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Political Animal

Tar Baby

By Brian Morton | Posted 11/29/2006

Finally, somebody gets it.

It's been ugly, it's been long, it's been brutal, and mostly it's been pointless, but somebody finally realized that we're not "in it to win it." At this point, we're like the cop on the beat--right now we're there to make sure the marital spat doesn't turn into murder. Sadly, however, we're a little bit late on that count.

What I'm talking about, of course, is Iraq. And the "somebody" I'm talking about is, surprisingly enough, a Republican U.S. senator. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska might be the most sensible member of his party at this late juncture to realize that not only can you not bring democracy to the Middle East at the point of a gun, but you certainly can't try and maintain one that never took root in the first place.

"The time for more U.S. troops in Iraq has passed," Hagel writes, in a Nov. 26 Washington Post op-ed. "We do not have more troops to send and, even if we did, they would not bring a resolution to Iraq. Militaries are built to fight and win wars, not bind together failing nations. We are once again learning a very hard lesson in foreign affairs: America cannot impose a democracy on any nation--regardless of our noble purpose."

Well, how about that? Sanity from Washington! Except for the fact that we went and punched the tar baby (in the classic, Uncle Remus sense) three years ago, and, sadly, there's no unsticking ourselves any time soon. The sheer dunderheadedness of obstinate know-it-alls like Donald Rumsfeld compounded the problem begun by a juvenile president with an Iraq fixation. Even Daddy's fair-haired boy, James Baker, and the Iraq Study Group aren't going to get us out without some penalties to be paid down the line for a good long time.

At this point the wing nuts will shriek, "Well, isn't it a good thing that Saddam Hussein was removed from office?" Maybe so. But also maybe not--this is one of those questions without a good answer; sort of like the one posed a few years ago when the Bushies handed us that tax cut by buying off individual Americans with $300 checks. Back then, when the GOP was taunting us by asking if we'd rather not get $300, the question should have been, "Do you want a punch in the mouth now or later?" In Iraq, George W. Bush has guaranteed that not only have we taken the punch in the mouth now, but that we're going to continue getting rapped about the kisser long after he's out of office.

Partitioning Iraq into Shi'ite, Sunni, and Kurdish sections right now might be the absolute worst of all the options--and that's the best option there seems to be at present. The Turks would like having a Kurdish state on their southern border the way we'd like it if Fidel Castro annexed the Miami suburb of Kendall. And the Shi'ites and the Sunnis would get along about as well as, well, think about how that whole West Bank/Gaza Strip thing is working out. Remember Tito and Yugoslavia? Boy, those are looking like the good ol' days now, aren't they?

Years ago I remember a lot of talk about how to solve the problems in Africa--Hutus and Tutsis, the famine in Somalia, and the troubles we encountered in Mogadishu. None of those situations were anything that the United States itself engendered; we simply tried to impose our own solutions on problems that were not of our own making. Even today, the genocide in Darfur still is a heart-wrenching matter that no individual concerned with the welfare of mankind can overlook--but we're already in a hole of our own making, and it's hard to even think about the people in other ones until we extract ourselves first.

Sadly, in addition to the fact that we're neck-deep in Iraq, Sen. Hagel also notes that the Muslim world seems to think, and with good reason, that we are at war with its religion as well. When six Muslim imams get thrown off an airplane in Minneapolis for the heinous crime of praying, it shows that it's not just our leadership that has a long way to go. But Bush has used all the wrong words far too many times (and been egged on by the worst angels of our worst nature, the religious right), and now much of the Middle East holds a grudge against us. And the Middle Eastern nations aren't much prone to grudges that last a few millennia or so, right?

It will be interesting to see how long it takes for Bush to come around to the Hagelian way of thinking when the new Congress convenes in January--if he does at all. Bush has made it clear that he plans on staying his course all the way through to January of 2009. How much worse we'll all be by then isn't something pleasant to look forward to.

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