Welcome to the New Confusion

12/11/2006 03:05 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

People seem to be disagreeing heatedly over whether the war in Iraq will change as a result of the Iraq Study Group's report. Yet everyone seems to agree that our situation has become much clearer. The report called it 'grave and deteriorating,' countering the President's claim that the war was tough but getting better. The report rebuked the current war policy, pointed out its abject failure, accused everyone involved of incompetence on the planning and diplomatic front, and ended, almost on the last page, by pointing out that as much as 90% of the violence in Iraq has been deliberately 'under-reported,' which means kept out of sight.

This is a bracing moment of clarity. It clears away the deception of the war-makers, who have done everything they can to obscure the truth. Is the insurgency driven by al-Qaida, as they claim? No, says the ISG report, the insurgency is less than 20% al-Qaida. Is cut-and-run tantamount to giving aid and comfort to the enemy? No, again. The ISG report uses a new term--phased redeployment--which amounts to the same thing but has been revamped as recommended policy.

Yet all this clarity really only confirms what the war's critics have said for two years. It's helpful, perhaps, to get a consensus that a civil war has broken out, but at a certain point terminology is futile. We are simply exchanging old confusions for new.

--It's totally confusing whether pulling back American troops will increase or decrease the violence on the ground.
--Whether the war is a hopelessly lost cause or offers a shred of hope.
--Whether we have created a far worse evil than the one we toppled.
--Whether an armed Iraqi defense force can be trained that isn't a thinly disguised sectarian militia.

And this list barely scratches the surface. In the new confusion, the words being used by the war's supporters may turn more truthful--they could hardly be less so--but there are plenty of illusions that are dying very slowly. War is where illusions go to die, after all. In this case we still have

--the illusion that war is a worthwhile way to change the world.
--the illusion that the U.S. only conducts 'good' wars
--the illusion that we fight evil and barbarity while ourselves remaining virtuous and civilized.

It's this last point that causes the most confusion. One still hears about the disastrous failure in Iraq as a policy failure, a military failure, a diplomatic failure. Why is morality not included in this list, and put at the very top? It was grossly immoral to kill up to 300,00 Iraqis, the vast majority civilians, through the shock and awe campaign (the current count seems reliably to be at least 100,000, far more than the administration is willing to acknowledge). Indeed, it was grossly immoral to use the term shock and awe--which sounds like a scary slasher movie--for a rain of mechanized death.

The old confusion gave us false words and niceties to paper over horrors. Now strong words have come to the fore, but it's not clear that we are much better off. Until the world is given the apology it is owed, until all Muslims are not tossed into the same bag as evil, un-Christian barbarians, until we end torture and make amends to those people who underwent torture, until we confess to an era of shameful lies and abrogated civil rights, the new confusion still has us in its grip. The ISG report was intended to give the President cover, as the phrase goes. If so, the cover is paper thin and completely undeserved.