Thursday, December 15, 2011

Truth and the end of U.S. war in Iraq

Today I want to comment on this surreal historic moment when the U.S. government is trying to provide everyone with a happy ending to the war in Iraq. And make a more general point about how some of the principles we willingly accept and religiously abide by at the micro (personal/local) level of society sadly fail to bubble up to the macro (govt/national) level when they logically should.

To begin, savvy parents know that one of the most important things they can impart to their children is an instinct to tell the truth when they've done something wrong. Parents do this because they know from experience that fidelity to the truth sustains the fabric of relationships, and moreover the world as a whole is improved through honest citizenship. But also because they know that it is not always easy to tell the truth; indeed, one of the hardest things to do in life is to admit having screwed up and done something wrong. Far easier is it to prevaricate and/or pass off responsibility for the misdoing to some third party.

So too is it in a democracy with respect its elected leaders. We the people ought to be ever watchful that our representatives have a steady relationship with the truth, that they do not lie, or mince words, or obfuscate reality, and reflexively own up to any sort of failure with admirable transparency. Now, how does this analogy stand up to the events of the past week?

Well, at Fort Bragg, NC yesterday, President Obama spoke to the soldiers there, now veterans, claiming that all their fighting, dying, building, etc. has "led to this moment of success". Moreover, our Commander in Chief mused,
"we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people. We’re building a new partnership between our nations. And we are ending a war not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home. This is an extraordinary achievement, nearly nine years in the making."
Aside from the fact that the military is headed home, every aspect of this absurdly optimistic distortion of the reality on the ground in Iraq begs serious explanation. Far from being a "moment of success", the world is witnessing a humiliating retreat and the stunning failure of a decade-long effort at putative 'nation building'. In certain ways it compares to the U.S. exit from Saigon in 1975, albeit no one is fleeing pants on fire to board helicopters from besieged buildings. N.b. the U.S. tried to reach an agreement with the Iraqi government to retain a minimal presence there, but the deal breaker was no immunity from prosecution for the atrocities committed there by our military against civilians, the important history of which it has been left to be destroyed in Baghdad junkyards. In short, we disposed of one dictator (Saddam) and now another one is in his place (al-Maliki). See Premier’s Actions in Iraq Raise U.S. Concerns. We are leaving Iraq in a state of extreme instability, plagued by continued sectarian violence, a crippled infrastructure, and situated in a more volatile geo-political environment -- particularly with respect to its historic adversary Iran -- than we found it when we invaded the country for the second time in 2003. Add to that the 1.3 million refugees suffering in camps around in the country.

So where are the brave guardians of the state, like you and me, righteously correcting and admonishing our President with moral indignation to come clean with an honest account of where Iraq really stands at the end of this unjustified nightmare we created? And where is the majority of the so-called "Fourth Estate", news outlets and journalists, crying foul in the midst of this concerted effort to distort and throw history in the garbage heap?

Certainly not Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who at a ceremony this week at Baghdad International Airport said to the rank and file,
"You will leave with great pride -- lasting pride, secure in knowing that your sacrifice has helped the Iraqi people to cast tyranny aside and to offer hope for prosperity and peace to this country's future generations."
This rhetoric should grate upon the sensibility of all inquiring people with its rosy attitude of self-promoting closure.

Ok, it might be argued that both Obama and Panetta should not be faulted, because they were talking to soldiers who have fought in Iraq and/or Afghanistan and who need encouragement and support. The problem with this reasoning is that the President and his deputies are not speaking to any other audience, so this is the sole message being broadcast to the nation and the world.

Another relevant analogy arising from common experience occurs everywhere in our schools. When a child makes some mistakes on a test, does the teacher discard the results and report to the child that he or she has done a perfect job, or does the instructor instead return the work and attempt to explain to the student what the are correct answers and how to derive them? As a nation we have done something that merits a failing grade, and yet our leaders are seemingly unwilling to point out our errors in an effort to help us understand what we have done wrong and to avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future. Wouldn't it have been better for Obama to have said to these men, well we obviously f'd up and I'm terribly sorry and take partial responsibility for that f'up, but will do everything in my power during my remaining days in office to make amends for that f'up and see that something like this never occurs again?

So again, why do we permit our leaders to get away with providing blatant disinformation about the Iraq war? Where are the good parents and teachers among us? Where is the mass media doing diligent fact checking for us all to evaluate and debate? And, more importantly, where does this leave our democracy, if our leaders are uncensored as they spin reality into a pleasing apparitions serving only to perpetuate serial military strategies that have resulted in mind-boggling costs and heart-wrenching human misery?

To conclude I'd like to take a step back and look at the bigger picture here.

The most honorable thing a person can do is admit a mistake. Same holds for a nation. It is not an exaggeration to say that the fate of society depends on the truth being told, from the playground to the Oval Office. We are brought up not to tolerate lying and injustice in our personal lives, so why is it that we tolerate it going on the national/global stage?

The stakes for world peace could not be higher at the moment. It is not unimaginable, indeed even probable that the U.S. and Israel will enter a war with Iran. As a result of our failure to confront the truth of our dishonest, misguided policies and endeavors in the Middle East, we should brace ourselves for another ill-conceived invasion of opportunity orchestrated by the for-profit military corporate complex. Coming sooner than you might think to Fox News in all it's hyped-up, patriotic shock and awe.

So it is time for the U.S. to adopt an new posture of restraint and civility -- not isolation and disengagement -- in the world. Especially now that we have now substantially reduced the power and effectiveness of our primary adversary Al-Qaeda by other means. Indeed, as has been the case since the beginning of the Cold War, the fate of the world depends in part on our doing the right, just thing in international affairs.

Thus I recommend that the President get back on the air and give us an honest account of the end of this war, i.e. what really happened and why we are leaving and what are the troubling nuances as we do so. And in November 2012, cast your votes for candidates who stand opposed to the status quo of opportunistic, for-profit war mongering.

We must also ask ourselves and our leaders the eternally difficult question, when if ever is it justified to resort to force to resolve the inevitable conflicts that arise between us?