Better Than You Found It.
“When a friend allows you the use of his vacation home,” my mother always used to say to me, “be sure to leave the place better than you found it.” It is a good rule of thumb –I think most people would agree– especially if you ever want to be invited back. Now, as the U.S. begins a slow draw-down of military units from Iraq, its is worth asking the question: are we leaving the place better than we found it? Yes, a hated dictator is gone, but what about… well… everything else?
In fact, if we look at everything else, the news is not so encouraging. The new York Times is today reporting on a wave of bombings that have shaken the country in the past few weeks as the troop draw-down begins:
In one of the broadest assaults on Iraq’s security forces, insurgents unleashed a wave of roadside mines and a more than a dozen car bombings across Iraq on Wednesday, killing dozens, toppling a police station in the capital and sowing chaos and confusion among the soldiers and police officers who responded.
The withering two-hour assault in 13 towns and cities, from southernmost Basra to restive Mosul in the north, was as symbolic as it was deadly, coming a week before the United States declares the end of combat operations here. Wednesday was seemingly the insurgents’ reply: Despite suggestions otherwise, they proved their ability to launch coordinated attacks virtually anywhere in Iraq, capitalizing on the government’s dysfunction and perceptions of American vulnerability.
According to the website Iraq Body Count, there have been between 97,453 and 106,339 civilian deaths directly attibuted to the war since the U.S. invasion. And these numbers are likely low given that organization’s meticulously conservative methodology. Another website, CostofWar.com puts the price tag associated with our Iraqi adventure at something north of $700,000,000,000.00. It’s been a very expensive vacation, to be sure, and we appear to be leaving the place tottering on the edge of collapse.
Of course, “leaving” is as much a figure of speech, a convenient fiction, as it is an accurate description of our changing role in the country. The evident instability of the nation and the incapacity of the central government and security forces to stem these sorts of attacks virtually guarantees a substantial U.S. military presence for years, if not decades to come. And just as much of a guarantee is the suffering of ordinary Iraqis:
“A bloody day,” Khalil Ahmed, a 30-year-old engineer, said simply, as he stared at the cranes and bulldozers trying to rescue victims buried under the police station.
“From the day of the fall of Saddam until now, this is what we have — explosions, killing and looting,” he said. “This is our destiny. It’s already written for us.”
Roadside bombs and bloody suicide bombings appear to be the “new normal, and the billions of dollars we will spend in the coming years, and the hundreds if not thousands of innocent Iraqis who will lose their lives to the Neo-con dream of Middle-East refashioned in their own image stand as a sad testament to the folly and hubris of our own governing institutions, a tribute to our collective stupidity, and a wtiness to the cowardice and incompetence of a national media apparatus that has refashioned itself a purveyor of superficial infotainment even as it cuddles up in the comforting arms of its corporate masters.
The Afghan invasion and occupation is widely viewed as one of the many factors that harkened and hastened the collapse of the Soviet empire. As the American economy contracts and as our industrial base collapses in inverse proportion to the rise of the Chinese economic juggernaut, you’d think our collective national energies would be focused on the twin questions of how we extricate ourselves from our unsustainable military positions overseas while simultaneously rescuing and rebuilding what’s left of our productive economy. Instead the country is embroiled in one of its seemingly endless supply of soul sapping, internecine bouts of cultural warfare, this time occasioned by the building of a Muslim cultural center a few blocks away from the ruins of the World Trade Center.
Turn around, friend and look upon this shattered, burning landscape. When the American people awaken from our dogmatic slumber to discover that our nation has been reduced to the status of second rate power, it wil be because we suffocated in the ash cloud of stupidity that engulfed us when that simmering volcano of petulant arrogance that is our national discourse finally exploded in our faces. It is only then that we will truly understand that, handed responsibility over two fragile nations, we abused them and left them far, far worse than when we found them.
Rest in Peace, America.