want to see good come of it. They keep hoping that all those live lost, all those terribly injured, and all that money spent was not in vain. It's very hard for most Americans to face the fact that the occupation has been an absolute disaster.
It's ironic that Iraq so closely resembles Vietnam, the war that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld struggled so hard to avoid. The parallels are obvious, from the fabricated justification of the war to the vain attempts to form a "democratic" government. And, the end of the occupation of Iraq is looking more and more like the end of the war in Vietnam. May 26th saw the release of more diplomatic paper of Henry Kissinger. These indicated that while Kissinger was Nixon's Secretary of State, in 1972, he told China that the US could live with a communist takeover in South Vietnam, so long as this happened a decent interval after the withdrawal of US troops. For those of us with long memories, this proves what we've long believed. While Richard Nixon was claiming that he saw the light at the end of the tunnel, that we were going to "win" in Vietnam, he was secretly negotiating to "cut and run."
It's easy to imagine the Bush Administration scrambling to find a similar accommodation in Iraq. George Bush is certainly cynical enough to declare victory in Iraq when nothing has changed. He'd proclaim that the current Iraqi government is good enough and, therefore, our troops are no longer to ensure internal security and will be withdrawn to our "enduring" bases. He'd follow this by bringing some of the troops home.
Of course, the parallels with Vietnam would stop with a phony declaration of victory. The US completely withdrew from Vietnam; we plan to stay in our bases. There was a dreadful purge in South Vietnam, but nothing like the ethnic cleansing that we'd expect in a "new" Iraq. And, at the end of the Vietnamese war, no one expected the Vietnamese to disrupt the entirety of South East Asia, although they did invade Cambodia. The insurgency in Iraq is a danger to disrupt all the countries around it.
George Bush doesn't read history, so he never absorbed the lessons learned from Vietnam. (In fact, he said that we should have stayed the course.) But we should expect that someone in the Administration digested the history of the Vietnamese War. If they had, the White House would recognize that their mistakes have driven the US into a corner in Iraq, the same no-win zone that America sank into in Vietnam. We've blundered into a moral cul-de-sac, where all the road signs say the same thing, "Loser."