Wonky Nonsense


A couple of policy wonks, Michael O’Hanlon and Ken Pollack, spent a week in Iraq and came back. One said he thought it was less violent. They both said in an op-ed piece that the war was winnable.

It’s characters like these who make a man like Juan Cole so valuable. Cole is a scholar who, unlike the policy wonks, spent years in the Middle East and is fluent in Arabic. You can benefit from his experience and knowledge by visiting his blog, Informed Comment.

Cole, for example, points out that July was, in fact, the deadliest month for Americans since the war began. Seventy-four Americans were killed during July, and Iraqi deaths rose 23 percent over June, to 2,024. So if the American death rate is up and the Iraqi death rate is up, on what basis did the wonks see less violence during their July excursion to the land of Babylon?

As for the war being winnable, every one of our military big shots has said it can’t be won militarily. They all say it has to be a political solution. Well, the Iraqi government has failed to meet every one of the political benchmarks set by President Bush. No reconciliation, no oil law, no law on distributing oil revenues, no reversal of the anti-Baath policies. In fact, the largest Sunni bloc in the prime minister’s Cabinet just walked out, which makes reconciliation even more remote.

Add to that the following: Reconstruction is obscenely behind schedule, corruption is nearly universal, and 4 million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes. Two million of those are refugees. I would like to know what evidence there is that the war has suddenly become winnable.

I’m sure Secretary of State Condi Rice and Defense Secretary Bob Gates got an earful at their recent meeting with Arab leaders. What they didn’t get, despite offering a bribe of billions of dollars in weapons, was any pledge to do anything in Iraq. The Saudis said they might consider opening an embassy. What Gates and Rice probably heard was: We told you not to invade Iraq, you disregarded our advice and made a mess, so it’s yours to clean up. Don’t try to drag us into it.

Iraq is no longer a nation-state. We have shown the world that we know how to destroy a state, but when it comes to establishing one, we are incompetent dunces. It is to our everlasting shame that despite billions of dollars spent, Iraqis must still walk in open sewage and swelter in heat because electricity is only available a few hours a day. It’s a clear case of greed and corruption trumping — or, God forbid, replacing — American know-how. We should not forget that prior to our wars and sanctions, Iraq had one of the higher living standards in the Middle East.

I don’t know what we can do in the face of morally corrupt and incompetent officials — both theirs and ours. I suppose we shall have to sit back and watch the destruction proceed from one blunder to the next. Be glad you’re not an Iraqi. Be glad if you are not in the American military.

In the meantime, try to remember that it is August, and August is a lovely time in the United States. Cherish your children and your grandchildren, and when you hug them, thank God that they are not suffering like Iraqi and Palestinian children, not to mention millions of others.

I’ve always believed that the best incentive to re-energizing American political energy would be a true grasp of just how unbelievably fortunate we are. We need to appreciate that. We need also to understand that it is not permanent, that we could lose it all. We are not invincible.

Since, in our republican form of government, all official actions are done by elected officials, we have to be far more careful about the people we give our vote to. It really is true, as Forrest Gump’s mama told him, that stupid is as stupid does. So let us — myself included — stop stupidly voting for stupid or irresponsible public officials.

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