The Geriatric Squad

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The Baker commission — or more accurately, the Geriatric Squad — is not likely to come up with a solution to the Iraq War.

The commission consists of some old political types — two ex-secretaries of state, Jim Baker and Lawrence Eagleburger; two ex-senators, Chuck Robb and Alan Simpson; two ex-congressmen, Leon Panetta and Lee Hamilton; an ex-Supreme Court justice, Sandra Day O’Connor; an ex-attorney general, Ed Meese; an ex-defense secretary, William Perry; and a lone black representative, Vernon Jordan. There’s not a Middle East expert in the bunch.

Baker has already said in a public speech that the solution must be between "cut and run" and "staying the course." I don’t know what that might be, unless it is a phased withdrawal. At any rate, they have held off making their report, in part due to the election.

It has occurred to me that perhaps the real goal of the invasion of Iraq has already been accomplished. That is, the real goal all along might well have been to half-destroy the country and create chaos. A country in chaos is not a strong country. It’s been taken out of the play.

That could be the Middle East plan: Either become an obedient lackey of the U.S., or we’ll turn your country into a chaotic mess. If that’s the plan, then Syria and Iran are next on the list. That scheme, cruel and immoral as it is, would at least make more sense than believing democracy was ready to bloom in the desert. I suspect, however, it is beyond the brainpower available in the administration.

Robert Fisk, the British Independent’s outstanding correspondent in the Middle East, believes we will eventually just blame the Iraqis, declare them too backward to take advantage of our help and use that as an excuse to withdraw.

Whatever the excuse or cover, we will eventually withdraw. The American people have finally woken up to the fact that there is no prize to be won with a so-called victory. There’s not even a way to define victory. All of those young people’s deaths and wounds are buying Americans nothing of value. They are dying for people who hate them.

I think a good case can be made that most of the leaders who take their countries to war are stupid. It became clear in World War I that with the advent of high explosives and the machine gun, nobody really wins a modern war. The cost in blood and treasure to the victor is usually not worth it. It takes a pretty dumb person not to figure out a better way to resolve some petty conflict other than by going to war.

Wars are usually fought over land and resources, so greed is at the bottom of most wars. It’s easy, looking backward, to think that the way things happened was inevitable and the only way they could have happened. That’s not true, however. There are nearly always alternatives to war.

An old Marine general once suggested that as soon as war breaks out, all of the munitions and weapons makers should be drafted and paid a private’s salary until the war is over. I wish there were a way to make the political leaders who start wars stand in the front lines and catch the first bullets.

Alas, we live in the era of chicken-hawk jingoists and behind-the-lines leaders. Nearly every one of those men who pushed so ardently for war in Iraq has never heard the whiz of a bullet past his ear.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.

© 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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