Monday, September 18, 2006

The Perfect Enemy of the Good

I respect the work of Helena Cobban and Juan Cole and encourage them both to continue informing us of events and attitudes in the Middle East. Still, as a victim/veteran of the Nixon-Kissinger Fig Leaf Contingent (Vietnam 1970-1972) I have to side more with Helena's views as she expressed them on her blog "Just World News" than with Juan Cole's excerpt of them on his blog "Informed Comment." Helena and Juan both operate from well-established and admirable humanitarian impulses, but they part company here, in my view, primarily because Helena means "acceptable" when she says "good" and Juan means "perfect" when he says "good." We have a classic verbal dispute here, not a debate. Yet, as a university professor once told me when he insisted I wrap up my master's thesis and stop stalling for time to make it even better: "The perfect is the enemy of the good."

As I wrote as a comment on Professor Cole's blog:

"Doing nothing" does constitute a default "option" in the absence of doing anything else, but so what? Who would wish to claim the proud paternity of just another euphemism for helplessly acquiescing in a steadily disintegrating status quo? Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting future, magically different results has a name -- not "realism," but "fanaticism." Calling oneself a "realist" for offering no plausible alternative to a perfectly plausible withdrawal of American forces from Iraq does not make one "realistic" but rather "fatalistic."

Juan Cole does not engage Helena Cobban's basic point that America has "no damn business" in Iraq. Juan Cole obviously and paternalistically thinks differently and has on many occasions frankly endorsed the continued violation of Iraqi "sovereign" airspace by American (and other foreign) air forces for the express purpose of bombing Iraqi military formations at or above the company level. Obviously, although he does not say this openly, Professor Cole has no confidence in the Shiites and Kurds to defeat (or negotiate a peaceful settlement with) any reconstituted Sunni national army. So the good professor just conveniently assumes and supposes that America will go on indefinitely serving as the Kurdish-Shiite Air National Guard even after we stop stupidly serving as their mercenary militia -- and all at the helpless American taxpayer's expense.

This unwarranted, unauthorized, illegal, and ruinous use of America's military assets against one, both, or all sides of the ongoing Iraqi civil war simply cannot continue. It can't continue because, as Hezbollah demonstrated in Lebanon (and like the Vietnamese demonstrated in Vietnam) the forces fighting the American occupation can easily get more -- and ever more lethal -- weapons to use against American armor, aircraft, and infantry. Worst of all from the American point of view, whoever wants to emerge with any sort of political credibility at the end of the civil war will most assuredly have earned that credibility by killing the most Americans. What fame and renown Nasrallah earned in Lebanon against the Israelis will seem as nothing compared to what Moqtadr "Just call me Saladin" Al-Sadr can earn by unceremoniously booting America out of Iraq. As Zbigniew Brezinski said recently, the people who keep begging us to stay will probably leave with us when we go -- in a panicked helicopter evacuation off the Badhdad Green Zone Castle rooftop, probably.

As a former Israeli general and Prime Minister told Seymour Hersch years ago, America now "can only choose the size of its humiliation." Thanks, Ehud. Like Donkey told Shrek: "Only a true friend would be that cruelly honest." The longer we stall, the uglier and more expensive the exit.

As with the Nixon-Kissinger Fig Leaf Contingent in which I served, the Cheney-Bush Buy Time Brigade only fights and dies in Iraq so that those disinterested and uninvolved Americans who profit from this obscene warfare welfare can go on milking the make-work militarism for all its worth. Now as then, "We are the unwilling, led by the unqualified, to do the unnecessary for the ungrateful." The time has long since passed for this shit to stop. The "realistic fanatics" can say what they want, but I agree with Helena Cobban that America has "no damn business in Iraq" and, from this Vietnam Veteran's point of view, we Americans would do much better putting our own Vice President, President, and Secretary of War in a cage and on trial than worrying about what, if anything, the Iraqi people want to do with Saddam Hussein. We don't have any damn business involving ourselves in that question, either."

Getting more into what Helena Cobban said about her admittedly imperfect but certainly possible withdrawal of American military forces from Iraq:

Withdrawing American military forces from their illegal, immoral, and counter-productive -- not to mention marooned and untenable -- occupation of Iraq makes perfectly "good" policy sense. True, it does not solve all problems -- hence its imperfection -- but it does solve the most egregious of them: namely, military occupation of a Muslim country by a non-Muslim Western imperial power. As with all seemingly intractable problems, we first have to break the big problem down into a series of smaller problems until we get to one we can solve. Then we solve that relatively small problem and go on to deal with the other tractable problems, one at a time, till we arrive at the best possible approximation to an overall solution. People who really want to solve problems proceed in this way. People who prefer having the perfect problem rather than any good solution to it proceed by dejectedly claiming that the big problem's apparent complexity leaves no "good" (i.e., perfect in all respects) options for its solution. Nonsense.

The flagrant flogging of self-paralyzing rhetorical conundrums (i.e., "we have no good options," etc.) leads nowhere because apparent paradoxes, by definition, close off all rational analysis from the very beginning. Apparent paradoxes -- the staple of political demagogues in America and everywhere else -- stem directly from their own faulty formulations and disappear immediately once we expose the ludicrous illogic and slippery semantic sophistry upon which they depend. The withdrawal of American military forces from their occupation of Iraq makes not only "good" sense but the "best" sense for America: economically, diplomatically, culturally, socially, militarily, and -- yes -- even politically. True, withdrawing the American military from Iraq will rob George W. Bush and the Republican Party of their perfect, intractable problem, i.e., endless, "long," politically exploitable "war," but too bad for them. I don't care about them. I care about America and Iraq. I don't want to see any more Americans and Iraqis die or lose everything they value in life just so George W. Bush and the Republican Party can stay in power with their corrupt claws clutching the nation's overdrawn credit card and key to our depleted blood bank.

Americans can and must solve their own imperial militarism problem first. The millennia-old Sunni-Shiite schism in Islam remains for the Sunni and Shiite Muslims to resolve themselves -- peaceably or otherwise. This problem existed ages before America did. Nothing that America does or does not do will have any bearing upon its "solution" -- to the extent that Sunni and/or Shiite Muslims even want one. They, too, have their demagogues who want and need intractable problems with no "good" solution.

I don't suppose Juan Cole even knows this, but his advocacy of unlimited and indefinite American air bombardments in Iraq resembles the American War on Vietnam in its last-gasp stages. The substitution of blunderbuss vendetta air power for incompetent and unmotivated puppet infantry only assures that no one side of the civil war can win, thus extending the interregnum of violence and increasing the level of carnage. "Yellowing the Corpses" Vietnamization thus becomes "Browning the Bodies" Iraqification. Juan Cole, as I commented on his blog, simply fears that the Shiites and Kurds, if left to fight themselves for their own interests, will somehow lose to a superior-although-numerically-smaller Sunni national army allowed to reconstitute itself. Perhaps, though, once America's military stops meddling in Iraq's internal affairs, the Shiites and Sunnis will recognize their common interests -- as separate from America's and Israel's -- and negotiate some modus vivendi. Perhaps. Who knows? In any event, America has already proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that it has no knowledge of Iraq nor ability to do any good in that country by shooting and bombing "democracy" into those unfortunate enough to reside outside the doomed and irrelevant Baghdad Green Zone Castle walls. Others with more knowledge and experience in the area can probably do better. They certainly can't do any worse.

Finally, the American War on Iraq needs to -- and can -- end the same way the American War on Vietnam did. The Congress needs only do three things. (1) Cut off funding for any further American military activity in a country that never attacked or threatened America. (2) Revisit and revoke the ridiculously vague legislative "authorization" for executive war on a country that never attacked or threatened America. (3) Force the resignation of the corrupt Vice President and law-breaking President who will not uphold the Constitution and who will not voluntarily terminate a needless executive war of choice on a country that never attacked or threatened America. An American Congress did it before and an American Congress can do it again: in one step, two steps, or three steps. The Shiites and Sunnis will just have to settle their own differences themselves, in however many steps they deem necessary. They've done that before and they can do that again -- if they wish.