Before November’s election it was impossible to imagine the current debate in the House and the Senate. Nancy Pelosi supervised the creation of an outstanding resolution on Iraq for the House of Representatives. For those who have not yet seen it, the text reads:
“Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), that—
(1) Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq; and
(2) Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on Jan. 10 to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.”
The pledge in clause (1) stands in complete opposition to the record of this incompetent and cruel administration. John Murtha, acting in accord with it, has promised to attach amendments to military funding bills to specify that no unit can be “deployed to Iraq until it is fully trained and equipped with all the latest armor and other measures designed” to neutralize roadside bombs. This will be real “protection and support” for the troops—or, at least, for those the legislation covers before they are sent overseas.
I don’t think there can be any question as to whether the administration knows that some of the units it is sending are inadequately trained and under-equipped; i.e., intrinsically unable to accomplish the mission. It must also know that these units will suffer inordinately high casualty rates.
When I was in the service, I always thought it quite possible that I would be killed or wounded. Consequently, to me “support” for the troops always includes their medical care as well as their equipment. Today's troops will be incurring real injuries, and in too many cases these will last throughout their lives. This administration has made several attempts to reduce funding for the Veterans hospitals. On its record, the Bush administration can not be counted on to meet its obligation to these men and women.
Of course, only someone who deliberately blinds himself to reality could imagine that a few thousand under-trained, under-equipped soldiers will be able to reverse the outcome of a war we have already lost. A couple of years ago I wrote that when Bush defends his policy and tries to convince us we’re winning in Iraq, he looks like a mortuary make-up artist trying to give the illusion of life to a corpse. He still does. But we’ve gone beyond that. Clause (2) of the Pelosi resolution puts the House on record publicly in opposition to Bush's delusional policy. It is the beginning of the end of the war.
But there is a long road ahead, and it won't be easy. It is worth remembering some words from Molly Ivins’ last column: “We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war.”
But even as we continue our efforts, we must begin looking to the future. It is not too soon to begin defining the lessons of this war. Here are some that occur to me:
1. The armed forces are our armed forces. They belong to us collectively—not to the President or to the Republican Party or to the right wing. We have a duty—a responsibility—to see that they are used correctly.
2. We need to make real estimates of the dangers facing our country. The fighting in Iraq has not (as the President says) kept “them” from “coming over here after us.” They’ve already been here: where is New York City? What happened there on 9/11/02?
3. Even though many of us have religious beliefs, we operate as a secular people. We have to realize that Saddam Hussain was also a secular person. We may believe the Muslim religion is nonsense, but we have to recognize that, along with Saddam, we have given secularism a bad name in the Middle East.
4. We need to look at historical failures as well as successes. We are overextended militarily and economically, and we are involved in commitments that are not in our national interest. We have a lot of military bases scattered around the world that we don't really need. Have we begun to resemble the Spanish empire when it ruined itself by engaging in unnecessary and destructive religious wars? Could we be risking the same kind of spectacular collapse?
5. We need to reexamine the idea of national interest. Not every foreign intervention has merit, and even those that seem compelling may be beyond our abilities. Shouldn't we give deep consideration to what we can do and what we can't?
So, in addition to ending this war, we need to learn from it. That includes looking back at how we got into this mess and forward to our real responsibilities. It may take awhile to work it all out.