Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Paying the Piper

American troops are still in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bush has requested another $45.9 billion in war spending, which would bring the total spent since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq to $650 billion. Closing in on 4,000 American soldiers have died in Iraq. That is nearly 1,000 more than died in the 9/11 attacks. Iraq Body Count estimates that between 75,00 and 82,00 Iraqi civilians have died violent deaths since the 2003 invasion. Iraq is still in the throws of what has to be called a civil war. The scariest thing, is we haven't even begun to pay the piper. The true costs of this war are only starting to become apparent. With Turkey on the verge of invading Iraq to fight the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the piper is on the doorstep.

Our mistake wasn't that we went to war. Sometimes war is necessary, and this may have been one of those times, although Iran or North Korea would have seemed to be more potent threats. The mistake, or mistakes, were in our preparation and execution of this war. No real effort was taken to include important regional and international states (think France, Russia, China, Iran, and Egypt rather than Albania, Bulgaria, and El Salvador). There was no realistic plan in place for dealing with post-Saddam Iraq. The administration seemed woefully unaware of the political realities of the region. Afghanistan seems to have become a messy afterthought. Etc. Etc. We made mistakes, and now we are starting to pay for them.

Turkish cross border raids would be only the beginning. Kurds are present in significant numbers in Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Iran. Iran, isn't only a home to Kurds, with the fall of the Sunni government in Iraq it is now an even more powerful and important player in Iraq and in the region as a whole. And while it is not the axis, center, or even periphery of evil, it does pose more of a threat to American interests now than Iraq did in 2003. It also could have offered a unique opportunity; a way for America to influence and interact with a state that has a dynamic and rapidly modernizing culture and population. That opportunity is at least temporarily gone. Also gone is the goodwill we had immediately after 9/11. On the heels of the American failure to follow through n Sudan, the active avoidance of responsibility in Rwanda, and the blatant failure to act in Sudan, our failings in Iraq and what seems like our inevitable withdrawal will seriously limit our ability to influence world events for some time to come. Combine the lack of respect and cooperation we will face internationally with a totally predictable knee jerk retreat into isolationism, and you know what tune the kids will be humming as the piper leads them off. We might as well let them go, because what do we have left to pay the piper?

This mess will most certainly get worse, and there is little that can be done. Technically it isn't too late to commit to Iraq for the long haul, and avoid compounding our mistake. Realistically it probably is too late. The ordinary American will not be won over by talk of responsibility and long-term damage to America's reputation and ability to act in furtherance of it's own interests. It will never be too late for our leadership to learn something about the area of the world where it is spending billions of dollars and thousands of lives, but the longer we wait the more damage is done. And, the balance of power in Iraq and the region has been irrevocably changed, and perhaps thrown completely out of balance. The Bush administration was in a rush to flex their muscles, wright perceived wrongs, and seize a perceived opportunity to effectuate their worldview. In the heat of the moment, they neglected to proceed with the proper amount of caution, foresight, and and diplomacy. Now they, and really all of us, are paying the price for their haste and waste. On the bright side, it's a catchy tune.

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