12/15/06 "SF Gate" - -- - The good news is, we're all back in harmony. All back on the same page. No more divisiveness and no more silly bickering and no more nasty and indignant red state/blue state rock throwing because we're finally all back in cozy let's-hug-it-out agreement: The "war" in Iraq is over. And what's more, we lost. Very, very badly.
Sure, you already knew. Sure, you sort of sensed from the beginning that we couldn't possibly win a bogus war launched by a nasty slew of corrupt pseudo-cowboys against both a bitterly contorted Islamic nation and a vague and ill-defined concept that has no center and no boundaries and that feeds on the very thing that tries to destroy it. It was sort of obvious, even if half the nation was just terrifically blinded by Bush administration lies and false shrieks of impending terror.
But now it's official. Or rather, more official. Now it's pretty much agreed upon on both sides of the aisle and in every Iraq Study Group and by every top-ranking general and newly minted defense secretary and in every facet of American culture save some of the gun-totin' flag-lickin' South. We lost. And what's more, we have no real clue what to do about it.
After all, it's not easy to accept. It's the thing we do not, cannot easily hear, the thing most Americans, no matter what their political stripe, just can't quite fathom because we're so damned strong and righteous and handy with a gun and we are the superpower and the God among men and the bringer of light to the world and therefore we never lose. Except, you know, when we do.
It's not like we were overpowered. We weren't outmanned or outgunned or outstrategized and hence we weren't defeated in any "traditional" kick-ass take-names sign-the-peace-accord way.
Nor was it because our beloved, undefeatable, can't-lose military doesn't have the latest and greatest killing tools of all time, the biggest budget, the most heroic of baffled and misled young soldiers sort of but not really willing to go off and fight and die for a cause no one could adequately explain or justify to them.
We still have the coolest, fastest planes. We still have the meanest billion-dollar technology. We still have the most imposing tanks and the most incredible weaponry and the badass night-vision goggles with the laser sights and the thermal heat-seeking readouts and the ability to track targets from two miles away in a dust storm. It doesn't matter.
What we don't have is, well, any idea what the hell we're doing, not anymore, not on the global stage. We lost this "war" and we lost it before we even began because we went in for all the wrong reasons and with all the wrong planning and with all the wrong leadership who had all the wrong motives based on all the wrong greedy self-serving insular faux-cowboy BS that your kids and your grandkids will be paying for until about the year 2056.
Maybe you don't agree. Maybe you say wait wait wait, it's not over at all, and we haven't lost yet. Isn't the fighting still raging? Can't we still "win" even though we're still losing soldiers by the truckload and thousands of innocent Iraqis are being brutally slaughtered every month and isn't Dubya still standing there, brow scrunched and confounded as a monkey clinging onto a shiny razor blade, refusing to let go and free us from the deadly trap, ignoring the Iraq Study Group and trying to figure out a way to stay the course and never give in and "mission accomplished" even as every single human around him, from the top generals to crusty old James Baker to the new and shockingly honest secretary of defense, says we are royally screwed and Iraq is now a vicious and chaotic civil war and it's officially one of the worst disasters in American history? Oh wait, you just answered your own question.
Yes, technically, the "war" is still on. The fighting is not over. And yes, you can even say we (brutally, tactlessly) installed ourselves with sufficient ego to give us a modicum of violent, volatile control over the Gulf region's remaining petroleum reserves -- which was, of course, much of the point in the first place.
But the nasty us-versus-them, good-versus-evil ideology is over. Ditto the numb sense of Bush's brutally simpleminded American "justice." Any lingering hint of anything resembling a truly valid and lucid and deeply patriotic reason for wasting a trillion dollars and thousands of lives and roughly an entire generation's worth of international respect? Gone.
What's left is one lingering, looming question: How do we accept defeat? How do we deal with the awkward, identity-mauling, ego-stomping idea that, once again, America didn't "win" a war it really had no right to launch in the first place? After all, isn't this the American slogan: "We may not always be right, but we are never wrong"?
It's still our most favorite idea, the thing our own childlike president loves to talk most about, burned into our national consciousness like a bad tattoo: We always win. We're the good guys. We're the chosen ones. We're the goddamn cavalry, flying the flag of truth, wrapped in strip malls and Ford pickups and McDonald's franchises. Right?
Wrong. If Vietnam's aftermath proved anything, it's that we are incredibly crappy losers. We deny, we reject, we evade and ignore and refuse responsibility until it becomes so silly and surreal even the staunchest warmonger has to cringe in embarrassment. At this point, it seems nearly impossible for America to accept defeat with anything resembling perspective and dignity and the understanding that maybe, just maybe, we ain't all that saintly and ain't all that perfect and maybe God really isn't necessarily on our side after all, because if God took sides she wouldn't actually be, you know, God.
But what happens to a country if they lose the thing that supposedly defines them most? If we don't have our bogus "victory," if we don't always win, if we don't have a sense of righteousness so strong and so inflated and so utterly impenetrable that even when it seems like we've lost, we still stumble through some sort of offensive end zone victory dance, well, what's left?
What, conscience? Humility? Humanitarianism? Or how about the realization that we could maybe, just maybe learn to be defined by something other than rogue aggressiveness and the vicious need to win? Something like, say, a mindful, flawed, difficult but oh-so-incredibly-essential move toward that most challenging and rewarding of human ideals, peace?
Yeah, right. Who the hell wants that?
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Mark Morford's Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SFGate and in the Datebook section of the SF Chronicle
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