Weƒ?TMre between Iraq and a hard place

By Amy Ledig

It’s not the fight we entered, but it’s the fight we’re in, President Bush said of the war in Iraq in his sixth State of the Union address on Thursday night.

Okay, but it must be asked: how did we end up “here,” and, more importantly, why we are we not only staying, but actually digging ourselves deeper? At some point, the craziness has got to stop.

I should add a confession about my own background. I’m not a stereotypical crazy liberal Mac student. I’m certainly a lefty compared to my home state of Virginia, the land of Macaca-slinging, Confederate-flag and football toting former Sen. George Allen, but here, I seem positively moderate.

One of the main differences I’ve noted so far is that I take the War on Terror far more seriously than most other people here seem to. I’ve heard classmates insist that “terrorist” is a label, unfairly projected on misunderstood. Maybe I feel differently because I can so vividly remember the fear I felt when the planes slammed into the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon on 9/11. Growing up in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., I was used to driving past the Pentagon every time I went to the airport. I had friends whose parents worked at the Pentagon, and my dad is from New York City. The war was brought to my doorstep; I have no illusions about the goal of Islamic fundamentalism. I myself, those close to me – not to most of the people here at Macalester, who certainly fit under the label of decadent Westerners— are on the hit list. It’s hard to understand how people can ignore the threat radical Islamic terrorism poses to the US, having seen the Pentagon and Ground Zero after the attacks, not to mention the subsequent attacks in Spain and the U.K.

That is why I, like most Americans, supported Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan. There was no doubt about the direct relationship between Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. Even without taking the gross humanitarian abuses the Taliban inflicted on the Afghan people into account, going in, was the right thing to do.
When the push came to go into Iraq came, I was a bit more skeptical, but continued to believe what the administration had to say. In most of my classes so far, people dismiss the Bush Administration’s case for the invasion with vague, scathing references to Iraq’s oil. Call me naive and idealistic, but I can’t bring myself to believe that. I still think that the administration believed there was a genuine threat. Saddam Hussein certainly didn’t behave like a man with nothing to hide. However, I am convinced that there was no thought put into what happens the day after we take Baghdad. The explosion of tensions between Iraq’s various factions cannot have come as a complete surprise. There are a million places where things should have been done differently. So today we’re there, for a variety of reasons things went horribly wrong, and the truly terrifying part is that now there is really no good way for this to end.

There are two options – stay the course, or get out. While the call by Democrats to pull our troops out of Iraq immediately is somewhat tempting at first glance, that also lacks the day-after consideration necessary for this whole enterprise not to have been a total loss. Here’s a snapshot of what happens if American troops pull up the stakes and take off tomorrow: The violence of reprisal killings between the Shiites and Sunnis, which has carried Iraqi society beyond the point of no return, continues to spiral out of control. With absolutely nothing left to hold either group back, the country experiences bloodshed of unbelievable magnitude. The country fractures, and one by one, the rest of the nations in the Middle East get sucked into the conflict. The Shiites look to Iran, the Saudis are forced to back up the Sunnis, and the independence of the Kurds in the North draws Turkey, with it’s history of resistance by it’s Kurdish population, into the mix. As bad as things are now, it’s not hard to imagine how much worse they could get.

The other option is to go forward with the troop surge and to try to bring some measure of security and stability to Baghdad and the rest of the country. The 20,000 troops Bush proposed isn’t going to cut it. The question then becomes, where does it end? Are we in Iraq until the Sunnis and Shiites no longer have anyone willing to die to avenge the death of a loved one? If so, it looks like we could be there until the end of time. Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki doesn’t seem to be making much of an effort to clamp down on the Shiite death squads roaming Baghdad exacerbating the tensions between the two sides, and he certainly isn’t going to be any more successful reigning in Sunni insurgents. It is hard to justify the death of American servicemen and women in such an utterly hopeless situation. I’ve seen families at my church watch their fathers head out on an overseas deployment. I’ve had teachers leave to go fight, and had to wonder if they were coming home. There just doesn’t seem to be a compelling reason anymore to send these people to die.

And so, here’s the real state of the union, the one we didn’t get from Bush on Tuesday night: We’re stuck, and we can’t get out.