Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Divided We Fail?

A recent article in the Washington Post by Brookings scholar Michael O'Hanlon concentrates on what he sees as a growing divide between civilians and the military over Iraq. This is very interesting coming on the heels of the Iraq panel debate last week here at the university in which basically every panelist in one way or another said the US is basically losing the war. This point is contentious just because some cite the actual conventional war the US won in a number or days whereas others describe the war as the overall incursion and goal of making Iraq into a democracy and safe from insurgents. Hailing from the second camp, Professor Horace Bartilow claimed that "there is no such thing as winning the war and losing the LOST the war!"

It was curious that no one from the optimistic side of the aisle could be found at UK, but if O'Hanlon is correct it might be because most of them are actually in Iraq right now. O'Hanlon claims that only a few of the numerous military officers he's interviewed have any doubts whatsoever about the war, whereas at home the civilian population grows ever more "fatalistic" about the war. O'Hanlon is concerned that the ever growing divide between the military and civilians on the contentious Iraq issue could lead to both sides ignoring important good/bad signs in Iraq (seeing what you want to see), and that this could be very important at the midterm elections next year if the US elects a "more fatalistic" Congress.

I'm not sure if the US is "winning" or "losing," whatever either of those terms mean at this point. I don't know if Bush's declining poll numbers are a sign of a civilian population becoming more worried the US is losing or whether the people are just worried about his ability as Commander in Chief to finish the job. There are a lot of uncertainties and I believe O'Hanlon is right that the growing military-civilian divide over this issue doesn't do a whole lot of good for anyone. Empty rhetoric should be replaced by actual indicators of progress or lack there of in Iraq. Maybe then the debate can become more fruitful on how best to deal with the situation in which we currently find ourselves, one that requires input from those on both sides of the divide.

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