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The third war. August 28, 2007

Posted by Lindsay in Criticism, Hyperreality, Media, Soldiers, War.
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Christopher Hitchens is admirable for his refusal to cater to extremes of moral relativism by tolerating archaic, reprehensible practices, even if he never does quite manage to avoid sounding bombastic and narrow-minded when he does it. In general, I agree with him that religion is one of the most harmful systems to ever permeate civilization, even though I probably respect its positive attributes for people who feel they need it in their lives a little more than he does. But he is perhaps the only remaining member of the intelligentsia who manages to defend the Iraq War while maintaining his dignity. He usually argues compellingly, but ultimately, his interpretations of the evidence he finds are misconceptions.

In his latest valiant attempt, he says that based on the multitude of fronts we are fighting, the Iraq War is actually three wars, and that the United States is winning two of them. “There are currently at least three wars, along with several subconflicts, being fought on Iraqi soil. The first, tragically, is the battle for mastery between Sunni and Shiite. The second is the campaign to isolate and defeat al-Qaida in Mesopotamia. The third is the struggle of Iraq’s Kurdish minority to defend and consolidate its regional government in the north,” says Hitch.

It’s an intriguing concept, but not quite new, because the third war — the one we’re losing, according to Hitch — is actually the “battle” with the Maliki government, and its failure to step up to take over the reins of controlling its own country. Hitch rightly condemns the Maliki government for relying too heavily on the presence of coalition troops and not working seriously enough for fair distribution of political influence in local and national government among the Kurdish, Shia, Sunni demographics, saying: “Maliki himself has recently attacked the coalition forces for carrying out raids in Shiite districts of Baghdad. Perhaps [Maliki] ought to be told that he is not being lent our armed forces for the purpose of installing Shiite power.”

A popular slogan among Democrats earlier this year has been “The Iraq War must be won politically, not militarily.” In these arguments, the notion was that the military front was failing, and the time had come for better diplomacy. However, because of the surge, we’re now winning the other two military wars, but until the Maliki government steps up, our efforts will be for naught.

Hitch, unfortunately, underplays the importance of the third front. He thinks that the fact that we’re winning the two military wars is reason to continue fighting the third, when it’s the third war — the political, diplomatic war — that is the one that most needs to be won, that is the only good reason to remain in the other two wars. It is the third war that still shows no hope of succeeding.

The sense of futility was probably best expressed on an edition of The Daily Show that aired last week, in which Rob Riggle, a comedian/correspondent who is an actual former United States Marine, actually came back from Iraq, with video clips of U.S. soldiers sarcastically wishing the Iraqi Parliament a safe and fun summer vacation while the Army continues to rebuild its infrastructure. In addition, it also disproves the concept that rallying against the war here in the United States lowers troop morale in Iraq. The fact of the matter is, the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy only applies to homosexuality, not ideology: you can be a Democrat and a soldier at the same time. The Bush administration’s rhetoric has treated the U.S. army like children, as if dissent against the war were equivalent to telling an eight-year-old boy that the tooth fairy doesn’t exist. But we’ve seen in recent weeks more reports of blogs and articles written by soldiers, published in the mainstream media, which criticize the war and still, for the most part, do not appear to be substantially censored or restricted by their commanding officers. It is not uncommon for a ruling government to find itself completely out of touch with its armed forces as well as its civilians, but with the age of Web 2.0, old stereotypes about soldiers being jingoistic, a supposed result of being unintelligent and poorly-read, are debunked wholesale — both the result, and the premise. It’s true that in the 21st century, soldiers still tend to come from modest, blue-collar families, but the notion that their lack of an expensive, East Coast education has debilitated their intelligence has long since been quashed.

It does not lower morale to open your arms to your son and tell him to come home, because he gladly will. Archetypes of patriotic, bloodthirsty warriors willing to give their lives are caricature. Real soldiers are “cowards.”

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