Monday, August 01, 2005

Admission of Failure is not an Option

If nothing counts as losing, victory is inevitable. On a less flexible scoring system, Iraq sure looks like a failure. What we’ve bought at the cost of 300 billion and thousands of lives is a wrecked nation stuck in a civil war. Under the circumstances, the most favorable outcome would be a country divided between a pro-Iranian Islamic republic in the South and a Kurdish ethnic state in the North. Even in that case, a more or less permanent insurgency would probably smolder in the middle subsidized on the cheap by irritated Sunnis in adjoining areas.

The right wing, seconded by many a pundit from America’s mindless middle, cheerfully responds to the endless train wreck with rhetorical maneuvers patterned on theological apologetics. It isn’t that they examine the facts on the ground and conclude that things are going well. They begin with the conclusion and track back, just as defenders of Christianity or Islam seldom argue for the truth of the faith from the evidence but beg the question from the get go. Since assessing the situation might yield unacceptible results, both the theologians and the political commentators content themselves with the not very challenging task of explaining how a predestined conclusion can be represented as consistent with the acknowledged facts of the case. Such explanations are always possible: “True, no living things more elaborate than Lepidoptera survive in the poisoned wastes of post-war Mesopotamia, but the outcome is as good as anyone could have reasonably expected, and we can thank the President that Manhattan remains markedly less radioactive than Bagdad.” Consistency is a very cheap commodity and worth its price.

To judge by the polls, the American public is not buying the optimism of the right these days; but it is not clear that what the people think matters much as long as the levers of power are in the hands of true believers. Which means that we are at the mercy of a group of people who have decided that it is unmanly and unpatriotic to learn from their own mistakes. Since political stupidities have real costs, however, this principle can only be implemented by cupping your hands around your ears and repeating “la-la-la, I can’t hear you!” Unfortunately, denial is like running up the balances on your credit cards. Only God almighty can afford to be complacent forever.

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