Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Yes, We are Doomed. But Look! I Baked Cookies!

In politics, there's always a gap between what you must say, and what you must do. Nowhere is that gap more pronounced than in Iraq, where even the smartest plays are imperfect at best, and too complex for sound bites.

Those who say that no one knows how to solve the Iraq crisis are being partially disingenuous. The world has had plenty of experience with similar situations. We can predict the possible future plot lines, and there are road-tested tactics available to manage them all. The problem is that no one, on the right or the left, can articulate, much less successfully sell, the appropriate policies to the public.

The difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that we don't know, and in fact shouldn't be overly rigid, about the final outcome we want to achieve. The goal is stability, which could come in a variety of forms, and depending on which form becomes attainable in the dynamic unfolding of events, we should be flexible enough to reach for it in the moment of opportunity. It's like we're baking. We know the ingredients: security, pacification, diplomacy, economic aid, and so forth, we just can't predict what will happen when it's in the oven. Will it be popovers or pound cake? I would argue that if it's anything other than an inedible leaden brick, we've got a potential winner.

This puts right-thinking policy makers at a huge disadvantage; even if they could articulate the details of the correct approach, the situation is so fluid that abrupt changes of tactics will be necessary. And that means that our leaders for years to come will be managing not only a mess in Iraq, but a separate mess of public opinion. Progress will come even more slowly than it might otherwise, we will bleed treasure, and the Iraqis will bleed the thing that everyone most hates to bleed: actual blood.

P.S. The last thing we should be doing at a time like this is pointing fingers and playing the blame game. But I would be remiss not to mention that this is ALL George Bush's fault. On the way to Baghdad he destroyed all the political and diplomatic infrastructure needed for escape. He abused the public trust, disdained international consensus, and ignored Iraq's internal political realities. And now the next president will have to knit a parachute while in free fall.

I'm not trying to be a downer--I'm only sayin'.