Any justification for our troops fighting in Iraq is predicated on the odd notion that we can change people's minds by dropping bombs on them, knocking down their doors, or using force to intimidate them.
If indeed the battle in Iraq is a battle against an ideology, the futility of weaponry should seem obvious. The USSR did not fold nor did China begin adopting capitalism because of bombs we dropped or because of our occupying troops. (And if the battle in Iraq is a civil war, it's not obvious how adding a third fighting force, much less better equipping and training the two opposing sides, is going to stabilize the country.)
Because of this, sending more troops into Iraq will only succeed in necessitating more troops. Why? Because we can only use force to coerce behavior - not change minds. Once - and if - the troops stabilize things, we'll be stuck. Like a guy holding up a house of cards, we won't be able to leave because the soft conditions haven't been put in place to make peace within Iraq self-sustaining. We know how to put boots on the ground. We don't know how to build nations.
George Bush is moving ahead with an escalation of troops. The very fact that he supports this move should be evidence enough that the plan does not work. In spite of a series of spectacular miscalculations, he has yet to change his fundamental assumptions or predictions. But it is worse. He has yet to explain why things have not yet worked out, suggesting that he has yet to learn why his predictions have failed thus far. Until he can do that, it isn't the least clear that anyone should believe his bellicose insistence that he's pursuing peace.
"He's tried this two times -- it's failed twice," Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said on Jan. 24 about the "surge" tactic. "I asked him at the White House, 'Mr. President, why do you think this time it's going to work?' And he said, 'Because I told them it had to.'" She repeated his words: "'I told them that they had to.' That was the end of it. That's the way it is."
We have a choice right now. We can commit to keeping forces in Iraq until a generational shift occurs. And that is a risky proposition because it could just as easily lead to a new generation of hardened terrorists as a peaceful and prosperous nation. On the other hand, we could leave, letting the chaos continue until a national dictator emerges or until Iraq devolves into regional states. As bleak as that latter option may seem, such a scenario is inevitable should we pull out in less than 20 years. The surge might help for a time, but once we begin to pull down troops again, unresolved sectarian tensions will cause another spike in killings and instability. What needs to be resolved needs to be resolved politically - military solutions are, at best, a stop-gap measure.
We do not have pleasant options in Iraq. Democrats do not want to admit how much chaos will ensue if we pull out. Republicans make no mention of how much we're spending in lives and dollars for at best a questionable - at worse a worsening - impact on stability in the Middle East and peace for Americans. No one can confidently predict what will happen if we stay or go. Yet in the midst of this uncertainty there is one certainty: staying will cost more than what we spend on any portion of the federal budget save defense and social security. It's a huge investment with the promise of little return for Americans. It is hard to conceive of scenarios in which the returns will justify this investment of money, to say nothing of the investment in lives.
It is not that our military will not do their job. They repeatedly have. The problem is that two military solutions do not equal a political solution. A successful invasion followed by a successful occupation still leaves us with a country that has yet to arrive at a political stability.
It is possible that we can have a greater influence over the minds of Iraqis from afar than from near. It is doubtful that we can change their minds by pointing guns at them; history suggests that we have a better chance of creating such change by pointing communication satellites at them, satellites broadcasting news, culture, and reason that actually do change minds. (Doubtful about that claim? Look at the former USSR and China.) That can be done for much less than a trillion dollars.