Chasing its Losses in Iraq

One sign of gambling addiction is a willingness to chase your losses. Here's how it works.

You walk into the casino with a hundred bucks, feeling confident that you're going to hit big. You have no credible reason to feel this way, but you're not thinking rationally. You just know you're right, and no amount of reasoning can change your mind. A big win right off the bat convinces you that you’re on a roll.

An hour later, staring at the slot machine that just swallowed your last token, you conclude that you didn't bring enough money. The next token might just be the one that wins! So you run to the bank machine and keep playing. Soon this batch of money is gone as well.

Any reasonable person would leave at this point, shrugging it off as an irresponsible whim, but you're caught in the grip of something that transcends reason. You return to the bank machine and max out your overdraft.

Divorced from reality, you still refuse to admit the truth: that you came into the casino under false pretences, convinced that you were not bound by the same rules as everybody else.

The longer you stay, the harder it is to walk away. You're not just playing to win any more; now you're playing to recover what you’ve already lost.

Bills at home aren’t paid, and you sink into debt. You’re angry and irritable whenever you’re not gambling; the casino is an escape from your personal problems.

People notice what’s going on. You’re caught lying to cover up what you’re doing, and you become hostile if anyone tries to confront you. You fall out with your old friends, decent people who can’t stand to see what you’re doing. Now you’re hitting everyone up for financial assistance.

Let’s face it: you need help.

I’m referring, of course, to the Bush administration’s dangerous addiction to military adventurism.

The decision to invade Iraq was based on delusional assessments, not only of Iraq’s threat (close to non-existent), but also of the Iraqi people’s willingness to be occupied by the United States. Careful observers around the world pointed out the folly of both claims, but the administration wasn’t listening. Regime change in Iraq was going to herald a new age that would cascade through the Middle East. Pro-Western democracies would sprout up like spring flowers.

With a combination of dubious, unprovable assertions and scare tactics, the Bush team persuaded the American public to support the invasion, and America marched into Iraq against the wishes of nearly all the world’s people.

Early victories buoyed the government and its supporters, but then reality intervened. Instead of greeting the American forces as liberators, the Iraqi people responded with hostility. The Bush administration ignored this, and instead played up the carefully choreographed fall of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad, zooming in close on the tiny cheering crowd.

President Bush addressed the world from the deck of an aircraft carrier, announcing the end of major hostilities, and it looked like everything was still going according to plan. He lived in a fantasy land where the big wins kept on coming.

Since then, America has been desperately chasing its losses. Even as the number of soldiers killed after the official cessation of hostilities has exceeded the number killed before, officials and pundits are calling to increase the number of troops. President Bush has gone back to Congress asking for another $87 billion that the US government doesn’t have. Secretary of State Colin Powell is pleading with the UN Security Council – which refused to endorse America’s first gamble – for help in maintaining the occupation.

At no point has the US government acknowledged the truth about Iraqi resistance. At first, attacks by rebels were attributed to “remnants” of Saddam’ s regime. As attacks have escalated rather than declined, they are now attributed to “remnants” of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups that have entered Iraq to halt the “advance of freedom”.

Veteran reporters like Robert Fisk and Paul McGeough paint a much different picture, a picture of radicalized civilians resisting the occupation however they can. This undercuts Bush’s delusional hope that the invasion can be made to stick – that Iraq’s people can be persuaded to accept the new administration. Admitting this truth would be the first step towards admitting that the Iraq adventure has been a failure.

And it has been a failure. America bet the house on overthrowing Saddam, and lost. Empty promises carried America into the casino. No weapons of mass destruction have been found. The people of Iraq have not rejoiced. The reconstruction is not paying for itself. Acts of terrorism have actually escalated. Iraq is no model for the rest of the Middle East to follow.

It’s time for America to admit it.

Addiction workers have traditionally believed that addicts must hit rock bottom before they can start the long road to recovery. Recent research, however, suggests that the bottom can be raised; that a skillful intervention by caring friends and trained professionals can help the addict to acknowledge his problem before he loses everything.

The rest of the world is faced with a choice: we can act as enablers, helping America to finance its addiction, or we can intervene to help America see the truth about its condition and seek help before it does more harm.

Ryan McGreal
September 11, 2003

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