Remembering to forget

    Hey, remember Iraq? Where the Bush neoconservatives started a needless war for non-existent reasons? A war that has killed 4470 Americans (so far) and cost us $800,000,000 (so far), much of it financed with loans from China? A place where, this past Monday, 42 terrorist attacks killed 89 people?Mostly, Iraq is a place that we remember to forget. All our passions were spent years ago. Nobody today wants to think about Iraq. Nobody goes to see the movies about Iraq. I don’t particularly want to write about Iraq. The politicians would prefer not to talk about Iraq; at last Thursday’s Republican presidential debate, only five times in two hours did the candidates even utter the word Iraq – and only in passing.But what happened on Monday was a fresh mockery of Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” legacy, and a grim reminder that, even as the Obama administration proceeds with plans to withdraw all remaining 48,000 U.S. troops by year’s end, our historic blunders are alive and well.Never mind the fact that we rashly invaded a country without a clue how to govern it. I’m actually referring here to the U.S. troop “surge,” circa 2007. The surge was supposed to spark political reconciliation among the Iraqis, stabilize the security situation by quelling the insurgents, and train the Iraqis to better defend themselves so that our soldiers could go home. But the violence this week is further proof that, even now, the country is not sufficiently stable. Nor is the government politically stable. Nor is Iraqi security up to snuff.All of which is unnerving, given the fact that we finally plan to leave. At this point, with no turning back on withdrawal, it appears that all we can do is plead. As Hillary Clinton said yesterday, “The Iraqis themselves have more capacity than they did have, but they’ve got to exercise it.”In terms of our domestic politics, meanwhile, what’s striking is that there is virtually no political pressure on Obama to reverse course and keep us embedded in Iraq. Nothing better illustrates the national exhaustion than the fact that even the Republicans have no interest in staying there. Nor do they have any desire to double-down on Bush’s original folly. Have you noticed their silence? In the wake of the latest violence this week, there have been no demands that Obama “finish the job,” no demands that he pursue “victory.” The pleas of the neoconservatives (Max Boot: “U.S. troops cannot afford to leave at the end of this year”) have been largely confined to the blogs they write.No doubt Obama welcomes this silence, given the grief he’s getting on everything else. And it’s tough to deal with the Iraqi government even without domestic blowback. The main issue right now is whether we’ll ultimately revise our withdrawal and keep some troops in Iraq (not to fight, but to further train the Iraqi fighters). But that will happen only if the Iraqi government formally invites us to do so. The problem is, the Iraqi government is so politically fractious (big surprise) that it appears institutionally incapable of deciding whether to invite us or not.This decision-making paralysis has persisted virtually all year – which should come as no surprise, given the fact that it took the Iraqis 10 months to form this government in the first place – and I will assume that virtually none of you are interested in the details of the sectarian intramurals.If there is landslide agreement on anything in America these days, it’s the belief that we need to withdraw from Iraq as fully as practicable. But even so, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that the neoconservative fantasy of Middle East democratization has been achieved, and that further such glories await us elsewhere in the region. We’re merely wiping our hands, as best we can, of the mess we precipitated. Hopefully, at minimum, we will have learned a valuable lesson about the folly of believing that we can remake a distant country in our image.Although it appears that each hubristic generation need to learn this lesson all over again.——-I’m now on Twitter, @dickpolman1, for those who want to follow.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.