Thursday, October 5, 2006

Better to Stay and Die?

If the 2006 campaign returns to what remains upper most in the minds of Americans, the war in Iraq, expect to hear that catch phrase “cut and run” a lot over the next weeks.  I hope Democrats won’t permit themselves to be “Swift Boated” this time around.  To that end, I’d suggest that they counter by defining the present course, which amounts to no more than “stay and die”.  Stay and die is exactly what President Bush is asking our troops to do and that is exactly what is happening to them in an escalating manner.  Three years out and the casualties mount every single day.  43 Americans died in July, 65 in August and 74 in September, one of the worst months of the war.  More than 20 lost their lives in the last few days and October has hardly begun.  The Minnesota GOP state chairman who used the “cut and run” slogan yesterday in an interview pointed out that, while the battle deaths were tragic, fewer Americans have died in three years of war than on September 11.  Leaving aside the dubious connection of that attack and Iraq, I wonder how he squares the 20,000 American casualties, some of whom are physically maimed for life.  How about the war related suicides or the wide spread post traumatic syndrome that plagues not merely the former combatants but their entire families. 

Stay and die to what end?  Have we improved the quality of life for Iraqis or the stability of the region?  Have we lessoned the ranks of Al Qaeda or diminished sectarian hatred?  Looking at the news every day we see a country that, despite our “good work”, seems to be spiraling more and more out of control.  Can we look our young service personnel in the eye and really tell them why they are risking their lives by just walking down the road?  Can we square their deaths or injuries with their families?  Of course we can’t, certainly not with a straight face.  That GOP Chairman says we’re fighting there so we don’t have to fight here.  Does he have any basis for such a supposition?  Even if he does, what are the moral implications of such an idea?  Are lives lost there any less valuable than lives which might be lost here?  Has our military action, our bravado and flexing of muscle made us safer or states like Iran and North Korea less belligerent, less dangerous?  We all know that quite the opposite is the case.

So what if we do cut and run rather than stay to die?  Will the world think any less of us than it does already?  Will we be any less feared?  Will Iraq be any worse off?  Let’s get real, the bloom is off that rose thanks, in large measure, to this misadventure.  The truth is that one day we will have to leave and whenever that day comes it won’t be an exit of victory no matter what Henry Kissinger (thought we were done with him) or George Bush may claim.  The Russians lost in Afghanistan (which we may be headed for as well) and we will have lost in Iraq much as we did by intervening in Viet Nam’s civil war in the 1960s/70s.  Ah, we really learn from history, don’t we?

It doesn’t matter what you thought before they say.  For or against our invasion and occupation of Iraq, we are there now and it’s a shared reality and problem.  Agreed.  That doesn’t mean that we must come to it with the same solution.  Having to bear that awful responsibility is enough – my country did that and, absent renouncing my citizenship, I have to own up to it.  That acceptance of burden also, it would seem, gives me equal, if not more, right to find a way out.

Saying we won and leaving isn’t credible and won’t cut it.  What we can say, is that we made a costly mistake, perhaps even with good (if misguided) intentions.  We can’t undo what is done, we can’t bring back the casualties of war (ours and many others), but we can change course in the hopes of ending hostilities or at least changing their dimension and focus.  Perhaps, as the proponents of staying suggest, that’s a pipe dream and our exit will make things even worse.  Looking at the record, where things were before we brought “shock and awe” to Iraq and where they are today three years later, that case will be hard to make much less prove.  Will our dream of a unified democratic Iraq prevail if we leave?  Perhaps not, and if not it may remind us that “our” dream is not necessarily “their” dream.

Bring it on you wordsmiths of ill repute.  Keep on repeating your cut and run.  I embrace it as an alternative to letting more human beings stay and die.  I can live with humiliation but not with their unjustified sacrifice, with victims of a misguided self defeating policy.  Perhaps I’m a dreamer, but the world may just be a better place after we bring the troops home, after we cut and run.

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