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January 24, 2005, 9:05 P.M.

The Briar Patch: Elections in Iraq are scheduled to occur this coming Sunday, yet the biggest news out of that country relates to the number of planned suicide attacks and car bombings that have been discovered. Hopefully the post-election stories will not be about the attacks that we didn’t know about. One can only hope that intelligence in Iraq has improved since the invasion and that we actually have some insight into where and when these attacks are planned to occur and who the planned targets are.

It's not just the attacks that present a threat to the election, it is as much the threat of the attacks that will keep Iraqis who are interested in participating from coming out. The actual attacks, and there will be attacks regardless of how good intelligence is, will be a direct threat to US and British forces and their supporters. These attacks will also continue to threaten the lives of anyone who dares to participate against the will of their armed countrymen. What really threatens the election however is fear. The sheer magnitude of suspected activity is enough to scare all but the most stouthearted from the polls. It will take true courage for Iraqi citizens to participate in these elections. Certainly none but the bravest of the brave will want to go if there is no true sense of security around the polling places, especially in light of polling places being designated as likely targets. The fact that the principal guarantor of security at the polls is an occupying power and principal target of the attacks does little to ease the uncertainty.

But for the presence of US troops on the ground in Iraq there would be no elections. What our government terms “insurgency” is actually the public face of that Civil War. Its energy is currently directed at the US, its supporters, and its attempts at imposing a system of government on the country that is neither understood nor appreciated, and which runs contrary to the beliefs of a vast segment of the population. The removal of foreign forces from its soil is the obvious first goal of the “insurgency”, and purging itself of the remnants US influence will follow shortly thereafter. Whatever government is cooked up in this caldron will be fragile and isolated, but most ominously, dependent on continued involvement of US troops for its survival. With all of the pressure and resistance being exerted now, no government that does not enjoy widespread acceptance and support can hope to survive its infancy without the support of US military involvement. US troops have to remain in Iraq because without them the revolution will erupt beyond its current boundaries and will engulf the country in a bloody civil and religious war. With them it is still only a matter of time before internal forces can no longer be contained.

I have yet to hear the administration's timetable for getting the current massive number of troops out of Iraq and for the soon to be elected fledgling (or Quisling, depending on your perspective) government to stand on its own. Right now the only picture that comes to mind is that of the fall of Saigon. Not much of an exit strategy.

The alternative is the Bush 43 “stay the course” plan which envisions propping up an unpopular Iraqi “democracy” with a continued US presence into the foreseeable future. This plan sees our sons and daughters remaining in an ill-designed and ill-conceived mission and operating in an area marinated in hatred for them and the nation they represent until the cows come home.

There are forces at work here which are fanatically committed to seeing that either the elections don’t happen, or that so many people stay away that they don’t mean anything. Either way, the elections become meaningless, and those elected simply become targets for the next round of attacks. We are truly meddling in a place that we don’t belong. Yet there we are, with no answers from our government as to the strategy or plan for getting out of this quagmire and an apparent plan to broaden our troubles by attacking Iran. This while progress in Afghanistan is eroding, Iraq is seething in discontent and our leaders refuse to acknowledge the mistakes we have made and the lies that were told. Nero fiddles; Rome burns.

Before the last election most (more than half) of us could ask that we not be judged by the actions of our appointed (not elected) President. We no longer can say that as we all must be judged in the court of world opinion together with the government that we elected. More than half of us supported the policies of our government and many will think that makes us fair game for the hatred and violence that will surely come our way. No longer can we as a nation deny complicity in the environment that spawned Abu Ghraib when its principal architect is to serve in the cabinet, nor can we deny that it is our war in Iraq when the leader of our nation claims that it is ordained by providence. The violence we will suffer we be both physical and economic and it will be the enduring legacy of this administration.

Elections should offer hope. My hope is that someone comes up with a plan to get us out of this briar patch because until we do escape, we will continue to get sliced by its thorns.

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