Friday, December 3, 2004

The 9% solution

"This is my mistake," Michael Stipe sang in the REM song "World Leader Pretend," "let me make it good." George Bush and the Bush babies have apparently taken the lyric to heart in the post-9/11 environment. Yesterday's announcement of the Defense Department's approval of the administration's request of another 12,000 U.S. forces in Iraq begins the process of cementing another folly in the annals of American political history.

The planned increase in troop strength from 138,000 to 150,000 (a hair under 9 percent) is a stunningly bad idea from an administration already legendary for bad ideas. The additional forces in the region are problematic for several reasons. First, the inevitable prospect of more American casualties deepens the gravity of suffering here at home. For those Americans not yet utterly inured to the daily body count among American forces, the prospect of more Americans available for killing and dying is an unsettling one.

Second, it further compromises American military readiness elsewhere in the world. Those 12,000 forces must be deployed from somewhere else, either from another foreign location (where they wouldn't have been if they weren't needed there already) or straight from the United States (which all too often is depleted of its citizen soldiers in the National Guard, presumably one of our stronger links in the Homeland Security chain).

Thirdly, it's a gambit whose timing couldn't be more colossally, willfully catastrophic. At precisely the time the United States should be more actively reinforcing the idea of Iraqi political autonomy, we are taking the opposite course, increasing our presence and influence instead of decreasing it; reinforcing the impact of the power of a military situation rather than that of an indigenous political solution; implying with our actions something that's purportedly the opposite of the message we want to send -- showing the war-weary, dictator-tired, insurgent-beleaguered Iraqi people that democracy, sacred of sacreds, is underwritten at the point of a gun.

And last, and in some ways worst of all, it presumes to guarantee the mechanics of a democracy -- the machinery of popular vote -- even though there's no guarantee at all that the added troop strength will make it easier, or even possible, for a vote to take place. Regardless of American might in the region -- or maybe even because of it, the Iraqi voting public is not likely to turn out if they perceive danger by going to the polls. Since in the recent past, many, many women and children have been killed and maimed by the American occupiers, it's unreasonable to expect the Iraqis to embrace those who have shattered their families, their dreams, their traditions and who now purport to be their salvation at the polling place.

Whether the 9 percent solution ginned up by the Defense Department and the Bush babies will be enough is anyone's guess. But already there's an in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound mindset that has begun to take hold in the runup to the second George Bush inaugural. Some in Congress are saying that even more troops are needed in Iraq.

This is the danger of a folly writ large, so large you can't see around it. No half-measures for them. No chin-pulling. None of that goddamn Kerryesque sifting for the facts. The Bush babies don't want facts to get in the way of their good story. They never have. What the hell, they reason. Stay the course. This is my mistake. Let me make it good.

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