Thursday, May 20, 2004

American history sometimes seems to be the same story repeated over and over again. Some group of big-dreaming but foolhardy adventurers head out to eradicate some evil and to realize some golden future. They get halfway along their journey and find they are unprepared for the harsh reality they suddenly face. It's too late to turn back, so they reinvent their mission. They toss out illusions and adopt an almost desperate pragmatism. They never do realize the utopia they initially dreamed about, but they do build something better than what came before...

And it is that way today. We are tricked by hope into starting companies, beginning books, immigrating to this country and investing in telecom networks. The challenges turn out to be tougher than we imagined. Our excessive optimism is exposed. New skills are demanded. But nothing important was ever begun in a prudential frame of mind.

Hope begets disappointment, and we are now in a moment of disappointment when it comes to Iraq. During these shakeout moments, the naysayers get to gloat while the rest of us despair, lacerate ourselves, second-guess those in charge and look at things anew. But this very process of self-criticism is the precondition for the second wind, the grubbier, less illusioned effort that often enough leads to some acceptable outcome.

Today in Iraq local commanders seem to be allowed to try anything. We are allowing former Baathists to man a Fallujah Brigade to police their own city. We are pounding Muqtada al-Sadr while negotiating with him. There is talk of moving up elections so when an Iraqi official is assassinated, he is not seen as a person working with the U.S., but as a duly elected representative of the Iraqi people.

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