Column: Reality bites

By Sam Harding-Forrester

Our media, for the past few weeks, have been happily engorged with coverage of Cindy Sheehan. Sheehan, for the blissfully ignorant, is a grieving mother who has initiated a resoundingly successful protest gathering outside the Crawford, Texas ranch where President George W. Bush is vacationing, voicing questions about the Iraq War in which her son Casey died in 2004. It is easy to comprehend Sheehan’s anger over her son’s death in an unnecessary conflict – the chief accomplishment of which, thus far, appears to be the resurrection of that most delectable member of the wartime lexicon, “quagmire.”

Sheehan, however, is not without her flaws. Troublingly, if understandably, she has lent her voice to calls for a prompt withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq – a position blind to the disastrous implications such an action would have for Iraq’s restoration. It is also true that Sheehan’s rhetoric at times echoes the Michael Moore-inspired element of leftist opposition to the Iraq war, which makes its case by using simplistic versions of cultural relativism to downplay atrocities under Saddam Hussein and by foolishly pretending that Iraq has never posed any threat to security in the Middle East and beyond.

Nonetheless, it is bitterly ironic to see conservative pundits now casting Sheehan’s calls for withdrawal as symptomatic of liberals’ ignorance of the hard realities of a necessary war because the na‹vet‚ of Sheehan’s pacifism pales in comparison to the willful practical na‹vet‚ of the Bush administration’s pro-war neoconservatives. The Iraq war, after all, has been defined from its initial conception by the remarkably persistent idealism of the administration’s neoconservative faction. This administration – which has ignored expert opinion in tackling areas from medicine to the environment – has likewise failed to adjust its efforts in Iraq according to practical realities on the ground, even when confronted with advice from authorities in the U.S. military. Such blindness is explicable only in the context of the dogmatic obsessions with democratization and the Middle East that have emerged as defining features of neoconservatism in recent years.

Thus, while it is now well known that Iraq was not meaningfully connected to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, and that Saddam’s fabled weapons of mass destruction bore roughly the same relation to reality as the riches of Al Capone’s vault, efforts are still being made to characterize the planned democratization of Iraq as a means of building “strong allies” in the Middle East. Indeed, it is this argument that Bush re-emphasized in his recent response to Sheehan’s protests. The argument might be more convincing were it not for CIA reports confirming that Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as a terrorist hotbed or our lack of any encouraging historical precedent for the kind of nation-building now being attempted in Iraq.

In light of the spectacular incompetence with which Bush has initiated and prosecuted his war, it is no longer possible to credibly frame it as a patriotically gratifying exercise in humanitarian democratization and anti-terrorist toughness. However, contrary to claims from the Sheehan camp, it is regrettably necessary to continue the present military effort. This is a matter of taking responsibility for a war that our leaders voluntarily started and subsequently mismanaged. Bush himself has tacitly acknowledged as much through his increasing tendency to invoke the honoring of fallen troops as a reason to stay the course – implying that our duty to continue derives not so much from the rightness of what we have done as from the fact that we are now too deeply embroiled to suddenly withdraw. But our responsibility is to Iraqis as much as to our own fallen. It is to be hoped for their sake that our leaders’ blind idealism, which has proved so resistant to the debacles of this war, will be curbed by the ongoing plummeting of Bush’s poll numbers. Sheehan, through her own more forgivable brand of na‹vet‚, will only hasten the descent.

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    Sam Harding-Forrester is a senior in LAS. His columns appear every Thursday. He can be reached at [email protected].