It’s March 19: Happy Iraq War Day! Hard to believe it’s been 10 years since we thrilled to the televised scenes of “Shock and Awe” in Baghdad. A little less than that since we watched that statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down, the images of ecstatic Iraqis beating on it with their shoes. I remember thinking at the time, “Well, that went pretty well.”
Too bad the war didn’t end then. Today, those people known as Sunni insurgents set off a bunch of bombs around Baghdad, killing 50. That kind of thing used to go on Page One. Not so much now. I always wonder, when I hear of the latest atrocity in Iraq, whether any of the people we saw cheering in 2003 were among the dead today. If so, what a tough way to go. Imagine surviving the hardship and chaos and carnage for 10 freaking years, only to be blown to bits while you’re out shopping for produce.
I once read Barbara Tuchman’s book The March of Folly (1984). In it, she examines the way governments tend to pursue policies contrary to their best interests. There’s a section on how the Catholic Church pretty much guaranteed the rise of Protestantism, and how Great Britain heedlessly provoked American revolt. She ends with Vietnam — another decade-long war (for us) that cost nearly 60,000 American lives and accomplished precisely nothing. Unless you count that haunting memorial in D.C.
I wonder what Barbara Tuchman would make of Iraq as a comparison. Talk about folly. Certain American industries have profited handsomely from it, as they did in Vietnam, but the cost elsewhere has been almost incalculable. If it’s still possible to separate Lockheed Martin interests from American national interests, it’s hard to see how the situation today is not much, much worse than it was 10 years ago. Especially for that poor woman in Baghdad who was out shopping when the world went black.
The bigger the screwup, the less chance there is that anybody will own up to it. That’s certainly the case with Iraq, just as it was with the financial meltdown of 2008. That’s just the way it is in America. The words of Omar Khayyam aren’t much comfort with a screwup of this magnitude, but I like them anyway:
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit,
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
But helpless pieces in the game He plays,
Upon this chequer-board of Nights and Days,
He hither and thither moves, and checks… and slays,
Then one by one, back in the Closet lays.”