Last week, in my local vegetarian co-op, there was a sign that said “Troops HOME by Christmas.” I was disgusted, and blamed the sign-posters for giving leftists a bad name. If the troops had left Iraq the day after I saw the sign, they wouldn’t have been home—or even in the U.S.—by Christmas. More importantly, the time for opposing Bush just to oppose Bush is over. It’s time to figure out what we should actually do in Iraq.
So my first response to Bush’s decision to increase the size of the armed forces, announced yesterday, wasn’t complete outrage. Bush hasn’t officially said he will send more troops to Iraq, but the sequence of events—Rumsfeld’s departure, an announcement that Bush will not follow the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations, a Pentagon leak that top brass is advocating a bigger standing military, repeated reports that Bush is considering sending more troops, and General Abizaid’s impending retirement—certainly suggests that is what he will do. If sending more troops is the best way to get out of Iraq without leaving a regional bloodbath in our wake, then we should do it.
However, the sources that have proven themselves most reliable on Iraq are against the deployment of more troops. Colin Powell. The Iraq Study Group. The Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Abizaid (not that he’s especially credible, but he is on the ground in Iraq). They don’t think more troops can contain the chaos clutching Iraq. Hell, I don’t know what will fix Iraq, but I’m pretty confident the president doesn’t, either. By ignoring the professional advice Bush finally admitted he needed, the president is leaving himself with absolutely no alibi for failure. We’re peering over an historical precipice.
We also tried throwing more troops at our last ideological war, Vietnam. This morning, as I rode the bus to work, there were two Vietnam vets chatting—one in a wheelchair, the other with a cane.
Wheelchair vet: Just think, we’ve probably being doing serious damage to our lungs for about 40 years now. You probably started smoking in Nam like I did, right?
Cane vet: Yup.
Wheelcair vet: It seemed like a good idea at the time. I could take a 10 minute break from policing or unloading trucks.
Cane vet (who is manly and handsome, but looks to be on the verge of tears during the entire conversation): They found a spot on my lung.
Wheelchair vet: That doesn’t mean anything. Only about 40 percent of them are cancer. It could just be damage to your lungs. You’re getting counseling right? I mean, I get counseling and antidepressants.
Cane vet: Yeah, they have me on Paxil.
Wheelchair vet: It’s funny, after two back surgeries and the fact that I can’t walk, it was for depression and PTSD that they finally gave it [disability compensation?] to me. But you know, once you’re on anti-depressants, you have to take them forever. I was reading a Toronto study that said people get psychotic if they stop taking Paxil. You’ll basically be a Paxil addict your whole life.
Cane vet: Mmm. I was taking one a day, now I’m taking two.
A few stops later, the vet with the cane comes back and quietly unhooks the vet in the wheelchair from the bus seat. They both get off and go their separate ways.
Sending more troops in will create a whole generation of men like this: physically and mentally broken, betrayed by their country. And, unless Bush’s last ditch effort is successful despite the chorus of predictions to the contrary, it will also create a new set of killing fields. This isn’t about George W. Bush anymore, or our military pride. It’s much bigger. Will we stand by and watch, muttering “I told you so”?