Last week, President Bush addressed the nation to announce his intention of escalating the conflict in Iraq by sending an additional 21,000 American troops into that country in a last-ditch effort to repair the Iraqi polity and stem the tide of civil strife and sectarian violence unleashed by the careless American invasion of 2003.
The move was an explicit rejection of the strategy of gradual withdrawal advocated by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group; the move also ignores the fast-growing antiwar sentiment that fueled the Democratic sweep of last year’s Congressional elections and ignores the near-universal acknowledgement that the Iraq War is a botched project that no amount of foreign military power can salvage.
The possibility of genocide and humanitarian disaster following an American withdrawal adds a real moral burden to this decision. America may indeed have an obligation of sorts to do what it can to fix the disaster it has created and to repair the country it has destroyed (or “liberated,” if you prefer). But we must make a distinction between “should” and “can.” There can be no moral obligation to do what cannot be done.
Supporters of the President’s escalation policy must show not only that we ought to do all we can to repair our great blunder—that seems self-evident—but also that American military might is capable of repairing Iraq’s sectarian divisions and that exposing so many more young American lives to lethal risk and spending billions of additional taxpayer dollars can stem the tide of violence in Iraq.
What assurance do we have that those lives and that wealth will not be squandered like those that have already been flushed down the Iraqi toilet? What political objectives can the escalation achieve that are commensurate with the costs our country continues to bear? If these questions cannot be satisfactorily answered—as I believe they cannot—then America is left with no alternative but the withdrawal that cooler heads have advocated for the past two years.
The President’s Iraq plan is a political effort to salvage his failed war and his presidential legacy. Democrats have called the troop increase “doubling down on a failed policy,” and that phrase captures the essence of the plan very well; the President is doing what any gambling addict would do. Having lost his house on a failed bet, he is betting his life’s savings. But unfortunately, this is not his personal disaster, and the lives and wealth of the American people should not be his to squander in a blood-soaked desert across the world.
The President has poured so much money and military power into Iraq that he cannot stand to face the reality that America has lost the war of starry-eyed, democracy-promoting idealism he chose to wage. But just as every good poker player knows that you should never consider the money you’ve already thrown into the pot when you are deciding whether to stick with a bad hand, most sober analysts of the Iraq situation understand that the mere fact we have wasted so many American lives and tax dollars in Iraq does not mean we should waste even more in a wild, desperate prayer for a victory that will never come.