James K. Polk was a noteworthy president, worthy of a better fate than to be forgotten outside of the dozens of middle schools that bear his name. George W. Bush has certainly sampled liberally from the Polk playbook, although that he did so consciously is dubious. That he knows who James K. Polk is, for that matter, is dubious.
After the U.S. annexed Texas in 1845, Mexico was pretty irritated. They had ideas of hanging on to it (and a lot of other territory). Polk was convinced that pre-emptive war with Mexico was necessary to protect the newly-stateified (not a word) Texas from the inevitable Mexican attack. The problem was that he couldn't talk Congress into declaring war, which used to be a prerequisite to the U.S. being in a war. Quaint days, those were.
Here's where Polk got crafty.
He exercised his Commander-in-Chief powers to mobilize a large portion of the Army (under Zachary Taylor) to the U.S.-Mexican border. A funny thing happens when two armies from hostile nations are in close proximity; they start fighting. They progress from trading insults to threats to hot lead. And Polk understood that once a war begins, there's no effective way to stop it without dire consequences. So the first time an angry, sun-stroked Mexican soldier lost control of his itchy trigger finger, the Army said "We were attacked" and responded with both barrels. Lo and behold, Congress declared war shortly thereafter. Start the war first, get approval second. Brilliant. Think about Congress's preferences. 1) No war 2) Win war 3) Lose war. Eliminate #1 and their next highest preference becomes the dominant strategy – even when "victory" is nebulous and undefinable.
The people responsible for starting the war in Iraq understood this (Our Leader not being among that group). While the less intelligent among them believed in their faith-based projections – they'll hail us as their liberators, the fighting will be over in 6 weeks, and all the various factions will get along – but the real architects of the war…..they knew. They knew that all they had to do was start it. Start it and, like a rudderless ocean liner that goes nowhere but never stops, it will take on a self-sustaining momentum of its own.
As I listen to the various presidential candidates' positions on the war, something that we've been whispering as a nation since 2004 has become inescapable: there is no endgame. There is no "good" solution. There's not even a solution. No one has a plan. And that was the plan all along. It's a colossal clusterfuck, and leaving makes it worse. The goal was to entangle the military in a terrible situation which could only get worse following a withdrawl.
The reason I do not give two shits about this election is that the candidates all lead to the same outcome – we're in Iraq for four more years, and then four more after that. Repeat an indeterminate, but likely large, number of times. Obama and Clinton might actually believe that they're going to end our involvement. Does anyone else? Sadly I think a lot of people do. They are in for a real disappointment in that case. The hypothetical Democratic presidents will be cowed into staying in order to "look tough" to the Republican and military establishment. Or they'll simply bow to the overwhelming logistical impossibility of leaving.
It breaks my heart to see so many people pouring their hearts and souls into Obama. Not only am I dubious of his odds at this point, but his election will result in far less "change" than his followers are expecting. I suppose every generation needs that political figure who represents their crushing disillusionment with politics – a McGovern for the present day. Sure, the Democratic candidates will nibble around the edges of our involvement in Iraq, making slow, token withdrawls, treating the troops a little better, and not so blatantly using the conflict as a welfare fund for defense contractors. But there's no escaping our continued involvement. Another generation of young voters will learn that the differences are all in the margins; the things that really matter are entirely beyond our control.