"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Last throw of the dice

First, the talking (or writing) heads on Bush's speech and new Iraqi strategy here, here, here, and here.

Last night's speech was hardly confidence-inspiring. The tone was monotonous, unenthusiastic, indicative of a man weary of the burden on his shoulders. Though never Churchillian, Bush has shown himself capable, in the past, of rallying the nation to face difficult tasks. This was not one of those times. This country deserved a better performance.

The substance of the speech, however, was clear in its gravity. This new push to secure Baghdad and create a peaceful foundation on which to build Iraq's democracy is the political and military equivalent of a poker player going all in. We have this one last chance to turn the situation around before utterly exhausting America's already thin patience.

From the American side, I think we can accomplish something if Bush's actions match his words. Anointing General Petraeus as the man in charge in Iraq is a comforting first step. If Bush supports him in the hard times ahead, we may succeed. Bush needs to find the courage to keep American troops in areas they "clear", even if that means sustaining higher casualties in the short run. He must allow them to use rules of engagement that not only protect American lives, but snuff out those of the insurgents. Iranian and Syrian meddling must be halted and punished. Everyone who foments sectarian violence must be made to feel the firmness of our resolve, and, as they watch they comrades fall beneath our firepower, understand that they have two choices: surrender, or death. If Bush backs every single action he outlined, without wavering, we may succeed.

And that success depends not only on American arms. Critics of the war have argued that there is no purely military solution. True; though there can be no political solution without removing the constant violence plaguing Baghdad and the western provinces. If Bush uses his troop increase wisely, we can provide that security, putting the ball in the Iraqis' court. And that is why this move is a gamble, because Iraqi commitment to peace is the wild card on which success ultimately depends. Those in the government have one more chance to prove they value a peaceful future over revenge for the past. Prime Minister Malaki has announced that no one, Sunni or Shiite, who engages in sectarian violence is safe. He needs to put his money where his mouth is and allow American and Iraqi forces to destroy the Mahdi Army.

There is no easy or tidy solution to all this. Even if we succeed, more American treasure will be spent and American blood spilled; but at least we'll have something to show for it. If we fail, the costs will be far greater. Failure may yet be in our future, but if we have a chance to avoid it, we owe it to the many Iraqis who placed their faith in us, to our citizens who paid for the war, and our troops who died for it, to take it.

1 comment:

Ammianus Marcellinus said...

Nice post, I think you summed up the speech well and that the president has at least started to accomodate his tactics to the realities on the ground is a good thing. My one quibble (and you had to know there would be at least one) is with the 'all in' poker analogy. I find myself with Senator McCain on this one; in that, if we really are going 'all in' then we should send at least 50,000 more troops and really get serious about this. 20,000 troops, to me, seems more like a tactical punt to stave off further criticism of lacking a plan. That being said, I'm heartened that Petraeus is CinC and any help will certainly be appreciated by our boots on the ground. I can't say I'm optimistic though.