Sunday, May 11, 2008

That's the Point, Isn't It?

One of the better cases for withdrawing from Iraq may have been made (inadvertently?) yesterday in a report that James Risen filed for The New York Times. The basic argument, complete with a zinger of a punch line, resides in his opening paragraphs:

Last fall, Blackwater Worldwide was in deep peril.

Guards for the security company were involved in a shooting in September that left at least 17 Iraqis dead at a Baghdad intersection. Outrage over the killings prompted the Iraqi government to demand Blackwater’s ouster from the country, and led to a criminal investigation by the F.B.I., a series of internal investigations by the State Department and the Pentagon, and high-profile Congressional hearings.

But after an intense public and private lobbying campaign, Blackwater appears to be back to business as usual.

The State Department has just renewed its contract to provide security for American diplomats in Iraq for at least another year. Threats by the Iraqi government to strip Western contractors of their immunity from Iraqi law have gone nowhere. No charges have been brought in the United States against any Blackwater guard in the September shooting, either, and the F.B.I. agents in Baghdad charged with investigating whether Blackwater guards have committed any crimes under United States law are sometimes protected as they travel through Baghdad by Blackwater guards.

The chief reason for the company’s survival? State Department officials said Friday that they did not believe they had any alternative to Blackwater, which supplies about 800 guards to the department to provide security for diplomats in Baghdad. Officials say only three companies in the world meet their requirements for protective services in Iraq, and the other two do not have the capability to take on Blackwater’s role in Baghdad. After the shooting in September, the State Department did not even open talks with the other two companies, DynCorp International and Triple Canopy, to see if they could take over from Blackwater, which is based in North Carolina.

“We cannot operate without private security firms in Iraq,” said Patrick F. Kennedy, the under secretary of state for management. “If the contractors were removed, we would have to leave Iraq.”

Kennedy has shifted the discourse away from moral questions as to whether or not we went into Iraq on the basis of deliberately fabricated evidence and arguments and whether or not we are remaining in Iraq for equally unfounded reasons to a question that lies behind the management of just about any operation, in peace or war and in the private or public sector: Do we have the resources? Put another way, the bottom line behind our "adventure" in Iraq is the bottom line of how we are managing the budget (and, for that matter, sustaining that budget by indebting the country to other countries with whom we also seem to have moral questions and arguments).

This not mean that we should pick up and leave Iraq because we cannot afford to be there, just as it does not imply that leaving Iraq will immediately get us out of our current morass of debt. It simply means that we should be paying more attention to the question of what we have the resources to do and planning our actions accordingly. Ironically, this is the same logic that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tried to invoke as an excuse for why our armed forces in Iraq were so poorly equipped; but that is an interesting aspect of the fine art of argumentation. Lawyers far better than I recognize the value of when a warrant for a claim can be taken at face value and then used to refute that very claim. Under Secretary Kennedy has provided the opportunity for just such a volte-face in the debate over our presence in Iraq; and, to continue the polyglot rhetoric, this could be a significant carpe diem occasion!

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