Thursday, March 27, 2008

Or Not

Every war always is two wars: The chaotic fight that's happening, and the story of what is happening as it frames in minds at home (even when "home" is only a few miles from the front lines), where people desperately impose some template of order and narrative on the garble and thunder that drifts back from the battlefields.

Weeks after Lee surrendered at Appomattox, the few newspapers still publishing in the unoccupied Deep South were describing how the Confederacy was going to win this thing.

The longer a war goes on, the more warped and twisted become the home versions of the game. Especially in an open and politicized society, where every public person's previous conclusion must be retained through all the jarring tumult, lest the narrator lose credibility.

Eventually, the home-built meta-narratives implode under the mass of the duct tape holding them together. I'm not sure when the home front in the current Gulf War hit that black hole moment, but watching pundits plunge their hands into the smoke of Basra and pull rhetorical rabbits out of the hat is sure proof that we're there now.

Last year the British military pulled back out of Basra. And chaos didn't immediately break out. It was proof that Iraq was capable of functioning on its own, which either proved the invasion was a success or the occupation was not needed, depending on your point of view.

Or not. Some said Basra was simply being turned over to hoodlums and militias, and it was proof that all the supposed nation-building the coalition (remember that word?) had been doing was futility. Or that there was no real violence problem in Iraq that wasn't caused entirely by the fact of the occupation and the presence of foreign soldiers. Or that the British light-touch approach to occupation, which frequently was held up as a better example to the supposedly thuggish Americans, really was all wrong-headed from the start. Depending on your point of view.

Meanwhile the "Surge" was in effect and the overall level of violence in Iraq was either dropping dramatically -- or not. Depending on your point of view. And that either mattered a lot, or it didn't. And it was either yielding long-term reconciliation, strengthening Iraqi forces, and nurturing indigenous political structures that would allow Iraq to function on its own again. Or not. Or it was all due to the Shi'ite militia cease fire. Or else to the controlling influence of Iran. Or else due to the marginalization of Shi'ite radicals by the U.S. policies.

Or not.

So now that Shi'ite-on-Shi'ite, government-vs.-militia street battles are battering Basra, the persistent punditry has to add another chapter to its ironclad assertions about What Is Really Happening in Iraq. They have to barrel-roll through yet another corkscrew and come out flying and smiling.

Why is anyone even paying attention to these people and their eternal assurance of their own all-along rightness?

Labels: ,