Wednesday, May 19, 2004

A New Yorker cartoon shows two parallel rows of lemmings rushing toward a cliff with the leader saying to his partner: "Look, I have my misgivings too, but what choice do we have except to stay the course?" Someone might as well have scribbled in Bush's name above that lemming's head before they went to press. The problem is that the lemming has a point. Our choices in Iraq stink.

So most of us shy away from preaching another course, preferring instead to rail against the stupidity that got us here. Maureen Dowd bitches and bellyaches eloquently. She quotes historian Daniel Boorstin, who warned that "planning for the future without a sense of history is like planting cut flowers." (For example, Wolfowitz said before the war that Iraq had no history of ethnic tension.) She summarizes Barbara Tuchman's book comparing the Trojan War to Vietnam--with obvious parallels in Iraq. Tuchman warned about leaders with "'an addiction to the counterproductive'" and pointed out that "wooden heads are as dangerous as wooden horses." I'd say those phrases describe more than just Iraq. They sum up Bush's entire presidency.

In case you're interested in Dowd's entire rant, click here.

Iraq is a far worse quagmire than Vietnam ever was because we could, at any time, have declared victory and left. What were the consequences when we did pull out? Basically none--well, other than our hurt pride and a couple of million corpses. But lasting consequences? None. Vietnam went its way, succeeding remarkably well economically. Southeast Asia didn't descend into communism, and world peace was not threatened. We just took a beating and went home.

Iraq is so much worse. The body count is lower so far, but the consequences of failure could send worldwide ripples.

It's maddening to reflect that Iraq didn't have to turn out this badly (not to mention that it didn't have to happen at all). Tomorrow I'll outline the mistakes that were made in running the country. Friday I'll offer an opinion on what the "least horrible" course of action might be.


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