Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Demise of a Thoughtful Republican

George W. Bush, Donald Rusfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz announcing Joint Resolution to authorize force against Iraq.

By J. Phillips

The Iraq War is an utterly depressing subject. My upbringing as a military brat and career as an international nuclear security expert and weapons inspector in Iraq between the two wars cast this unnecessary foreign adventure in a grave, unflattering light. This war alone broke me out of a lifelong tradition of support for the Republican Party. In the history of strategic blunders, this war may prove to be much worse than Vietnam from the perspective of our nation’s place in the world.

Charles Duelfer, chief U.S. investigator on
Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, confirming
there were no WMD stockpiles in Iraq.
The lack of a persuasive casus belli in the case of Iraq, and the predictable distraction that resulted, interfered with the proper execution of justifiable military and nation building efforts in Afghanistan.

Success in that endeavor is now imperiled.

The military difficulties of defeating the Taliban and other tribal coalitions, on Afghani terrain, are well understood. Afghanistan has a storied history of ruining all invaders going back many centuries and they have not been successfully administrated by an external power since Timur’s conquest 600 years ago. The dramatically punctuated Afghani terrain and its finely parsed tribal feudalism is a simile of Russian winter and its regional partisans in the annals of military history. It’s a place where invaders have gone to die a slow death. The combination of that difficult, but justifiable proposition with the coincident invasion and occupation of Iraq, arguably the Yugoslavia of the Middle East and the primary foil of Iranian ambitions, was pure Bush Administration folly.

All but seven of 272 Republican legislators lent active support to Bush’s destructive foreign policy. The Democrats, cowed by a nationalist spin machine wrapped in the flag, voted tepidly against the war 147 to 111. The neocon spin machine had convinced a willfully ignorant electorate that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction at the ready to use against us, was complicit in 9/11 and was in league with Al Qaida. These assertions were patently false. It’s not possible that the Bush Administration was uninformed. The lack of justification for war was simply an inconvenient truth standing between them and their ideological goals.

No less than Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor to George HW Bush during the First Gulf War, opined against the imminent invasion in the Wall Street Journal in an attempt to divert the Titanic from its tragic course, but Bush’s neocons and the Republican Party would have none of it. After witnessing these events I could not, in good conscience, support a political party that actively promoted and participated in this ill-fated national decision. It became the demise of a thoughtful Republican.

Though I did not respect the pack of craven Democrats who supported the Iraq invasion, over half did not support the Iraq War – including then Senator Obama. They bucked the popular view as a matter of principle. Ironically, cleaning up this horrendous mess, left by the previous Republican Administration, has now fallen to President Obama’s Administration along with an extensive laundry list of other messes.

Recent estimates of the direct losses of the Iraq War on the larger U.S. economy range as high as $3 trillion all said and done. This does not include opportunity costs, which are the “unknowable unknowns” – the might have beens. The related increment in the national debit will exceed $1 trillion. Your personal share of the U.S. economic losses of the Iraq War will total roughly $10,000. That comes to a U.S. “investment” of roughly $150,000 per Iraqi man, woman and child, spent thoroughly eviscerating their nation in a blender as it were. If it’s not obvious to the reader, this is an inconceivably large figure in contrast with the extremely limited means of an average Iraqi citizen.

We have spent our national treasure destroying another country without justifiable cause and then trying to contain the consequence of the ensuing chaos. It has been a war funded entirely on debit from day one and has been a significant contributor to the destruction of our economy, but speaking from the heart, the wasted treasure is so much less compelling than other things.

I feel familial grief for the uniformed services that have suffered in the aftermath of that thoughtless decision. To date, in excess of 4,400 U.S. soldiers have died and roughly 30,000 suffer with combat injuries. Thousands suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders, chronic depression and related substance abuse. Many thousands of marriages have been destroyed by deployments without end – remember the “Stop Loss policy?” Their children join the swollen ranks of the progeny of broken homes. Suicides among military personnel have soared. All of these casualties of war have families and extended families that bear the brunt of our unfortunate nationalist excess.

The tragic legacy of the Iraq War is only beginning to unfold within the military community. Knowledge that it is a rear guard effort to try and recover from a disastrous Republican Administration decision only makes these losses more intolerable. In a nation whose conscience has become seared by an outbreak of neoconservative nationalism, it’s not even worth raising the hundreds of thousands of casualties on the Iraqi side including the uncounted multitude of innocents killed, maimed and displaced after the fact by the sectarian conflict we unleashed. How many innocents will die and be maimed before Iraq is stabilized? Do we even care?

Most Americans are either ignorant of the facts or can’t find the personal courage to stare into that dark abyss and contemplate whether they bear a share of indirect responsibility for that disaster through their voting decisions. They would rather sit in church pews, watch football games and go to barbecues – so would I. But we can rest assured that more than one generation of Iraqis will not forget this. It is now burned into their national consciousness and it will increase the danger of terrorism we face for the foreseeable future.

So where’s the honor to be found in this debacle? I propose that these good soldiers and their families are worthy of double honor, respect and support from the American people for toiling to stabilize Iraq. Thereby saving the United States from the utter disgrace and disrepute that would have been ours if Iraq were allowed to spin out of control into a sectarian genocide of our making. The Bush Administration, the voters that put them in power and a minority of craven Democrats that supported it, started this war, but the U.S. military is now compelled to finish it.

To those arm chair generals out there that have been supportive of the Iraq War from its inception, please find the personal courage and humanity to see the brilliant film The Messenger. Its heart-felt portrayal of the ocean of grief unfolding in my “home town” stuns one into a holy silence – as the commanding officer in the film states: notification of the first of kin is a sacred duty. While you’re at it view The Hurt Locker for its depiction of the chaos and inhumanity of the sectarian violence that you and I elected to unleash. Those so certain of their point of view should not be afraid to be students of its actual consequence.

The suffering of military personnel and their families coping with death, physical maiming and mental injuries from this elective war is beyond my ability to impersonally dismiss as a usual outcome that the military will have to tolerate for the greater good of the country. There’s nothing usual about this situation.

And what of the flood of Iraqi war refugees, many of whom are Christians, killed or forced from their country by the Islamic fundamentalism that we elected to unleash? Iraq, despite its notorious dictatorship, was a secular state that protected its Christian minority. What of the other minorities who are now crushed under the wheels of majority groups fighting to fill the power vacuum that we elected to create? Apparently, “freedom is an untidy business” as Mr. Rumsfeld so casually stated.

But does taking responsibility in Iraq mean that the electorate should now have corporate amnesia and absolve the Republican Party for making this disastrous decision before they have fully appreciated the consequence and reformed their perspective? This is about political tough love that only an educated electorate can administer to the proper measure. I voted for them all my life before they did this terrible thing, but I can have the personal integrity now to admit my error, change my mind, and vote against them until their last nationalist neocon has been sent packing.

Adolf Hitler was a nationalist neocon. He was a German populist elected in reaction to the economic collapse of the Weimar Republic – Germany’s first attempt at liberal representative democracy. That ideological path is spawned in economic hardship and riven with danger and infamy. God help us if we cannot find the strength to resist that path.

As in the time of FDR and Truman, the Republicans have lost their way. They’re in desperate need of an extended retreat to the political wilderness to find themselves again and cast off the radical influences of populism and neoconservatism. If they don’t accomplish this painful task of reform, they will not be in a position to help build a positive future. They will cease to be the worthy inheritors of the proud legacy of Lincoln, TR and Eisenhower – all of whom would be labeled “RINO” by populist Republicans today.

America’s future needs Republicans, but this batch is defective. Believe in an America that’s a force for good in the world rather than a force for greed, destruction, war and fear. Send the Republicans away until they get it right.

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