So how do you like that camel in your living room? I forgive you if you miss the reference, after all, it's been over two years since I made the following comparison here:
“There's an old saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee, and if anything was ever designed by a committee, it's Iraq.” I went on to mention how the English and French drew bold lines on maps to divvy up the spoils of World War I—especially oilfields, railroads, harbors and trade routes in the Middle East.
Iraq's parts still don't fit together just right, and that's made it downright ungovernable for much of its ornery life, something George W. Bush is beginning to realize. Too bad he doesn't much like to read. Maybe he would've taken note of the British experience in Iraq or that, during a series of violent coups back in the 1930s, the country endured seven rulers in six years. Before Saddam Hussein seized control in 1979, Iraq suffered a new ruler about every two years on average. Bush should've known grabbing such a beast is easier than holding on.
For better or worse, though, Bush is in the saddle, as I pointed out in April, 2003 (I'll be glad to send you the column). And despite a new Iraqi government grappling for control, it's still Dubya holding the reins 27 months later.
“We've bought ourselves a pretty expensive rogue camel,” paid for in American blood and dollars. Just how much won't be known for years, I wrote, but “it'll probably tally up to hundreds of billions.”
It already has. It'll be interesting to see whether Bush's speech on Tuesday, in which he repeatedly invoked a connection to 9/11, won people over. Just before the speech polls showed that a majority of Americans thought invading Iraq was a mistake. Two years ago lots of readers bristled at that notion. Angry emails and phone calls ridiculed any suggestion that the war would cost billions or that we could be there for years, but it has… and we have… just as some of us predicted.
The cost becomes ever steeper. Only about 100 Americans had been killed by the second week of April, 2003. The number surpasses 2,000 now, counting American civilians, and thousands more have been maimed. In fact, the toll on our veterans' health and well-being has become so high that earlier this week Congress was scurrying to pony up about $1.5 billion more than previously budgeted for Veterans Affairs. That's because about 103,000 U.S. veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq are demanding VA services, far above the 23,000 Congress previously planned on. Seems somebody miscalculated.
Get used to it. This camel in our living room is an unpredictable beast and it's not leaving anytime soon. Donald Rumsfeld recently suggested the insurgency could last a dozen more years, and Bush made it clear on Tuesday we're not leaving until we defeat it. Over and over he said we're staying the course, staying until we win. Otherwise we risk turning Iraq into a haven for terrorists, something he might've thought about on the front end, but never mind, it's worth it, according to Bush.
I wonder. Two years ago, while embedded reporters were painting glorious pictures of our assault on Baghdad and gushing over the precision bombing of Iraq known as “shock and awe,” few were talking about a permanent occupation. Some said the war would be over in weeks and that Iraqi oil would pay for it. Anyone who consults a good variety of media had serious doubts, however.
If we're not planning to stay years longer, if we're not after the oil, if we're not deliberately creating staging grounds for future conflicts, why are we spending billions to build 14 new military bases, pouring in enough concrete to pave Eden? And why is our new embassy costing $582 million? Sure, security costs, equipment costs. But $582 million? For an embassy? Guess that's just the price of a good saddle for an excitable camel.
So there it is, more than two years later, still thrashing about in your living room, writhing in misery, hurting from self-inflicted wounds there on the TV, while George W. Bush tries keeping upright in the saddle. Enjoy the ride. You bought it.