In the training of a physician, few things are as educational as a good, old-fashioned autopsy. The post-mortem examination is a handy tool for a variety of reasons. If the death is suspicious, it often yields clues which help to finger the guilty. In medical deaths, it can be an important learning tool for the doctors by revealing the full spectrum of diseases present in the deceased that led to the eventual demise.
While our Iraq adventure might not yet be officially dead, it is starting to get a bit pungent around the edges and is clearly on its way down to the morgue.
Things started to go awry when those mythical WMDs never showed up (much less the drones that were going to spray Manhattan with chemical weapons). The absence of any real al Qaida connections in Iraq made things even a little more embarrassing.
The administration’s last life preserver was that America was "bringing democracy to Iraq" by eliminating the barbaric regime of Saddam Hussein. While this explanation was somewhat spurious, it was at least a decent fig leaf. But the photos of prisoner abuse wiped that excuse off the map. In the eyes of the world, we have lost the moral argument for the war. Once that is lost, it is usually all over but the crying.
From this point on, the insurgency will probably accelerate, our allies will continue to head for the exit, and things will get even nastier on the ground. More attacks, like the recent blowing up of the hand-picked leader of the Iraqi Governing Council, will surely follow. As the human and material costs of the war begin to mount, the demand for an exit will become overwhelming.
So as I sift through the bloated remains of this ill-conceived adventure, I can pinpoint four distinct groups that bear varying portions of the blame for this fiasco.
Listed in "Dante’s Inferno" style, they each occupy their own rung on the Ladder of the Pit.
The Antiwar Movement
Some might protest that I lay any blame at the feet of those who were against this war from the beginning…but I must politely disagree. The least uncomfortable rung on the Ladder of Hades is reserved for all of us in the antiwar movement because of the dreadful ineffectiveness of our political campaign to stop the conflict in the first place. From the onset, the antiwar movement was beset by parochial quarrels, inefficiency, and poor organization. At the end of the day, effectiveness is the standard. Good intentions don’t count for much. And given the high stakes…saying "I told you so" is not particularly satisfying.
Worse yet, the antiwar activities that did take place were mostly organized by the ’60s leftists of the ANSWER crowd. A coherent paleoconservative/libertarian argument grounded in the Constitution, the ideals of the Founders, and America’s traditional policy of non-interventionism was never really presented to the American people.
America needed a savvy, effective political movement to short-circuit our nation’s march to folly.
And we didn’t deliver.
Some might call that harsh…but honest self-criticism is definitely in order.
The Masses of Middle America
The majority of the American people have been asleep at the switch for so long that one really has to wonder if they are still conscious. Even before 9/11, many seemed to be perfectly okay with losing their liberty for the illusion of government-supplied safety and security. They meekly accepted the erosion of our Constitutional rights by acquiescing to the Patriot Act. And they bought the "Iraq/WMD/al Qaida" tale hook, line, and sinker.
And even worse, there seems to be a macabre militarism afoot. There is a whiff of the "Roman coliseum mob" out there that actually revels in the violence. But this element likes its warfare on the cheap. They are happy to see others go to fight in this conflict, but cry to high heaven when their gas prices go up as a result. They ignored or derided the antiwar movement, and were happy to have a quick, video-game war that would entertain them on their plasma screens. Now that things are going a bit sour, they’re starting to complain.
Overall, it is quite an unbecoming portrait…one that will hopefully provoke some introspection on their part.
But regardless of introspection, the masses of Middle America have earned the next lower rung on the ladder to fire and brimstone.
The next hottest level of Hell is reserved for our good friends the neocons. As numerous insiders have confessed (including ex-administration member Paul O’Neill), the neocons were planning this war from the get-go. They pounced on Middle America’s post 9/11 fears to go forward with their bizarre scheme to invade, conquer, and reconstruct the entire Middle East
Admittedly, they showed remarkable skill and persistence in bringing this whole thing to fruition (one should always give the Devil his due). But the way that they smeared and defamed numerous good men along the way is truly unpardonable. Various honorable military officials (such as retired Gen. Anthony Zini) who questioned the viability of the neocon’s military plans were slapped down and humiliated. Anyone who took exception to their low-ball cost projections was viciously persecuted.
Like the denizens of the Trotskyite swamp from which they so recently slithered, the neocons are masters at the art of political infighting and character assassination.
For their viciousness, their spiteful backstabbing, and their arrogant warmongering, the neocons have the honor of residing on the next lowest rung of Dante’s Inferno.
The Cowardly Politicians
But the hottest corner of the Inferno is reserved for that large segment of America’s political leadership, most aptly typified by John Kerry, who knew the truth but who didn’t stand up. These politicians saw through the fog of propaganda and distortions, but put their own political ambitions ahead of their country. They suspected that the Iraq invasion would end in disaster and that the administration was trampling our liberties with its Patriot Act-style laws, but they were afraid of the pro-war masses up on rung number two. They were also afraid of being vilified by the neocons’ smear machine.
As a result, they took the craven way out and voted in favor of the war, hoping that that everything would work out (or, if it didn’t, that they could avoid having to take any blame).
As this war approached, America needed leaders at the forefront who were willing to risk their re-election ambitions by speaking the truth. But when the heat was on, these guys were AWOL.
Since political cowardice is one of the least appealing traits in an elected official, I reserve the lowest rung of the ladder for these "leaders."
So now that we have analyzed the remains on our dissecting table, we can begin to piece together the crime. It was a geopolitical felony, committed with malice aforethought, perpetrated by a small band of admittedly cunning fanatics. They had a large mob of accessories who participated "for the cheap thrill of it." Numerous bystanders saw what was going on, but failed to intervene because they feared the risks involved. And those few citizens who did stand up to stop it were utterly ineffective in their efforts.
It is not a pretty picture…but post-mortems seldom are.
The only redeeming value at this point is in the educational value. Hopefully, we’ve all learned something that will help us avoid having this abomination repeated anytime soon.
But, quite frankly, I am not overly optimistic.
Steven LaTulippe [send him mail] is a physician currently practicing in Ohio. He was an officer in the United States Air Force for 13 years.