Happy Independence Day!

My mother always listens to the soundtrack to 1776, the musical, on the fourth of July. She told us today that each time she is surprised that they sign it. It is rather improbable, isn't it? With sun blaring and tempers flaring in the middle of summer in Philadelphia that all of those diverse viewpoints could be gathered under one overarching vision. And I'm sure she's grateful they did - makes for a satisfying dramatic ending and a gloriously free real life. In fact, it allows her to turn around and rip our president a new one.

Speaking of our illustrious leader, I couldn't help but notice he also had a unique spin on the significance of events in the year of our independence. His speech relating revolutionary soldiers to our military presence in Iraq was the lead story on NPR every half hour for three hours on my drive home. It emphasized how he hammered away at the same themes and likewise left off the same specifics as in last week's speech at Fort Bragg. Now, I do not want to use this space for political grandstanding, really. But I got angrier each time I heard the sound bite, and I have to vent.

I did not support the war in Iraq for three reasons. The first was that I never believed Iraq had any weapons of mass destruction, even while their possible existence was being reported. At this point this sounds like told-you-so snarkiness, but really, I looked like a fool for a good long while saying that the UN sanctions list, the incompetence of the Ba'athist regime, and my gut instincts all combined to say WMD just couldn't be. The second is my anti-imperialist streak. No one asked us to be there and the world didn't get behind us when we said we were gonna go anyway. I am still an idealist, and I still uphold the principle of national sovereignty. Failing that, I uphold the practicality that we can't just invade every dictatorship out there, and this one's no worse than the rest.

The third reason is what haunts me. We had no idea what we were getting into. I noticed the complete absence of discourse on what comes next, our expectations for the aftermath of a toppled regime. How to piece together a fragmented society, how to fashion a democracy without a middle class, forget that, without any economic infrastructure or income-generating activities at all, how to let outsider troops keep the peace without getting in the way. I was thrilled and agitated by the heated debate provoked by these questions inside my ivory tower. But outside, caught in a cycle of helplessness and guilt, I furrowed my brow and turned away.

This I see as the major shortcoming of the political system set into motion in 1776. Guarding against long-lived tyrannies, America can turn over its whole governing structure within six years and is very accountable to its public. We have lots of flexibility but no stamina - voters wants decisive action but have very little patience for long-term activities. And anyone remotely tuned in could have told you a presence in Iraq was for the long haul. Democracy is not a two-year project. Leaving now risks spiraling into a chaotic morass. Balance a puny underequipped undertrained understaffed army against an insurgency fueled by the fury of a thousand burning suns: who do you pick?

So, Mr. President, I know why you did what you did and I disagreed. Now I have to agree with you and I know why, too. But the rest of the country does not. You gotta state your case a little better. You might be used to getting by on your folksy charm (read: smug tight-lippedness and fear of fucking up a big word). But you can't just give us your daddy-knows-best spiel, ram it down our throats a couple more times, and expect us to quieten down and believe you. Please, the mothers of soldiers in Iraq need something better. They don't need five-year plans or budget specifics. They just need to know that what their sons are doing is good and right and worthwhile. Tell them that they are protecting another mother's sons, and the mother, too. Tell them that staying will build a stronger Iraqi society, a better friendship, and a more stable world. Admit that you were lying about the existence of WMD and your motivations for going in, but make good on your word to build a democracy. Today's a good day to start.


At 6/7/05 00:41, Blogger Josh Craft said...

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At 6/7/05 17:36, Blogger Josh Craft said...

Good thinking MK. Like the blog!

I worry though about pushing the President to push the occupation. I think his involvement prevents progressives from really taking the project of transforming U.S. engagement there. I'm pretty much lost as to whether I think we should withdrawal quickly or stay for the long haul. The fact that everyone seems to be lost for an alternative to an occupation seems to me eerily like Vietnam. The nightmare would be Afghanistan.

Patrick Doherty of Tompaine.com and Naomi Klein of No Logo fame really seem to believe that a different type of engagement is necessary and can work in Iraq. Both of their recent work is worth looking at. I think that military, our brothers and sisters should probably come home within a two years. But we can provide Iraqis with intelligence and do our best to veto the very worst outcomes through aid, trade, and diplomacy. That would prevent another Afghanistan I think.


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