Jewish World Review July 8, 2003 / 8 Tamuz 5763
Wrestling with the Q-word in Iraq
Here comes that Q-word again.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wants you to know we are not in a "quagmire." Iraq is not a new Vietnam, either. You got that?
Nor are we fighting a "guerrilla" war there, even if our current police action does appear to fit the dictionary definition.
So went Rumsfeld's recent response to a reporter who wanted to know whether persistent attacks on U.S. troops amount to guerrilla war or a Vietnam-like quagmire. Irritated, Rumsfeld asserted that wishful thinking might lie behind such questions.
"There are so many cartoons where people, press people, are saying, `Is it Vietnam yet?' hoping it is and wondering if it is," Rumsfeld said during a press briefing last month. "And it isn't. It's a different time. It's a different era. It's a different place."
I hope that I am not "hoping" that Iraq is another Vietnam, as Rumsfeld asserts, when I see the comparison between Iraq and Vietnam. Quite the opposite. I hate to be right when I anticipate bad news.
Bad news was what I anticipated when the Bush administration entered Iraq without a hint of an exit strategy or a plan for how the U.S. would manage the place once Saddam Hussein inevitably fell.
I was hardly alone. But instead of dealing with such pragmatic questions, the Bush administration and its defensive defenders accused questioners of lacking patriotism or "forgetting" Sept. 11, or being, worst of all, "liberals" just for raising the question.
Now the bad news that many of us questioners wondered about is unfolding. Dozens of coalition forces, mostly American, have died since Bush stood on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln near a banner reading "Mission Accomplished" on May 1 and said that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended."
Those who ask "Have you forgotten Sept. 11?" also should ask, "Have you forgotten May 1?"
A lot of us already have forgotten the weapons of mass destruction, even though that was the Bush administration's main justification for entering the war. Now that purpose has become devalued by the administration and public opinion polls to the more noble humanitarian mission of saving Iraq from Saddam Hussein's brutal regime.
I'm all in favor of humanitarian efforts, but it is odd how the Bush administration that did not think humanitarian reasons were enough to get us into Iraq now finds that to be a sufficient reason for us to stay.
The same is true of Afghanistan, where a U.S. soldier was killed in a vehicular accident and two other soldiers were injured by hostile fire a few days before Rumsfeld's little rant. We still have 10,000 U.S. troops stationed there and more than 60 have died since America attacked the Taliban regime 20 months ago.
If Afghanistan slipped your mind, you're not alone. Even the Bush White House forgot to include funds to aid and rebuild Afghanistan in its 2004 budget request earlier this year. Members of Congress remembered and inserted the allocation. The Bush administration also denies that Afghanistan is a quagmire. Heck, the administration even seems to have trouble remembering that Afghanistan exists.
Rumsfeld is right to call Iraq a different time, era and place from Vietnam. But old lessons still apply.
Having just returned from a vacation in Rome, where the visitor instantly is immersed in a warm bath of 2,000 or 3,000 years of history, I was reminded by Rumsfeld's remarks of how great empires fall. One big reason is the H-word: hubris.
The pride of great nations sometimes grows into an arrogance too big for their pantaloons. They extend themselves too far, spread themselves too thinly around the globe and find themselves dragged under by too many entangling burdens. The Bush administration has not yet reached that level of hubris. But we can begin to see it from here.
The administration's go-it-alone posture in Iraq is looking increasingly questionable. The rebuilding of Iraq should be internationalized as soon as possible. If the administration does not want to work with the UN, although the body is well-experienced at peacekeeping roles, it should at least work more closely with NATO and the Arab nations that have offered assistance.
If Iraq is not a quagmire, it offers a dangerously close imitation. My dictionary defines a quagmire as a "soft, muddy surface" or "a difficult or precarious situation; a predicament." Both descriptions apply to the choices that America faces in the Middle East. No, this is not another Vietnam.
There is no jungle this time. Instead, there is much sand. If we don't share the burden of Iraq and Afghanistan's futures, either could turn into another Q-word: quicksand.
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