The Road to El Dorado

In today’s column E. J. Dionne compares the Bush/McCain Iraq policy to a road to nowhere:

the administration’s critics (and even some sympathizers) see the current policy as the equivalent of constructing an expensive road, under hazardous conditions, without being able to explain where the road will lead. The road becomes an end in itself. The point is to keep building it in the hope that it will eventually arrive at some lovely destination.

He’s right. But to be fair Bush and McCain DO explain where the road will lead. As McCain said the other day

“Success in Iraq is the establishment of a generally peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic state that poses no threat to its neighbors and contributes to the defeat of terrorists”

Or as Bush puts it:

“a unified, independent, and stable Iraq that is an ally in the war on terrorism”

So they have a destination in mind, a lovely one. But the problem is that the destination is so fantastic that is might was well be El Dorado, the kingdom of gold. Wikipedia describes it as

“…a kingdom, an empire, the city of this legendary golden king. Deluded by legend, Francisco Orellana and Gonzalo Pizarro would depart from Quito in 1541 in a famous and disastrous expedition towards the Amazon Basin;

Like Orellana an Pizarro, Bush and McCain imagine an El Dorado in the Middle East. A place where Iraqi’s fight side-by-side with American troops as they invade the terrorist state of Iran; then move on to defend Israel from Palestinian terrorists.

Obama tried to inject some reality into the discussion in the hearings this week. Fred Kaplan at Slate described the scene:

Obama built up to his point with a series of questions. Our goal, he asked, isn’t to wipe out every member of al-Qaida in Iraq (an impossible feat), but rather to reduce AQI’s threat to manageable proportions, right? Petraeus agreed. And we’re not going to erase Iran’s influence in Iraq—they’re neighbors, after all. The goal is to make this relationship somewhat stable.

That being the case, Obama continued, what is the standard of success? What level of stability in Iraq would let us reduce our presence there to, say, 30,000 troops? What does a stable-enough Iraq look like? “If the definition of success is so high—no al-Qaida in Iraq, a highly effective Iraqi government … democracy, no Iranian influence—that portends … staying 30 to 70 years,” Obama said. What’s a more achievable definition? What’s a realistic goal, and what are we doing to get there? “I’m trying to get to an end point,” he said. “That’s what all of us are trying to do.”

Obama’s questioning was described as “shrewd” and “masterful” by many observers. It wasn’t really.

It was just common sense. But in the foreign-policy dreamworld that Bush and McCain have constructed for themselves, it looks like genius.

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