There's that famous story in the bible where two women are disputing custody of an infant child. They take their case to King Solomon and he offers them a compromise. Alright ladies, let's just cut the kid in half and you can each have your share. A sword is drawn. And then one woman beseeches the king to stop and allows the other woman the child. The wise king sees the sword put aside and awards the child to this woman. It's plain to him this is the true mother, someone who places the child's survival above her own jealous interests.
Lately I get this feeling: sometimes I feel like that king watching the two jealous women, sometimes I feel like the baby. More aptly, I feel my country is that helpless child, our soldiers serving overseas and their loved ones here at home hoping, they are that child too.
I think back to about a year ago. The horrible curvature of Iraq's spiraling violence was already evident and opposition to an open ended US involvement had become a central issue for this country. "Stay the course" had run dry as the Bush administration mantra for the war. It was no longer just dismissible "peace-nick liberals" opposing the bloodshed in Iraq. A profound majority of Americans were calling for an end to this war.
There was rumor of this Iraq Study Group that was about to release its findings. This group would offer up solutions for what everyone agreed was a problem.(Well, everyone except Dick Cheney thought it was a problem. He argued at the time that Iraq was really a "remarkable success!") Oddly enough for a purported democracy it had been agreed that the Iraq Study Group's bipartisan commission wouldn't release its report until after the November elections(the idea was "not to make it political"). There would be reasoned analysis of the problem and sound recommendations as to policy, but only after the public voted.
The President may have considered his "accountability moment" behind him, but it was very much at hand for the Congress. The primary and general elections of 2006 were quite simply a referendum on the Iraq debacle. The debate was had. Despite some late and desperate party establishment efforts to shelter their "moderates" like Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, yes, even despite themselves, Democrats retook the House and Senate unarguably on their appeal to this country's desire to see an end to this war.
That was November 2006.
Then came The ISG or "Baker Commission" report. At last they issued their findings and, together with the election results, the mandate was clear: engage in real diplomacy (i.e.: talk to everyone, even people we don't like), exact real compromise from the warring Iraqi factions and demand measurable progress from their government, rehabilitate the former Ba'athists and let's make Iraqi civil order an Iraqi responsibility. Continued American involvement must be conditionally premised on Iraqi progress towards these goals. This message was unmistakable. And one more aspect of the message was really quite clear: we should begin to bring our sons and daughters home.
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That's where we began 2007. We know where it went from there. Our president thanked "Jimmy" Baker for his report and set about the exact opposite in terms of policy. The "surge" has taken us to a place where we are now told we can only hope to withdraw enough troops in the next few months to be back, sometime in 2008, where we were in late 2006. (there's hope, no promises though.) The President openly saber rattles towards Syria and Iran so as to mock the very idea of diplomacy. And every effort by Congress to counter the administration's unilateral policy has been painted and framed as something somehow endangering our troops in harm's way. Congress can only cut the purse strings, we are told, they can't tell the commander-in-chief what to do.
As if there was only one choice to make: either sever the child or surrender him up.
In the current national discourse it is unimaginable to consider another possibility, that the president and his administration, his advisors and staff, that he and his generals might accept the American people's mandate for peace.
Now we are told what the generals think we need for a "successful mission" in Iraq. We aren't even offered any particular assurance that this mission will make our country safer or stronger. "I don't know," General Petraeus said when he was asked by a Congressional Committee.
Are we as a nation served by immersing our soldiers in all this faceted factional bloodshed? "I don't know," that's what he said: "I don't know."
As for the progress of Iraqi reconciliation and reform, the answer from Ambassador Crocker was, in essence, "don't ask."
With this Congress is pressured for the next payment on the Iraqi installment plan: $50 billion in cash just for now and an unspecified number of lives, for just as long as it takes.
I count myself among those who have become frustrated with the slow and seemingly timid progress towards peace, with the way a clear mandate has been muted and all but ignored. I don't want to be this angry. I want to understand. I don't want this rage for the sake of peace.
I suppose I think of that story of Solomon's sword about to sever the child in half because we have been presented with a similar supposed choice for so long. But we haven't the blessing of a solemn judge with an eye for absurdity. No Solomon, no such wisdom. Instead we have those who have placed our soldiers into such jeopardy using the threat of their own dangerous obstenance to leverage more bleeding. Of all the characters in that ancient story, what we seem to have on our hands is the woman who would have watched as the child was cut in two.
Tom driscoll is an opinion columnist, poet, performiing songwriter (let's just say he writes).