When Is The Right Time?

This is ultimately the question that continues to resurface in my head virtually every time I read a story coming out of Iraq.  If not now, when?  When is it the right time to call a spade a spade, and work towards putting an end to this abomination of a war?

As the nation turns its attention to the upcoming September reports, reports that will ultimately guide foreign policy in Iraq at least until the end of President Bush’s tenure, many of us are sifting through the tea leaves, searching for truth amid the spin, and looking for answers.

For us, our lot in life is particularly grim as we have time and time again pored over the data, did the trend analysis Administration spin masters refuse to provide for mass consumption, while everyone else is looking at questionable gains in military progress, we’re watching the political scenario in Iraq like a hawk, and not liking what we see one bit.

According to the LA Times, our view can only be solidified in the face of the rosy picture the administration will attempt to paint for us in just over a week:

Despite the plan, which has brought an additional 28,500 U.S. troops to Iraq since February, none of the major legislation that Washington had expected the Iraqi parliament to pass into law has been approved.

The number of Iraqis fleeing their homes has increased, not decreased, according to the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration and Iraq’s Ministry for Displacement and Migration.

You won’t hear anything like this in the Patreaus report, or when the President reports to Congress.  You won’t hear the downsides, only the goods, only the same old songs we’ve listened to ad nauseum over the last few months.

“I don’t know anyone who said, ‘Let’s have an argument on whether 20,000 troops can have an impact on some neighborhoods,’ ” the officer said. “I heard a debate about whether a 20,000-man surge would appreciably enhance the security of the Iraqi people and end the sectarian violence so political reconciliation could occur across the country, not just in Baghdad neighborhoods.

“This is not a military contest,” he said.

Of course not.  Of course an increase in tens of thousands of troops will have an effect, but what is becoming increasingly clear is that this effect is local and unstable.  We surge a neighborhood, the violence goes down, we leave that neighborhood, nothing is fixed, no permanent solution has been reached, the violence simply returns.

Further, our continued presence seems to have no effect on the insurgent/sectarian conflict on a political and metaphysical level.  Communities aren’t coming together and learning to work with each other, they are purifying themselves, moving towards homogenous societies that could have peace for a bit until of course their territory is encroached upon.

The situation is, as I’ve been saying for some time now, in stasis.  We are simply keeping a lid on it, and underneath that lid, no progress towards actual solutions seem to be coming to fruition.

And yet, such a situation can seem attractive.  While problems are not fixed, our continued presence does lower violence in localized regions.  This perception of stability which comes at the cost of our own fallen men and women in uniform leaves a lasting impression, and a fear of life without.

Meanwhile, our own troops who have worked so hard and risked so much could understandably be unwilling to watch what they have done go to hell:

But no matter how much of a letdown Iraqis say the troop buildup has been, many here say withdrawing U.S. forces would make things worse. In areas where they are present, at least, violence is at bay, most Iraqis said.

For the troops, the fear is that any gains will be lost if there is an abrupt pullout.

“As a professional soldier, you want to make sure that when you walk away, all the blood, sweat and tears you and your soldiers put in achieved something,” said Capt. Jonathan Fursman, a company commander with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, in south Baghdad’s volatile Dora neighborhood, a Sunni area. “It may be the right time for the American people, but in no shape or form is it the right time for the Iraqi people.”

The final words of the piece are particularly heartbreaking for me.  I can’t imagine what these men and women have gone through, how many friends and comrades they’ve lost.  The nightmares that they must learn to live with.

As I’ve never seen combat, I can not know the toll it takes on a soul, nor the way it changes your world, and your perspective.  But this is not the first time I’ve heard this sentiment, nor do I believe it is the last.

And through that, I must say, now is not the time to decide based on this sentiment.  Now is not the time to continue operating under this false sense of stability.  If it’s not time now for the Iraqis, when will be?  Or are we doomed to be the peacemakers in Iraq forever?

Senator Barack Obama has described the challenge of Iraq as one where all you are given is a series of bad choices, each less attractive than the next.  We did this to the Iraqis, and for that we feel responsible.

In fact we are, and for creating the situation that currently exists, we should rightfully feel shamed.  But to truly fulfill our responsibilities, we cannot carry this burden of war forever as measure of pennance no more than we can continue our role in the conflict under the agenda of hubris and arrogance that we have been.

To act truly responsible in regards to what we have done in Iraq is to first know that in the capacity in which we stay there now, there can be no move towards permanent stability and peace.  We must realize that the conflict in Iraq is an Iraqi conflict, one in which we have no place on any side, and in virtually any form.

Politicians won’t say it because it doesn’t sound right on the television, particularly with one of the biggest election years right around the corner, but I’ll say it.  We need to let them have their damn civil war and be done with it.

The right time to act responsibly in Iraq has come and gone over and over again.  It came and gone when the run up to the war was made and we chose to invade a country that posed no threat to us, immediate or otherwise.  It came and gone when we had the opportunity to enlist the Iraqi military to aid us in providing security and restoring the infrastructure, but instead disbanded them.  It came and gone when we failed to stop the looting in Iraq but protected the Oil Ministry.

The right time does not still hover on the horizon, it has already been, and we missed it.  We’re now sitting on, not the right time, but the time to do something that is not right, but at least less wrong than any other option open to us, and I think it’s about time to at least get this one right.

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