Friday, December 15, 2006

‘Tis the season to be …what?

The traditional completing sentiment – “jolly” – for this phrase seems particularly inappropriate this holiday season. The exact cause or causes impelling this unsettled feeling are opaque, suggesting that their discovery will entail a painstaking unraveling of numerous trends and policy proposals and identifying reciprocal interactions that have created today’s bleak contextual atmosphere.

Americans like to think of themselves as among the (if not the) most straight-forward, plain-talking, “what-you-see-is-what-you get” people. So many have for so long believed this legend that it has attained the status of a “true myth.” In this sense, one is reminded of Thoreau at Walden Pond. A select few are able to live out an idyllic existence because the rest of society is willing to tolerate their illusions of an absolute self that finds expression in absolute self-reliance. But when one looks at collective life in the U.S. as most live it, the image that springs to mind is not that of a single powerful stroke slicing the Gordian knot of obfuscations and euphemisms. It is, rather, the patient peeling of each layer of an onion until there is nothing left – except the discovery that life is essentially process devoid of a static central core.

Process involves transition, and the end of the calendar year always involves transitions of some kind. This year there will be more than in recent years in that the Congress will be controlled by the Democrats, although tenuously in the Senate. Expectations are that the Bush administration will be held to stricter accountability for its programs. But in terms of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the early signs are that the Congress will not do much of anything to change “Bush’s war,” preferring to let the White House muddle its way for the next two years.

The Pentagon has a new civilian in charge, a familiar face albeit in another role in the 1980s and early 1990s. Bush has received outside advice from the Iraq Study Group (ISG), and earlier this week, he huddled with his National Security Council and the uniformed military leadership. Apparently, Bush still believes the U.S. can “win,” something the ISG thinks is unlikely. Secretary Rice has already cut key ISG recommendations by refusing to open discussions with Syria and Iran. And while the ISG counseled against send in more troops, the Chiefs of Staff for the Army and Marines are pushing for a permanent increase in their services end-strengths to have enough troops to fight the “global war on terror.”

Bush says he will not make a decision on changes affecting the war until January. Regardless, between now and then – and for at least another year, more Iraqis, more Afghans, more U.S. and other coalition troops will die needlessly trying to strike the decisive blow that, by severing the Gordian knot of global terrorism, can achieve by military means the unachievable end state of a world free of terror.

So far in 2006, 760 U.S. military personnel have died in Iraq or supporting operations in Iraq. At mid-month, 51 have died; at that rate, the total fatalities in Iraq will exceed 3,000 within the first five days of 2007 (current total is 2,940). More than 46,000 have been injured or wounded and two are missing. Coalition fatalities are 126 from the UK and 121 from all other countries.

In Afghanistan, total U.S. fatalities stand at 356; 97 have died this year, just two under the 2005 total with 16 days left in 2006. Coalition forces have suffered 158 fatalities in 2006, with the largest number of deaths among Canadian (44) and British (43) troops.

Indeed, “‘Tis the season…” for thoughtful reflection, pragmatic planning, and that comprehensive quietude that enfolds within it the silence of the grave, the end state of death, and the silence of the germinating seed, the unfolding process of life.

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