The Losing Game

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Does your wife complain about your drinking? Here’s what to do. Raise it from 5 ounces a day to 7 ounces a day. Take the heat. Then promise to cut back to 5 ounces, and make a token move in that direction.

George Bush has a reputation as a skilled poker player. In December of 2006, he raised the U.S. bet in Iraq by unilaterally introducing thousands of additional U.S. troops. He bet that Congress would support this move financially despite the war’s unpopularity.

By early May of 2007, Congress passed a $124 billion funding bill containing a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal. Bush vetoed this bill. In less than 4 weeks, Congress passed the funding bill without the timetable. Bush won the hand. But Iraq is still a losing game.

Bush won substantial time to continue the war. He provided cover for those Congressmen who want to support the war while also criticizing it for the benefit of the folks back home. They can point to the President’s veto. More importantly, they can also point to troop "withdrawals," for General Petraeus now speaks of withdrawing the additional 30,000 surge troops by July of 2008. If this occurs, the U.S. troop level by next July will be right back where it was before Bush instigated the troop increase last December. Congressional politicians will have the benefit of headlines declaring troop withdrawals.

The golden age of MGM musicals ended long ago, but the Washington Circus continues with the President as ringmaster. Mr. Mayer would not say this is entertainment. Dog-and-pony acts like those of Petraeus need no direction from Bush. Professionals like him know what hoops to jump through. Petraeus is a diversion. All the statistical hoopla is a diversion.

The tide has shifted. The automatic Congressional support for war in Iraq has faded. Voices on both sides of the aisle are speaking up more and more willingly. This episode in foreign entanglement, war, and state-building will be very slowly liquidated, but it will take a new administration to accomplish this.

Will the next U.S. administration retrench the U.S. empire? Will it turn away from war and invasion as instruments of U.S. foreign policy? Will it banish the paranoid fears of U.S. policymakers? Will it end the propaganda over national security? Will it terminate the war on terror as official policy? Will it battle terrorism with appropriate police tools and vastly decrease the military involvement?

Not on your life. Not until Americans demand these things. The Democrats who may win the next election view Iraq as a "failed policy." They do not view Iraq as part of a larger failed American strategy. Failure it surely is. Domestic socialism and international imperialism under the guise of wrong-headed ideals do nothing but retard American growth. They simply throw valuable coerced capital down the drain and undermine capital accumulation.

The Vietnam War ended in 1975. A degree of war disillusionment set in. It lasted only 8 years. It ended when American troops landed on Grenada in 1983. In 1989 the U.S. invaded Panama. By 1990, the U.S. was fighting a major war in Iraq. The respite from the strategy of war was pitifully brief.

This time around, the matter is extremely clear.

On May 1, 2003, Bush declared that the "major combat" in Iraq had ended. He was wrong. He has been consistently wrong on Iraq as was his predecessor, Bill Clinton. Congress has also been consistently wrong on Iraq.

Bush was wrong to support regime change in Iraq.

Bush was wrong to attack and bring down Saddam Hussein. Congress was wrong to support and fund regime change and the war.

Bush was wrong on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

Bush was wrong in thinking of Iraq as a "grave and growing danger" to the U.S. He was wrong to allow Cheney and Rumsfeld to say that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons even as the CIA was writing that it had no "direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since Desert Fox to reconstitute its WMD programs."

Bush was wrong to think of terrorist acts on U.S. soil as war. He was wrong to paint Saddam Hussein as closely tied in with Al-Qaeda or bin Laden.

Bush was wrong to propagandize the American public with hypothetical Iraqi threats. He was wrong to propagandize Americans by declaring that the threats were actual: "This is a man [Saddam Hussein] who told the world he would not have weapons of mass destruction — your chemical, your biological or nuclear weapons. For eleven years he has lied. On the one hand, he said he wouldn’t have them — he does."

But President Bush, while wrong most of the time, is not always wrong. He was right earlier this year when he said: "It is clear that we need to change our strategy in Iraq." The thing we need to notice is that he didn’t change it. He simply gave us more of the same.

Bush is right to have criticized terrorism. Bin Laden and his ilk in Iraq and elsewhere join a long list of bloodthirsty would-be tyrants, tyrants, and violent idiots. The carnage they perpetrate is unspeakable. But Americans need to look in the mirror at the needless carnage, dislocation, and destruction that we cause and have caused.

Bush is right to have noted that security in Iraq is an urgent priority. But it is a priority for those who live there, not, as he thinks, as a condition of American "success."

Bush and Congress continue to be wrong on Iraq. The entire American effort, military and political, is based on faulty premises. Bush and Congress are playing a losing game. The only way to salvage any chips is to quit playing the game now. Under the present strategies, when the clock strikes 2 a.m., America will not be able to pick up its money and get up from the table as it did in Vietnam.

Under present strategies, America is a big loser and yet it is following strategies that lock it into playing the losing game indefinitely. It is urgent and imperative for America to disengage from Iraq immediately.

American policies rest on faulty and shaky premises. The main false premises are that the U.S. has a right to and should control the destiny of the people living in Iraq. But U.S. soldiers have no right to attack foreign lands that have not attacked the U.S. And the U.S. should not engage in such attacks, the results of which are devastating for all parties concerned.

Another false premise is that the U.S. can control the politics of Iraq and create a democratic, stable, and independent government. But it has no viable way to accomplish this because Iraq is and always has been politically fractured. Saddam Hussein held it together under strong man rule. Given the goal of democracy, the U.S. cannot create a stable country in Iraq. It’s been trying to do this for 4 years without success. Pandora’s box has been opened, and inside are Turks and Kurds, Sadrs and Badrs, Shiites and Sunnis, Muslims and Christians, Iranians and Iraqis, etc.

The U.S. can only accomplish this task by following an unacceptable course, which is to impose a government, that is, find another Saddam Hussein and another military force to hold the country together. And this is what some U.S. leaders want. The calls for a change in leadership in Iraq indicate that democracy is a facade and that some U.S. leaders want a strong man in power. Similarly, continual U.S. attempts to reconstruct a loyal military force suggest the same, which is a desire to control the factions under one rule.

The U.S. aims to hold the country together by temporarily controlling the bloodshed. American forces will be further embedded into the country to accomplish this. The false premise is that this will buy time for building up an Iraqi security force so that America can withdraw.

Again, the U.S. has been trying to do this for 4 years without success. Each faction within Iraq has its own agenda. The various factions make up the police and military. They think in terms of what will happen when the U.S. is gone. Their goals do not coincide with American goals and do not coincide with the goals of the current titular leadership of Iraq.

At some point, when Americans are gone or before, someone will attempt to control and use the Iraqi force to achieve power in Iraq. This power struggle and waiting game can go on indefinitely.

The U.S. vainly imagines that there is some sort of security force goal to be met at some time certain in the future at which time it achieves success. However, building an Iraqi government is not the same as building a rocket to the moon or even overseeing new Japanese and German governments on the ruins of the old ones. Deadlines, planning, manpower, air strikes, raids, and troops are of no help. Building an independent Iraqi state that will be to America’s liking and survive in America’s absence is a task beyond the capabilities of American administrations. Iraq is not India, and the U.S. is not Great Britain. Building states is not a cookie-cutter operation done according to Mom’s favorite recipe. The tangled and lengthy histories of France and Germany show how extremely complicated it can be for democratic states to arise.

The false premises here are that the U.S. has the right to, can, and should construct political governments all over the world to its liking. But U.S. citizens through their political and military institutions have no such right to impose government upon other peoples by political and economic state-to-state measures or by military measures. Other peoples have a right to self-determination, no matter whether we like the outcome or not. Nor can such imposed measures be successful in the sense of benefiting either Americans in general or the peoples of such countries, inasmuch as all such measures involve various forms of socialism that must invariably retard progress. And for these reasons, the U.S. should not engage in its basic strategy of controlling the politics and economics of foreign lands. The same can be said for the role of the national government of the U.S. vis-à-vis the individual states of this nation. Socialism has the same bad results, whether practiced domestically or internationally.

Iraq is a losing game for Americans and Iraqis at large. But Iraq exemplifies a much larger losing game, which occurs whenever one central government controls people by controlling the lesser governments of those people. The winners of these games are those in control. The losers are the people being controlled.

It will be a wonderful day when those politicians who are repudiating the Iraq policy also repudiate the overall American policy of centralized domestic and international control. It will be a wonderful day when those who speak of freedom actually do something to enlarge it. If one significant city, county, or state in this land will stand up to the intrusions of those governments above it and resist them, that day may yet come.

Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.

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