"The year we hit the wall

After receiving the report of the Iraq Study Group, President George Bush said he would address the nation before the end of December to talk about how he wanted to proceed with the war he started in 2003.

Although the Iraq Study Group had spent the better part of a year soliciting the views of diplomats, scholars, soldiers and politicians about how the war was going and what should be done about it, President Bush responded to its report by spending a couple of hectic weeks talking with diplomats, scholars, soldiers and politicians about how the war was going and what should be done about it.

The press reported that he was hearing a lot of conflicting views.

Then the president’s spokesperson announced that the president wouldn’t be addressing the nation before the end of the month after all. He was going to wait until after the holidays so that he could “digest” everything that people had been telling him.

This is how 2006 is ending.

As I write this, the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq is about to pass the 3,000 mark. No one seems to know how many Iraqis have been killed; that number is certainly six figures. In any event, these numbers will increase.

Once the president’s digestion is complete, he will open 2007 by telling us about what he calls “the way forward” in Iraq.

The trouble is, there is no way forward. Like a king hemmed-in on a chessboard, George Bush appears to be in checkmate.

Should he put in more troops? There aren’t enough to make a difference. Should he pull them out gradually? That will only make the ones remaining more vulnerable to attack. Should he simply get them out of there? Well, that would be an admission of failure.

And what about the Iraqi government? And the Iraqi army?

A growing body of evidence suggests there is no Iraqi government as that term is generally understood. As for the Iraqi army … if by this term we mean an organization dedicated to acting as a neutral force for the preservation of stability and peace, there is no Iraqi army, either.

Democrats like Evan Bayh try to differentiate themselves from the president by saying they would take a tough love approach — make the Iraqis hurry up and take responsibility for their country. Perhaps Bayh and his ilk will suggest freeing Saddam Hussein. Saddam, at least, was able to keep a lid on what appears to be less a country than a tangle of sectarian and tribal animosities.

The situation in Iraq has gotten so out of hand no one, not even the staunchest hawk, seems optimistic about what will happen there. Where’s Paul Wolfowitz when you need him?

But the real crisis facing the president seems less about Iraq than the idea of America that made he and Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice think we could do whatever we wanted in a part of the world that, as far as they were concerned, needed some manners.

According to this idea, America is the world’s sole superpower. A country that, as one administration official famously said, is so big and so strong it has the power to make reality whatever it wants reality to be. And so the notion of a democratic Iraq was born: an oil-rich country loaded with supine folks obsessing about movie stars, watching sports and driving SUVs, not to mention keeping a protective eye out for Israel. Send in the Marines, a little shock and awe, and presto! A new American reality would bloom in the desert.

Reality, it turns out, doesn’t wear an American flag pin on its lapel.

The Middle East seems to be gripped by a fever dream. We don’t get what’s going on there — few of us even speak a language that matters in those parts. We’ve tried cajoling, bribery and force, but nothing seems to work. This doesn’t make sense. Not to a superpower.

And so what’s happening in Iraq has morphed into a major identity crisis in which our powers-that-be have been so desperate to hang on to the illusion of being able to bend reality to their will they have countenanced torture, the suspension of habeas corpus and domestic spying here at home.

But no matter how we disfigure ourselves, the situation in Iraq only gets worse. The soldiers serving there know this better than anyone. A Zogby International poll of U.S. service men and women in early 2006 found that 72 percent wanted the war to end by the end of 2006 — that’s in less than a week. Iraq Veterans Against the War state on their Web site that the best way to support the troops is to “Contact your representative and demand that they stop funding the war in Iraq and halt construction of permanent bases in Iraq.”

No matter what President Bush tells us in 2007, our country’s ability to affect a positive outcome there has hit the wall. The only question is how long it will take for us to act on this recognition — and how many more of our men and women will have to die before we do.





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