Despite it being the great, avoidable tragedy of the decade, part of me has rather enjoyed the endless quagmire that Iraq has become. It gives me the quiet satisfaction of justice being done – a sensation, incidentally, wholly absent from Saddam’s barbaric execution. The sheer hideousness of the outcome so perfectly highlights the idiocy of the idea, the inadequacy of its justification and the ineptness of its implementation. It’s like a Greek tragedy, with an act of hubris leading to inexorable nemesis. It’s not unlike Oedipus, except that instead of the protagonist killing his father, he killed “the man who tried to kill my dad”. That, and I don’t even want to think about George Jr gettin’ it on with Barbara Bush.
The other difference is that in Greek tragedy, the hubris leads to the death of the protagonist. Which would have been more apt than the death of 3,000 American troops, and countless civilians. Still, President Bush has suffered a political death, at any rate, and has become such a ‘lame duck’, as the American jargon has it, that I’m astonished Dick Cheney hasn’t tried to hunt him.
And yet today we learn that despite the massive slap in the face that was the Democrats’ seizure of both Houses of Congress, President Bush wants to send 21,000 more troops to Iraq. Before we get onto this, one thing is abundantly clear. There should be no more Australian troops, and the ones that are there should be brought back as fast as possible. There is clearly no justification left for our presence there other than the most obvious one – our Prime Minister’s need to ingratiate himself with the US. Given our reliance on the US alliance for our defence, this was perhaps unsurprising. But it has gone on more than long enough. We’ve done our bit, and it’s time we left Bush to clean up his own mess.
And this is why I’m sympathetic to the idea of sending more troops. The Democrats have sought to oppose it, and I can understand why – it should resonate well with American voters. But I’m not sure that’s right. The fact is that this situation is entirely the fault of the President and the Congress, who approved it at the time. To abandon Iraq now would be even crueller to ordinary Iraqis than the invasion was in the first place. It’s clear that the domestic forces have little to no chance of fixing things, and the hornet’s nest that Bush so incautiously poked still needs to be quietened.
There seems to be a consensus that not enough troops were sent initially, a decision that has been sheeted home to Donald Rumsfeld. If so, surely more is a good idea? Especially as it’s still so clear that the numbers on the ground now are inadequate to secure the country. Whether even 20,000 more will suffice is also impossible to ascertain. Let’s hope they send sufficient numbers for the environment to become safer, rather than even more dangerous due to the increased number of target.
I do feel for the troops. I know people who have fought in Iraq, and the prospect of losing more people like them merely to gratify the grandiose vanity of an insipid simpleton does not exactly appeal. But what other choice does Bush, or the US, really have? Trying to actually end this farce properly is surely a better option – and a nobler one, even – than just washing their hands of the whole business.
The so-called Powell Doctrine – of intervening reluctantly, with clear and realistic objectives and with such an overwhelming force that you can achieve them without many casualties – has never looked better than it does from here. Especially when contrasted with the Bush Doctrine, which seems to be to intervene ignorantly, with little preparation, and make an open-ended commitment without enough troops to realistically achieve it, relying instead on foolish optimism. (Perhaps the Iraqis are just taking a really long time to put together those garlands of flowers with which we were told they’d welcome their liberators?) We can only hope that there are other commanders as restrained and pragmatic as Colin Powell within the US Army. And, more importantly, that the administration listens to them this time.
I don’t know enough about the situation on the ground to know whether the proposed plan will help matters much. But let’s hope that, for the first time, the Americans actually know what they’re doing.