Operation FUBAR

In Iraq last week, the United States launched Operation Jimmy Hoffa with a raid in Khalis, north of Baghdad. Members of a crime ring were apprehended. But like the body of the former teamster leader, the weapons of mass destruction used to justify war cannot be found.

I'd like to propose a name for the next massive raid: Operation FUBAR. This is a military acronym for F*ed Up Beyond All Recognition, a phrase which certainly seems to fit our failed empire building exercise in the desert.

But how, Farai -- you might say -- can you argue we went to Iraq to feather our own nest? I think I got the idea from Paul Bremer III, the U.S. Envoy to Iraq. In a telling interview with NPR's Juan Williams, Bremer made the case for spending billions more of U.S. money in Iraq. "Even if we succeed in getting our oil revenues back to normal," Bremer said, that won't pay for the cost of our military presence. "When you say our, you mean Iraqi" oil revenues, Williams interjected. "Yeah," said Bremer, without much enthusiasm.

Let's face it: From afar, Iraq looked like a cash cow, a place that could provide an additional base for U.S. operations plus a steady stream of black gold. Now the black gold has become a quagmire devouring U.S. and Iraqi lives, and U.S. dollars.

Next week, the Congressional Budget Office will forecast the federal budget deficit for the next year. According to a new report in the New York Times, the forecast will likely be over half a trillion dollars, even larger than previous White House estimates. Of course, those White House estimates didn't include the cost of a protracted war in Iraq, a war estimated to cost nearly $5 billion per month. "There will be no retreat," says the President. But there may be no victory, politically or economically, either.

What are the upsides of this FUBAR situation? Perhaps Americans will learn to let go of one of the most persistent myths in U.S. politics: Republicans stand for good economic governance.

The median family income and GDP grew more under President Clinton than President Reagan. Fiscal management under Bush I inspired the Democratic attack line, "It's the economy, stupid." And Bush II is turning out to be even worse than Bush I.

In a persuasive article, writer David Brock argued that Americans vote for Republicans rather than Democrats because Republicans speak to the aspiration to be rich. Nobody wants to be told that you're poor and you're going to suffer. Nobody wants to hear that taxes will rise because of the profit-taking which occurred in a past presidency. This presents the Democrats with a critical challenge: how to preach the politics of rebuilding without offering only austerity. (We Americans have never been good at austerity.) After a bruising four years, Americans going to the ballot box in 2004 will be looking for hope. We hope that the economy will recover, that the FUBAR war will end, that no more terrorist attacks will hit our shores.

There are ways to blend realism and inspiration. By re-aligning our political priorities, we can end the slow destruction of the public school system, provide decent healthcare for working Americans who can't afford it, and make sure that our strong military is also a smart military. If that isn't cause to wave the flag, I don't know what is.

Farai Chideya is the founder of Pop and Politics.

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