Friday, July 11, 2008

Why We Will Loose In Iraq: The Algeria Connection

What does the title of this blog Coming of Age mean? I am 51 years old and find myself in a different world than the one I entered in 1956 and even a different one than the one I was living in two or three years ago. To be sure, the change did not come overnight but gradually. However there are many markers which indicate that the geography has shifted under our feet. Here they are in no particular order and certainly this is not an exhaustive list:
  • Obama earns the Democratic nomination - consider this the only good thing on my list and in fairness need to include Hillery Clinton's showing as well.
  • 911
  • Proliferation of nuclear weapons (do NOT kid yourself here)
  • Definitive indications of climate change
  • Energy costs steeply increasing and creating a cascade of rising cost for industry and consumer alike
  • The war in Iraq
I want to focus on the war in Iraq but first a disclaimer. Of course Saddam was a tyrant, a dictator, and a degenerative evil man. Also, you need to understand that it is my firm belief that Iraq is most definitively not better off now than it was earlier, and that the military situation in the Middle East has worsened due to our involvement. In addition to that, we have literally squandered our wealth, reputation, and integrity on that effort which will come to naught. As proof I offer two good books for your consideration.

The Battle of Algiers

My Battle of Algiers: A Memoir by Ted Morgan offers an intelligent and insightful guide to what happened in Algeria as the French desperately tried to hang onto their colony. The French won all the battles but lost the war and wounded their own soul. Assassination and torture were regularly and systematically employed by the French in their loosing effort. By the way, the author emphatically insists that torture did work. I think that is an important point since he shows that the reason we need to avoid torture is not one of efficiency but morality. Rightly so. Torture is not a business decision as we so often try to make things. In this country we have an alarming tendency to judge things on their effectiveness rather than if they are right or wrong. Why can't we just say torture is just wrong and we should not do it?

In Algeria the French exhausted their military strength as the war drained the very lifeblood out of the French military and infected French political life and politics with much bile and poison eventually leading to the fall of one republic and the rise of another. The war resulted in de Gaulle being dusted off one last time to yet again be the savior of France for one last time. An important fact about that war: In its loosing effort France at one point had 450,000 troops in the country. That is more than twice the amount that we have ever had in Iraq. Like us the French also tried unsuccessfully to manipulate and create a friendly political structure in Algeria. This is a book you should read if you want to have some deep background understanding of the historic trends we are facing in Iraq.

The Sirens of Baghdad

The second book is very different. It is a book of fiction written by Mohammed Moulessehoul who writes under the nom de plume of Yasmina Khadra. Unfortunately Monsieur Moulessehoul has some unpleasant things to tell us here in America. Things that are not fun to hear but things which we need to hear as we come of age are the subjects he writes about. The Algerian connection continues since Mohammed Moulessehoul is a former Algerian army officer. The second book is The Sirens of Baghdad.

It starts out well enough. Then about a fourth of the way through I was ready to put it aside as being too predictable. Fortunately I did not set it aside and finished it. Why do so many Iraq's hate us and see our activity as heavy handed? How are terrorist and insurgents (whatever you call them) created? Read this book. This book takes you outside our viewpoint here in the U. S. and into another context which provides another way of seeing things (which by the way is the purpose of education if you do it right).

I remember when we invaded Iraq. I was angry and adamantly against an invasion until troops went over the berms in Kuwait. Then I was supportive and like most Americans watched what I could of a war which was ingeniously censored by the concept of embedding journalist. I remember my wife commenting on my change of attitude. I told her that I had opposed the invasion but now we were in a fight and I hoped that despite my many many misgivings I was hoping against hope that Bush was being honest with us. Much to my sorrow I was wrong. Much to our collective sorrow here in the United States the president was dishonest and wrong. Like a used car salesman he sold us a lemon of a war and we will never ever get our money back. In his vanity and ignorance, ignoring wise consul from many of our allies and friends, he pushed his own agenda and has brought this country on the verge of bankruptcy. Today is July 11th, 2008. Name one thing that is better today than it was before our current president took office. He has been nothing but a force for destruction.

The French walked away in tatters from Vietnam and Algeria. We walked away in tatters from Vietnam and I am predicting the outcome in Iraq will be no different. To blindly believe in ultimate victory in Iraq out of some ignorant and misplaced patriotism, or worse yet just plain old fashioned ignorance, is folly. The world is not that simple anymore. We need to grow up and learn to live and function with new realities and take heed of the new problems which were not all caused by the present administration but which were certainly made worse by the present administrations mismanagement.

We are in trouble and Iraq is a symptom of that. The old status quo is not going to work because it is ran by the same group that failed us. We have too many problems to go back to the old ways and the old names. I like McCain but I don't think he can do it. He cannot help it, but he is a bastion of the old school. He doesn't know any better. At best he might improve some things but he does not have the vision that we need. At best he is a stopgap measure and I am not sure we can afford even that. As a matter of fact, I am sure we cannot. Is Obama the answer? I don't know.

If elected Obama has the potential to be one of the best presidents we have had since Franklin Roosevelt bringing in a fresh perspective with new ideas. He can make us believe in ourselves again, and restore our dignity that has been buried under the shame of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. Being the populist he is, he also has the potential to be an absolute disaster.

We are forced to elect these people without really knowing who they are since they are shielded behind a public relations machine that is not only well skilled but well financed. They can put a shine on piece of dirt. Voting for McCain would be a stopgap measure with limited expectations and potential. Probably not a disaster but not much improvement on key issues such as energy, climate change, and the eroded status of the United States as a rogue/bully nation. Voting for Obama is a roll of the dice at the craps table and we can win big or loose big. The Who optimistically sang "Won't Get Fooled Again." I am not that optimistic. We are asking to purchase yet another used car without being able to test drive it first. Being a senator is one thing. Being a president is another thing altogether.

Who should we vote for? Eleanor Roosevelt had this to say about John Kennedy (whom she disliked by the way): "Positions change but character remains the same." Out of the two men who has the character we need? I wish I knew.

So sit back and listen to The Who and ponder this question of being fooled. Will we be fooled again?

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