The direction a government, or a people, should take in conditions of war is not a simple thing to assess. Many will act as if it is, but the fact that people want to reduce such a terrible action and its consequences to sound bites only shows their own weaknesses of thought, or their unwillingness to address the truth of why they assert what they do. Motives are often hidden, and this is a matter that allows us to subject what is actually said to careful and critical examination.
The War in Iraq was sold to the American People like so much worthless patent medicine. It rests on a tissue of lies, and the real motives were not stated. We got one naked clue to this hidden reality, when Rumsfeld essentially said upon his resignation that he knew better than the rest of us what needed to be done (see blog entry titled: Rumsfeld Right, the rest of us Wrong). This arrogance permeates all levels of government today, and is itself rooted in the attitudes of the leaders of the financial world, who hold that the American People (and any other peoples as well) cannot be trusted with macro social decisions that effect markets, business, finance and trade.
This was also, to a degree, the view of the Founders of this nation. For this reason they sought not a true democracy, but a democratic constitutional Republic. The citizens were to be represented by (hopefully) people who understood their duties and the trust which had been placed in them.
This experiment has essentially failed.
The causes of its failures are several, but worth a brief elaboration. Of the least, but still, responsible, We the People must accept our being asleep as to not only the rights of citizenship (which we hold high), but the duties as well. There are no rights without corresponding duties, and as citizens the vast majority have failed in their duties (100 million eligible voters did not vote in the 1996 presidential election, for example).
Of greater responsibility, than the People themselves, are the politicians, a professional class that has most often put its own prerogatives, power, wealth and position ahead of the needs of the People.
Following them are what I call in some of my writing: the Lords of Finance. They have intentionally interfered in the political processes of the Western Democracies, and corrupted them in both obvious and secret ways. Their insidious self-serving assertion of the rights of wealth over those of ordinary people is nothing less than a crime against humanity in the form of a tyranny. On a old Law and Order television show, the always attractive female aide to the lead prosecutor says to him at the end of the episode: "I guess the rich really do have different laws" (a very rich person just got away with murder). The prosecutor then replies, with a certain amount of barely held in disgust: "What laws?". But worse then all three of these, in the responsibility for the failure of the American Experiment, is the Press, including in particular the major television network news shows. The importance of a free press is enshrined in our Constitution in the very first amendment*. This shows the significance of free speech in the minds of the Founders. *"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
We can not get sold a War without the complete failure of the Media to perform its duties and responsibilities as the voice of conscience of a free People.
The War in Iraq is unjustified, by any evaluation of the right means by which a people ought to be brought to make war on any other people. The least responsible for this war are the American People, yet it is they who pay the greatest price, in the maiming and death of our most precious heritage, our children. Not only that, but the world (with great justice) looks upon the American today as the cause of great suffering. Not unimportant is also the material costs, the taxes and the malformation of our economy, all in the service of a War that benefits only the Very Rich.
All of this must be kept in mind in considering what to do now. The sound bites, with their vain philosophy that such complexity can be reduced to a simple phrase, have to be ignored, for they have no real meaning, nor are they based upon intelligence or even (heaven forbid we have this) wisdom. So "cut and run", or "complete and immediate withdrawal", the two most superficial poles, can be safely ignored. The division of Iraq into three spheres is probably the most laudable and realistic goal, but even in that case, the question remains: How much more the American People have to pay for the crimes and failures of others? Next I am going to suggest something really rather radical, even though I know it will not be considered. An idea is not invalidated simply because we know that those in power will not apply it.
Step One: The countries of the world need to be told that since they too contributed to the background context of problems, they will have to make reparations, of either money, arms and/or soldiers. They also need to be told the whole plan, as a motivation for them to step forward.
Step Two: Rather than seek to reduce the weapons held by the various factions in Iraqi, we prepare to even the odds. We promise that as part of our withdrawal, everyone will be able to become armed. As long as the factions can terrorize the ordinary people, with the ordinary people unable to fight back, they will do so. Once they realize that the whole damn country is going to be armed to the teeth, those decisions all have to start to change. The militia leaders only have power to the extent they can arm only their soldiers. The out of country terrorists only have power to the extent those they terrorize can not fight back. Iran only has power to the extent that they face a basically unarmed populace, who are fearful for their lives, and have no choice but to seek a powerful (but very dangerous) friend.
The tendency in our thinking is to seek to control, and to police. Here we do the opposite, much the same way the martial arts equalize combatants by the skill of moving with the aggressive energy, instead of opposing it. We push in the direction of what seems like greater anarchy, which will have the useful effect of making those who assert power of arms actually less powerful. For example, in a town where an armed militia of 1000 men terrorizes and holds hostage 50,000 people, if much of that 50,000 now has the same arms, the whole dynamic changes. A group of a dozen thugs with AK-47s can terrorize a neighborhood, unless that neighborhood of 500 people is also armed.
They also don't need to be heavily armed, either. The real matter is not force against force, but the underlying psychology. Terrorism is psychological warfare, whether it is done by the militias, by one religious faction against another, or by a neighboring State. It is of the mind and of the imagination. I scare you. If I can no longer scare you, because you also can shoot me (we all have guns), then the whole problem takes a quite different turn.
The doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), by which the Cold War remained cold instead of hot, was rooted in a valid psychological fact. If we are equally dangerous, then everyone has to think a lot more carefully. This is the real threat by the way of Iran and North Korea as potential holders of atomic weapons - an ability to make the U. S. rethink its foreign (read corporate) policies, because we are not the only ones who can bring down the house.
Whether, a world living on these principles is sane or not, is whole other question, but clearly a utopian pacifism is not only not an idea whose time has come, it can't claim to be more sane for it abandons the great mass of the meek to the predatory appetites of the few.
Step Three (and the most crucial): The American People must hold their leaders accountable for getting us into this war in the first place. I don't mean just voting them out of office. There are crimes that have been committed, and people need to be tried for these crimes, and we, the American People, need to require in this regard: Justice. If we don't hold them accountable, we essentially consent, and then deserve to be seen by the rest of the world as criminal ourselves.
Electing some Democrats to Congress is just the first of a long series of steps by which we need to seize and take hold of our real powers and responsibilities as citizens. The fact that we don't expect the government to like the above idea, does not invalidate it, nor does it mean we cannot put it forward as our plan for the future of Iraq. In fact, just the threat of it will change the whole conversation, and maybe scare some people in this country in a way they very much need to be scared. As V says in the movie V for Vendetta: "A people should not be afraid of their government. The government should be afraid of the people."