The elephant’s tale


Watching the House “debate” the Iraq resolution yesterday I was reminded of the story of two blind people describing an elephant.

You know the one. The first person is holding the elephant’s trunk and the second person is holding the elephant’s tail.

Obviously they each describe the elephant quite differently.

Would it be that both sides could actually excuse their opinions based on being blind because their analyses of the Iraqi situation couldn’t be further apart.

The Democrats resolution is simple.

The first part, meant to be politically astute, is dumb.

At the risk of being lambasted as being unpatriotic, I must say that the part about supporting the troops is a sop to the stupid.

It should be obvious that the Democrats support all Americans who are risking life and limb in Iraq. Are they that afraid of giving more ammunition to mad dog talk radio hosts who are in the terminal stages of hydrophobia? The Limbaugh crowd are already spewing insane notions that Democrats don’t care about our troops.

The second part is the non-binding one disapproving of Bush’s latest escalation, the so-called surge.

That part is anything but dumb. It is a powerful assertion of the role of Congress as a co-equal branch of our government.

A yes vote on this is meant to send a clear message to the president that at least half of Congress thinks his surge plan will backfire. It will show that they won’t willingly jump on his spin machine merry-go-round. They won’t ride make believe horses, believing that catching the brass ring will make all right with the world.

They believe that extricating our troops from Iraq as quickly as possible will save American lives.

It’s a political gaff when Barak Obama talks about troops having wasted their lives in Iraq. But what else can you say when soldiers are killed while on a mission destined to fail? It’s no disrespect to the troops to state that they followed bad orders on an ill-conceived mission, often acting heroically.

Without using the phrase “wasting lives” the second part of the resolution essentially says that we shouldn’t lose American lives on a fool’s errand.

The fact is that unnecessarily losing a life is a waste of that life.

The Republicans are holding onto the other end of the elephant.

Unchallenged by the Democrats, this is some of what I heard them say.

For the most part they see the resolution as sending a message to our enemies that we are retreating from the worldwide war on terrorism.

They see it as an open invitation for the worst players in the mideast to attack us here, there and everywhere.

I heard grave pronouncements about how al Quada wouldn’t rest until they’d achieved their global Islamic caliphate.

A vote to oppose the surge, one particularly paranoid congressman said, would virtually assure that radical Islamists would take over the world.

Watch out Christians. If we encourage al Qaeda terrorists by showing what Republicans say they will see as signs of weakness, in two years or ten years or maybe less, it will be convert or die.

Unbelievably, some Republicans were still implying that Saddam was responsible for 9-11.

We were reminded how noble our attack on Saddam’s Iraq was by one congressman who has a picture on his office of Kurdish corpses executed by Saddam’s soldiers.

One of the words of the day for Republicans was “embolden”. Supposedly passage of this resolution would embolden just about everyone in the region who has a hair across their ass against us, including Iran.

One Republican appeared to believe that a yes vote would lead to a nuclear holocaust when Iran launched missiles against California or New York.

There was a lot of talk about how a yes vote on this would “send a message” which would demoralize our troops and encourage our enemies.

This is an insult to the intelligence of our soldiers and shows a naive view of the nature of the fighters on the other side.

The whole elephant

Our soldiers know Americans support them. They know we want the best equipment for them when they confront their enemies, and the best care when they return home with physical or psychological wounds.

They understand that not supporting the surge has nothing to do with our being behind them 100%.

Many of our troops agree with Democrats and the majority of the country that their mission is futile.

Many agree that their mere presence in Iraq both inflames certain factions and enables the Iraqis to shirk responsibility for stabilizing their own country.

For the sake of discussion, let’s accept that al Qaeda leaders use the passing of this resolution as a propaganda tool to inspire their fighters.

I don’t see how any rational person would think that zealots willing to blow themselves up for a cause need any further motivator to follow orders which will grant them heavenly martyrdom. If a yes vote provides some sense of joy to the next suicide bomber, I hardly think it will be a deciding factor as he blows himself up.

In the short term all the passage of this resolution might do is give an Arab attaboy to al Qaeda fighters. Long term, if the resolution helps get Americans out of Iraq it will not mean that al Qaeda won, quite the contrary.

They will have lost any easy way to kill Americans.

Then they will have to deal with disparate and deadly sectarian factions of Iraqis who, if they would be united in anything it would be not wanting any foreigners mucking around in their civil wars and trying to establish their own base of operations in Iraq.

The dabate that wasn’t

I was very disappointed in the Democrats, at least those I watched.

They were unwilling to tear up their prepared five minute speeches and respond to the ludicrous arguments being made by the Republicans. This was no debate. It was a series of alternating speeches.

Instead of reading their speech, I wish one Democrat had crumbled the papers into the microphone, which would make a dandy sound effect.

Sure, it would be a made-for-TV moment. But then if they gave lie to portents of calamity a yes vote would lead to, it might actually have jumped from C-SPAN to the mainstream news.

(Hal Brown is a clinical social worker and former mental health center director who is mostly retired from his private psychotherapy practice. He writes on the psychopathology of public figures and other topics that pique his interest. He can be found online at