It's not yet the last days in Iraq, but it might as well be. A recent poll shows that 71% of Americans oppose the way Pres. Bush is handling the war, and only 9% believe we will win. No such consensus was ever reached over Vietnam. Nixon was elected twice against opponents who would have ended the war sooner. A back-room agreement that could have been achieved with the North Vietnamese in 1969 was postponed for six bloody years while the Nixon administration finagled a way to save face.
They were permitted this delay because the public had been long persuaded that we were fighting the evil of Communism. The Iraq war has been painfully protracted already, since Pres. Bush has petulantly refused to admit that any course is right except his own, for the same reason. Terrorists represent absolute evil. This indisputable point, it seems, covers any wrong committed by the U.S. in terms of casualties and human rights violations.
If absolute evil looks so clear to us, why does the rest of the world disagree? Are we to assume that only America knows the truth? The reason we find ourselves so isolated and hated can be directly traced back to blinded moral certainty. The right wing promulgated the myth that Reagan brought down Communism by resisting "the evil empire" (no matter that the Soviet Union collapsed from its own internal corruption and decay), so now we get "the axis of evil," warring against enemy countries that can't be considered part of the civilized world.
The rest of the world isn't buying into this right-wing rationale, and it's time that the American public woke up from the trance induced by fear. The solution to North Korea is to unite it with South Korea, an end that both countries want. The solution to al-Qaida is to police it closely with the aid of the entire international community (we've already killed or driven into hiding over 80% of its leadership). The way to deal with Iraq is much harder, since such a catastrophe has been created over there. But Pres. Bush is almost certain to reject the unanimous recommendation of the Iraq Study Group that we talk directly to Syria and Iran. Why? Because they are too evil.
Thinking in absolutes almost never works. Even when fanaticism and extremism are involved, the only moral course is to weigh some difficult choices:
--Is it better to talk to your enemies or isolate them and make them more committed to their own ideology?
--Is it better to push slowly against Islamic fundamentalism or to destabilize entire societies by military means?
--Is it better to ignore religious beliefs that contradict your own or treat intolerance with equal intolerance?
It's pretty obvious which choices the Bush administration has made and thus far has coaxed the American public to go along with it. The dirty little secret behind the Iraq war is that Bush, the religious right, and neoconservative policy wonks despise the Iraqis. We are saving a barbaric, benighted, godless people so far as they are concerned. This is no surprise given that the administration hardly lifted a finger to prevent anarchy after the 2003 invasion. There was no follow-up plan because nobody cared enough in human terms. The Iraqi people were pieces on a chess board. Iraq itself was simply a means to an end, which was to wipe out Islamic evil. And since Iraqis are Islamic, they are tarred with the same brush.
This was a tainted rationale for "helping" a country we merely intended to use. As the mist clears from our eyes, more and more Americans will see how shamefully we have treated that country, and hopefully the entire doctrine of 'the axis of evil' will be forgotten so that the real work of winning the world back to our side can begin.