To understand problems, situations and events, we start with physical observation and data gathering, then test and compare, and when we still don’t understand what is happening, we check our paradigms and our assumptions. In checking those assumptions and paradigms, it often turns out our own experience, past cases that "didn’t fit" and ideas from other disciplines may serve as guides in understanding the new problem honestly and accurately.
While this scientific process works well, we also come to grips with problems using a more mundane and efficient approach, with less analysis, but getting us to the same place. It has to do with common sense and trusting our instincts. You could call this the "Teen Living 101" approach, more like a home economics method than hard science.
Today, we have the unusual situation where both supporters of our invasion and occupation of Iraq, as well as those in the loyal and increasingly infuriated opposition, share the same concerns. We are all trying to figure out why this project of occupation and nation building for the Iraqi people isn’t progressing better. The question used to be why followers of Osama bin Laden "hate us." Now we wonder why a lot of newly "liberated" Iraqi men, women and children seem to hate us.
Like a mother who complains that her children never call "after all she’s done for them," we as a nation need to reassess exactly what we have done and how we are behaving before we can understand the results.
In the case of the toppling of the Taliban in response to the 9-11 attacks, the war plan was actually in place months before 9-11. President Hamed Karzai, former UNOCAL employee and longtime CIA asset emplaced after the toppling, is still protected by American bodyguards from his less enthusiastic Afghan brethren. Initially the bodyguard duty fell to United States Special Forces troops, but this service was privatized last year through a contract to the American company DynCorp, managed through the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service. Poppies are again the crop of choice in much of Afghanistan, and still we seek the evasive bin Laden brother who went bad. One sometimes wonders whether we could save a little money and blood in Afghanistan by just having the Bush family ask their friends in the bin Laden family to help them.
But Afghanistan, and the details of what happened when, doesn’t consume us — it’s a Special Forces war, a secret war, and it’s old news, just like our permanent U.S. military bases in Hungary, Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, and southeastern Kosovo.
Bush’s war in Iraq, unlike in Afghanistan, agitates. Like an unbalanced, overloaded washing machine entering the spin cycle, what started as one thump, and then another, quickly becomes an undeniable pressing thump-thump-THUMP-THUMP, telling you that something must be done NOW before the energized chunk of metal leaps its moorings in a primitive anarchic celebratory victory dance. If you’ve never experienced this, take my word for it. Or you can watch liberated Iraq unfold.
We can analyze the poor planning, the smidgeons of intelligence used out of context and with a willfulness associated only with extreme youth or extreme senility, the political and business pressures, the role of Israel’s Likud Party in pushing for the takeover of Iraq. We can look at the evidence, increasingly abundant, showing Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz all lied to Americans at home, and possibly even to the military about what this Iraq invasion was all about and what it would ultimately entail in blood and agony and tax receipts. We can look at Iraq in the context of other activities of the Bush Administration (and Clinton before him in Bosnia and Kosovo). This analysis is time-consuming, scientific, exhaustive. Political scientists and historians will be doing a lot of this over the next twenty-five years. The results will be fascinating, but ultimately after the fact and too late.
But in the case of Iraq, the rest of us do have a more satisfying alternative. Teen living courses, designed to make boisterous teenagers safe and productive in kitchen and laundry room, aim for practical problem solving as well as prevention of surprises. The Jello "rules of the kitchen" can serve us well in truly understanding the problems we face in Iraq, how Bush got us there, and how to get better. Check them out:
- Wash your hands with soap and water before you begin. [Oops. Dubya’s hands have never passed inspection — dirty-looking business connections, stains of Cheney’s frustration in 1991, sticky spots of the unabashedly pro-Israel leanings of U.S. defense decision-makers Wolfowitz and Feith, and a general taint of Rumsfeld’s aggressive arrogance all present and accounted for.]
- Read the whole recipe carefully before starting. If you don’t understand any part, ask an adult to help you. Read “Cooking Tips,” “Equipment,” and “Cooking Words To Know” so you will know the meanings of all the words in the recipe. [Indeed. The adults who could help Bushco understand the recipe and the meanings of the words were right there in CENTCOM, in the Pentagon, the CIA, DIA and State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). Too bad they weren’t listened to!]
- Collect all the ingredients and equipment you need for the recipe before you start to cook. [This is always a good idea. Too bad it was politically unpalatable at the time. Come to think of it, it still is!]
- Do one step of the recipe at a time. Do not skip steps. [Amateurs, whether in cooking or politics, tend to skip steps. The pièce de résistance, if I may, is the purposed nation-building in Iraq. Steps skipped included, but were not limited to, stirring in Iraqi self-determination, adding real (not imitation) Iraqi authority and control over the Ministries of Oil and Finance, and preparing a secure environment for Iraqi daily life and trade.]
- Ask an adult to help you when a recipe calls for boiling water, a microwave, stove, oven, or a sharp knife. [Again, adults were available, but you know teenagers. Or the demented elderly who need the kind of special care not currently provided in the Pentagon.]
- Measure carefully, using the correct equipment. [You would think!]
- Use the size of pan called for in the recipe. [Granted, when one fails to follow steps 1, 2, 3 and 6, there would be debate on the size of the pan, or army, required.]
- Follow the times given in the recipe. If a recipe says chill for one hour, be sure to chill the mixture for at least one hour. [I think the operative word here is "Chill!" We could have contained Saddam comfortably, safely and effectively for several years while working for regional democracy and Israeli-Palestinian peace, but then we wouldn’t have known what owning Iraq would taste like, and we just couldn’t wait.]
- Clean up when you are finished! [Goes hand in hand with "You break it, you buy it!" and it is both good manners, and entirely unlikely to happen in Iraq anytime soon.]
- Share your tasty creations with family and friends. [Well, the Bush-Cheney political corporation got this one right. In case you missed it, it happened while the rest of us we were discussing Step 1.]
It isn’t that complicated, and every one of us who has ever baked a cake, made Jello, or captured and reloaded a thumping washing machine can understand exactly how we got into this mess.
Two things get to happen. Bush and his incompetent administration have failed the course, and considering the damage done, will be expelled here at home if not in Iraq itself. Then, the rest of us (every congressman and woman, every relative of a soldier in harm’s way, and every American) need to reload the machine, throw out the ungelled Jello, and start over from where we stand, wiser and more cautious, following the rules of common sense and our basic knowledge of right and wrong.
The starting point is to wash our hands of the Bush leaguers. The hot water is already running, and suds are developing. Resignations are swirling down the drain already. All that’s left is a good scrubbing. With all the hard work that lies ahead for this country, at home and abroad, we should scrub with gusto and a sense of confidence, knowing we are finally doing something that makes sense and will deliver results.