The Idiot Play

The most memorable line from President Bush’s attempt a year ago to sell the country on a war it no longer wants — no great surprise here — was not his own. He quoted a Sunni tribal chief with whom he allegedly spoke during his Labor Day visit to Iraq. The sheikh said to the president, “Today is the beginning of our tomorrow.”

It is a telling line, not only for the last glimmer of optimism which the president claims it offers to a tiring American public. No, it is telling for the way in which it plays with time. Today is not tomorrow. The present is not the future. But this administration has never thought seriously about time, so it cannot think seriously about timelines. This war has now lasted exactly five years since the Mission was first declared “Accomplished.”

It would be easy, and tiresome, to catalogue the misrepresentations and outright falsifications in the President’s continued attempts to sell a war he hopes McCain will inherit and “win.” (There was a lot of talk of “victory” at the RNC last week.) Bush said that the Petraeus report indicated that there were problems and disappointments with the Iraqi national police force. Wrong. The report says that they are a sectarian nightmare. Bush said that steady progress had been made and was being made on the ground in hunting down and eliminating al-Qaeda in Iraq. Wrong again. New eruptions in Anbar province and Sadr City last month and with further casualties (this is where most of our military surge was directed, by the way) give the lie to any notion that we can secure our military gains for an extended period of time anywhere, unless we are willing to commit half a million troops to an indefinite military occupation. We can invade, sweep, cleanse — and have done so repeatedly, which is maddening. But it is not our mission to police. And absent good policing, the bad guys always return.

The brilliant, though demonic strategy the President and his team are employed last year was this: increase the American military presence in Iraq by some 30,000 souls and call it a “surge.” Now tell the American public, with a straight face, that this surge has been spectacularly successful, and thus the good news is that we can begin to do what the American people have long been calling for: pulling slowly out of Iraq. But here’s the trick: the Administration’s form of a “pullout” is to return to “pre-surge” levels of US troop commitment, and to postpone for yet another six months the debate about really exiting from an appalling and untenable military situation. End result: as months roll on toward the election, we will be in precisely the same situation we were in last April when the surge was announced. Sneaky, no? Bracket a year, or more, and call it a “surge.”

The President constantly invokes support for the heroic sacrifices of our troops as a way to win the sympathy he can no longer garner himself. This too is falsifying and unfair. He is correct, all the generals are, to note that the military has performed heroically and with uncommon professionalism in a situation grown increasingly awful. When asked to oust Saddam Hussein, they did so. When asked to surge, or cleanse, or what have you, they’ve done that as well. But soldiers are not trained to be police, and we have asked the US military to serve in a primarily policing capacity for five long years now. This mission cannot succeed, and this is where the war’s opponents are entirely correct, and more knowledgeable militarily, than an ill-experienced and absentee National Guardsman turned president. Only an Iraqi police force can police the country. The surge is over. We gave the President, and the Iraqi police force, six more months to get their act together. They have not done so. Our forces should begin an orderly withdrawal to be replaced by an international police force drawn largely from that region.

Granting this president even another few months on faith is not prudent. He has squandered all the time we give him. Today is prelude to a new tomorrow, not with this administration. Today is always more of the same, days piled on top of days. Shakespeare understood this manic dilemma all too well. Here is Macbeth, another ambitious leader whose overreaching makes him monstrous:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,/ Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,/ To the last syllable of recorded time;/ And all our yesterday’s have lighted fools/ The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!/ Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,/ And then is heard no more. It is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing.

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