As this seemingly endless reign of unprecedented incompetence that is our current leadership finally reaches twilight, one can only hope for better days ahead. I’d love to believe that this is the nadir of American political discourse, but the way both candidates are framing foreign policy seems to suggest continued biligerence. McCain who claims we are winning (can win) the war in Iraq, easily wins the award for outstanding achievement in the field of cognitive dissonance, thus making him the rightful heir to Bush Et al.
News Flash: the ‘war’ in Iraq ended 5 ½ years ago with the fall of Baghdad!
What we are now engaged in is a protracted counter-insurgency campaign. And according to Thomas E. Ricks' incredibly informative Fiasco we lost in the first year. The goal of such a campaign is hopefully to avoid an insurgency altogether by convincing people that you understand their plight and are here to help. Trust is achieved by living amongst the populace, observing local mores and customs when ever possible and generally demonstrating respect for their culture.
If an insurgency does in fact bloom this becomes all the more crucial as what you have now is basically a P.R. battle. Not that you would know this by the conduct of our men (this is no fault of theirs of course, they are just doing the job they were trained to do). By protecting the oil fields while leaving national museums to be pillaged of priceless artifacts from the earliest of civilization, we definitely did not do ourselves any favors P.R.-wise.
Furthermore, building a fortress-like green zone with modern amenities such as cable TV and air conditioning, while leaving much of Baghdad without electricity or even running water sends a clear message- unfortunately directly contradicting our stated mission. Where we really dropped the ball though, was when we disbanded the military and barred Ba’ath members from holding office (thank you Paul Bremer). This insured that a quick and orderly transition to stable government would be nearly impossible. Training soldiers and police takes time after all, as does grooming politicians. Ricks, who is a non-partisan military reporter with no ideological ax to grind, plainly says something to the effect that if the goal was to create an insurgency, we could hardly have done a better job.
And yet, we (well the people that pushed for invasion ASAP), from the initial planning stages, failed to entertain even the possibility of an insurgency because our troops were supposed to be recognized as liberators and the reconstruction was supposed to pay for itself.
As for McCain’s claim that the surge is working (the surge being his idea according to him), I have only this to say: violence has decreased, because the country has been more or less cordoned off into districts of Sunni, Shiite and Kurd. And many of the Sunni insurgents are now part of militias that are financed by guess who, the U.S. In my estimation this is amounts to bribery. What is going to happen when we do eventually draw our forces down and stop throwing all this money at Iraq? We can’t be certain until the day actually arrives. But I would be willing to bet that the idea of Iraq as model for the rest of the mid-east has been a wee bit over sold.
What about the proposed refocused effort in Afghanistan and tribal Pakistan to root out the Taliban and “smoke him [bin Laden] out of his hole”? Well, besides the glaring fact that the biggest breeding ground for anti-western terror (Saudi Arabia) is propped up by our addiction to oil, and those very oil dollars that go almost exclusively to the corrupt royal family only exacerbate the situation further; the war on terror is is basically untenable by definition. Why? Because an entity has to exist to have a war fought against it.
Terrorism is a tactic. A tactic cannot be defeated because obviously any one can come along at a later date and employ it. You might as well declare a global war on fishing. Israel has been fighting a 'war' on terror for forty fucking years and where has it got them? It's just as bloody as it's ever been and they've lost credibility with the rest of the world (except the US of course) for their heavy handed approach..
If you really want to do something about terrorism, perhaps the U.K.'s approach to the I.R.A. should be heeded. They used the criminal justice system to prosecute these people as the murderers they truly are. But really the most effective course of action in combating terrorism is to undermine it's root cause- in this case the radical fundamentalist branch of Islam.
You don't eradicate an ideology by bombing it, especially if it's adherents are readily willing to sacrifices there lives-- this being eloquently captured in the carnage that continues to plague Israel. No, you defeat an ideology only when you thoroughly discredit it. Our knee-jerk reaction in Afghanistan has been about as effective as throwing water on burning oil in the hopes of extinguishing it. The evidence that these people despise us is everywhere. We’ve twice abandoned them now- first in the 80’s, and then again when we moved our focus, barely a year after toppling the Taliban, to Iraq.
But then, was 'winning' even what this was all about?. Some people, who would surely be derided as paranoid in mainstream thought, think that the ‘war’ on terror is more about keeping the populous in line with the threat of immanent danger, than any vaguely defined benchmark for victory. And I won’t disagree that the Patriot Act and all the sweeping new powers it has granted the executive branch in ‘war time’, are a worrisome precedent.
The mere fact that it was given the inane title "Patriot Act" and not something more suitably descriptive like oh I don’t know - the homeland security act, sounds a lot like Ministry of Truth irony. Censorship of the press, spying on the public, torture of detainees/enemies of state (especially dangerous for the vague definition of an enemy of the state/terrorist) are all on the books and ready to be implemented by some future administration.
Essentially these ‘paranoid’ America haters see the war on terror as an open ended conflict used to fuel the military industrial complex and keep the populace in line against an enemy that can be defined as anyone to fit the situation as necessary. Given the evidence of the last eight years, this idea doesn’t appear that implausible to me. Of course I guess it’s possible that this is just a coincidental side effect of a larger campaign to keep America "safe".
It also seems a little too convenient that the people who have made a killing in the last eight years with no bid contracts, companies like KBR and Blackwater have deep ties to this administration. I was recounting this to a friend recently who informed me that this is just the way that business is conducted i.e. businesses hire people they know. This to me highlights a pretty big problem with with the way our government has come to be viewed. Namely as a business that provides service to those who make the highest bids, rather than a co-op that is accountable to it's participants (at all times not just every two or four years). The money being pissed away in these contracts is yours and mine, and shouldn't be given out willy-nilly to cronies --i t should be allocated to those best suited to perform the task at hand.
To summarize, our war on terror is/will be no more effective than our war on drugs because the very act of calling it a war, frames the situation in the wrong terms creating a false dichotomy that will at best perpetuate this incredible waste of our time and resources and at worst exacerbate things.