Can We Fix Iraq?

I’m scheduled to give a talk at Johns Hopkins University next week. It’s sponsored by the Hopkins Anti-War Coalition. The topic will be "How Can We Fix the Mess We’ve Made in Iraq?"

I’ve written earlier about what I think we should do, which is to quickly and completely withdraw. This is the only honest step we can take to liberate a country that the United States has tried unsuccessfully to manage, manipulate and manufacture in one way or another since the early 1980s.

Today, a majority of Americans — from retired generals and conservative political appointees, to veterans from past wars and those soon to become veterans — agree that invading Iraq was wrongheaded and immoral, and that the operation pretty much went downhill from there. Every day, we hear new stories of corruption, fraud, ethnic and gangland-style violence and enforcement vendettas — not to mention what the Iraqis are doing to each other.

We observe, helplessly, the disastrous and seemingly permanent destruction of the Iraqi urban infrastructure. We are bombarded each week with disturbing images and reports of American condoned and tolerated torture, institutionalized human rights abuses — the list seems endless.

In this, I stand shoulder to shoulder with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and George W. Bush. They too think the awful and alarming stories are everywhere.

Of course, their "solution" to this "problem" is to hire their own newsmakers, provide precious access to news producers who happily report the White House and Pentagon "preferred" versions, and to support bloggers who paint happy faces under the makeup lights while angrily punishing soldiers who simply blog what they see in full glare.

Strangely, for the military, it is more dangerous to your career and your freedom to blog honestly than to beat and murder a captured Iraqi.

So how can we fix the mess in Iraq? I asked my husband this question. He said we should just leave, and give the land to those who want it and can hold it. He innocently asked, "Isn’t democracy about majority rule?"

Posing as national security visionaries, our devilish tin-soldier ingénues in the White House and the Congress may be soon learning this hard lesson of democracy. The majority of Americans support peace, security and withdrawal from Iraq while their elected representatives still support more war, more spending on war, and of course, more war.

Both the grassroots and the ivory tower seem to embrace the idea that elections are exceptionally useful and something called "voting" matters. Many navely expected that once Iraqis voted and raised the purple finger, America could come home, having accomplished that small flickering afterthought of the Bush-Cheney-Rice-Wolfowitz invasion of Iraq.

But any dictator can have elections. Saddam held regular elections, as did the Soviets, as do we. Paper ballots or electronic signaling of our preferences may not, in the end, really matter.

Raw majority rule — that rogue elephant of democracy theory — does make things happen, of course. The image of Iraqis with purple index fingers raised suggests a partial, yet intriguing, remedy to our own situation back home here in America.

We, the people, desperately need to raise more fingers in defiance of our pencil-necked, jack-booted government. My personal preference is the middle finger salute, but the index finger, when associated with "Just a minute, buster!" and "What are you doing to us, Congressman?" also works. We, the people, also need to give thumbs-down to politicians who exhibit lobbyist-driven corruption and chronic ignorance of our Constitution.

How does rudely giving the finger to our own government help fix Iraq? As anyone who watches Oprah or Dr. Phil, or even Judge Judy knows, when you have a troubled relationship with a significant other, you can’t just fix the "other." All you can do is be honestly aware of what you have become, and then listen and learn the truth about your partner’s situation (and here’s a great starting point). Finally, no matter what solutions present themselves, you can never ever forget that the only future you own, the only destiny you control, and the only change you can truly accomplish is yours.

We cannot "fix" Iraq. The Iraqis can, and the sooner they are able to get started, the better. Perhaps we might lead by example, illustrating to the Iranian clerics, and the Turkish nationalists, and the Israeli adventurers how it is polite and proper to give a partner some space, to let them find their own way.

We might put some of our free trade rhetoric into practice by giving back the reins of financial and energy sectors to local Iraqis. Perhaps — and I know this sounds like crazy talk — someday we might buy Iraqi oil, without constraints and conditions, just because they might someday produce it and we might someday want to use it, at a non-coerced, mutually agreed upon free market price?

If Oprah or Dr. Phil, or even Dr. Laura or Dr. Ruth were to make a recommendation on how to fix Iraq, the advice would be to start by fixing ourselves. Perhaps instead of "fix," they might use the word "heal" or "improve." Stop overt aggression in our actions and our language, cut out the holier-than-thou platitudes, they would advise. Don’t pick fights, start listening, stop labeling, refrain from theft and don’t tell lies about what is really going on.

This advice, if taken, would clear out most of our current members of Congress, before or during the next election. It would put right-wing administration-apologist talk radio and TV completely out of business, and it would crush the emerging left-wing critics who want more government power in order to "fix" someone else. Imagine an America where centralized controls, fear-mongering government spokesmen, and mass-produced White House talking points are rare, uncommon and unusual. Imagine a Congress that takes its Constitutional role seriously, paying attention to the higher character of the folks back home. Imagine political leaders who carefully moderate the coarser public tendencies, instead of exploiting and intensifying them.

Fix Iraq? We cannot do it, we should not do it, and we must not insist upon trying to do it. It’s not our job, and we have no right. Sadly, it’s not even our responsibility. Americans were told nothing but lies before the invasion of Iraq, and still can’t get the truth out of the White House about this never-ending occupation. Neoconservative advisors can’t even agree on why they wanted the war, and now they’re dropping from the team like day-old houseflies over occupation-theory conflicts. Americans have only a single solemn responsibility — to end it.

In any case, Iraqis won’t be fooled again. We ought to recognize this as an admirable quality, and adopt it ourselves. Instead of fixing Iraq, we ought to focus on fixing our own country, starting with a good old-fashioned come-to-Jesus-meeting with our elected representatives.