Divide over two divided nations

By Dan Streib

“Obama critiques Sen. Clinton, divisive Washington politics,” reads the headline of an AP story in the Daily Illini last Tuesday. In the article, it states that Illinois Democratic Senator Barack Obama “sharpened his critique of lead rival Hillary Rodham Clinton, warning against a return to ‘divisive, special interest politics.'” A question for the good home state senator: “Do you, Mr. Obama, really think that divisive politics would merely spirit away when you flash division itself a flattering smile?” Granted, we all prefer nice politicians, but that doesn’t erase the fact that this country may still have deep partisan rifts beneath the surface.

Speaking of such rifts, Gen. David Petraeus will deliver a report on Iraq next week.

As with many issues that exemplify the divide between our country’s parties, some of the division over Iraq is superficial. But underlying those same issues are often deeper rifts that don’t always show. If one wants to truly examine the current controversy over the Iraq War, one must discover what part of the debate is on the surface and what part lies deep in the chasm.

Superficiality in the Iraq War debate is present in spades. Quick statements that make mockery of a reasonable use of pathos (let alone logos) seem to be the preferred method of contributing to political discourse for many of our elected representatives. To them, politics is all about getting votes rather than making important decisions. It’s so bad that our national deficit would most surely vanish if a mere five-cent tax were collected on each pathetic poll-boosting statement made by these cons.

You can even hear the absurdity now. Take this for example: “We shouldn’t have gone into Iraq, therefore we should get out.” And, “Pulling out now would be surrendering to the terrorists.” To the first, a flat-out “NO!” is in order, and to the second a well-timed “DUH!” might pull some of the politicians to their senses. The invasion of Iraq is over, so the morality of that decision is important to historical debate. It is not important to resolving our four-year post-invasion phase of the conflict. And yes, it would be surrender to pull out of Iraq. The question voters are asking is, whether or not we should surrender this particular battle, not the entire War on Terror.

The real debate lies in the discussion of strategy pertaining only to present-day Iraq. The troop surge, in theory, is supposed to be concentrated in Baghdad and focus on security. With American and Iraqi troops providing stability, the citizenry will supposedly support the U.S. and Iraqi governments. This should pave the way for the stability that parliament needs for compromise.

The fault line in the debate does not lie under the surge’s military soundness. It is sound. The crux of the debate relies upon its premises, of which there are three. The first is that the Iraqi people want security above all else, the second that the Iraqi people will support whoever gives them security, and the third that sectarian strife in Baghdad is containable (i.e. not self-sustaining). The first two premises draw little debate. It is the third that is controversial.

Those who view the violence in Iraq as self-sustaining think that the surge will not solve the deep rifts in Iraqi society that prevent political compromise from taking place. They view the violence as emanating from centuries old sectarian tensions. Those who view the violence as containable say the surge should provide enough time to hit the political compromise necessary for future stability. They view the violence as emanating from the elites who control the militias and terrorists. This is the rift in the debate that Petraeus can’t solve.

The Iraqi War debate proves that not all the partisan divides in America are manufactured and artificial. When one cuts away the rhetorical fluff that makes them seem that way, it is quite obvious that many problems can’t be solved by merely eliminating divisions in politics. Although Obama may still hold the misguided view that a more “unified” America is the full answer to our nation’s problems, he is actually doing just as well in trying to solve those dilemmas as our other politicians.

Unfortunately for both him and them, that’s no compliment.