Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Modest Proposal for Iraq

(With thanks and apologies to Jonathan Swift)

It is a sad state of affairs to those who walk through Baghdad or watch the evening news to see the streets of such a great and ancient nation awash in garbage and murder, seemingly without end. The citizenry, instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are virtual prisoners in their own homes, subject to unpredictable power outages as well as random searches and seizures by any one of a number of factions. As their youth become inured to such circumstance, they inevitably turn to the insurgency for employment, or else sell themselves to the militias and death squads. These insurgents, militias, and American soldiers each strike at one another whenever they gain the least opportunity, thus sustaining the violence which keeps so many honest Iraqis trapped beneath an unceasing crossfire.

I think it is agreed by all parties that this violence, unpredictable and random as it is, is in the present deplorable state of the country a very great additional grievance; and, therefore, whoever could find out a fair, cheap, and easy method of bringing any form of order to Iraq would deserve so well of the public as to get his own cable TV show.

But my intention is very far from being confined to provide only for the disaffected youth of Iraq; it is of a much greater extent, and shall take in the entirety of the present conflict in the Middle East, as well as America's tarnished image upon the world stage.

As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for some years upon this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of other projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in the computation. The recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, for example, consist entirely of halfway measures and belated suggestions for which the appropriate time has long since passed. Calls to either increase troop levels or withdraw entirely are likewise too simplistic to retain any real goal of stability. Beggaring all sense, some people currently call for both of these "solutions" at once! Although "outside the box" thinking is most certainly required here, taking simultaneous contradictory actions at once is perhaps a bit too far out.

The key to the problem is that the stability of the government and economy of Iraq cannot be established without infrastructure; and that infrastructure cannot be rebuilt without peace. In turn, without the stability of government and economy which enforces and maintains peace, the various factions involved will continue to require the blood of one or another in order to assuage their sense of purpose and duty.

A straightforward approach begins with the statistics. By looking at the magnitude of the problem itself, we can best see how to mitigate it in service of our ultimate stated goal of bringing order and stability to Iraq.

The number of American soldiers present in Iraq being usually reckoned one hundred forty thousand, of these it is calculated that twenty-eight thousand have died in the forty-five months since our army first set foot upon their soil. By dividing one into the other, I find that on the average, 63 Americans die in Iraq per month, only slightly over 2 per day. In addition, twenty-one and a half thousand Americans have been wounded in the same period. That amounts to 477 per month, or approximately 15 per day.

During this amount of time, the United States has spent an estimated three hundred and forty billion of its dollars directly on this effort, which amounts to seven and a half billion dollars per month, or nearly two hundred and fifty million dollars per day. This figure certainly does not include the much higher sum being siphoned to various contractors hired to repair the infrastructure of Iraq, as their people and equipment sit idle, drawing wages and lease payments while unable to complete their mission due to the random violence which continues in that country.

I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.

A cease-fire between all parties involved in such a confrontation is the only possible first step. However, it could be negotiated provided only that the ends which all of these parties seek are met. The Americans require order and stability. The insurgents and militias require the death of their foes, whether they be one another or American soldiers. All of these ends must be guaranteed in any sustainable cease-fire agreement.

In addition, many Arab nations find that public execution is a most excellent method of keeping the civic peace. It is furthermore commonly known that all Muslims desire the death of Americans, and that this alone may assuage their inevitable bloodlust, which might otherwise lead to terrorist atrocities taking place upon our own shores. To quote our illustrious President, "we fight them over there so that we don't have to fight them here."

I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration that we immediately negotiate a cease-fire with the insurgents and militias, with the contingency that one American soldier shall be offered up each day for public execution in a convenient outdoor square of Baghdad. This step alone will cut our flow of casualties almost exactly by half in one fell swoop (if you will pardon the pun). Furthermore, those Iraqis who desire to witness the death of Americans need only stroll downtown in safety to confirm that their ends have been met before their very eyes, no longer needing to subject themselves to any personal risk of life and limb to do so.

The American to die each day may be chosen by lot, perhaps by employing a system similar to that used to determine draftees during the Vietnam conflict. These soldiers may then be informed of their selection by the quaint but traditional means of being handed a piece of paper containing only a black spot upon it. They will then be removed by Military Police and placed in holding to prepare for the following day's sport.

A variety of common and entertaining methods of execution may be employed in order to maximize the degree of fulfillment which swells the Muslim breast upon witnessing American blood spilt upon their soil. On one day, the American sacrifice may be beheaded, on another stoned. Upon the next, two Americans may be chosen and forced to fight one another to the death, with the survivor earning a discharge home. The mighty power of Democracy may be employed here by polling the populace as to which methods of execution they might prefer to see next. A wide variety of options are available, including drowning by waterboard, asphyxiation brought on by forced stress positions, and the simple but satisfying method of beating one of our own soldiers to death while they are tied to a chair.

Perhaps contests could be held by which a lucky native may be allowed to administer the execution personally. A regular lottery or auction would not only increase the entertainment value of this sport, but also go far towards mitigating the costs of the occupation.

I have too long digressed, and therefore shall return to my subject. I think the advantages by the proposal which I have made are obvious and many, as well as of the highest importance.

For first, and most urgently, it would greatly lessen the concern weighing upon our politicians today that fluctuations in the level of violence in Iraq might be employed by those enemies in order to influence our own elections at home. This grave worry that our own casualties might be employed to subvert Democracy itself clearly rests heavy upon the furrowed brows of our leaders and pundits, as it forms the body of many of their speeches today. With this solution, the number of American dead in any given month will be fixed at a predictable rate, allowing our political strategists to rest easy knowing that no suprises from abroad might spoil their skillfully crafted calculations.

Secondly, once the American populace becomes accustomed to this procedure, it will no longer be newsworthy at all. Our pundits and news organizations will no longer need to report to us the number of Americans who died in Iraq on a given day, as it will always be exactly one! The mere fulfillment of a predictable policy hardly constitutes news. This will lessen the worry of the average American citizen, since we will no longer need to be presented with the details of this war. As such, we will be free to turn our national attention towards more pressing domestic issues, such as abortion, immigration, flag burning and gay marriage.

Thirdly, since this would be drawn randomly from a selection of all the soldiers stationed in Iraq, one's chances of actually dying there would remain at a tolerably low level at all times, improving morale. Regardless of a given soldier's activities or orders, on any given day they would still have the same less than one-half percent chance of dying! These are excellent odds for the survival of any soldier in wartime, and our troops should be given to appreciate how very, very lucky they are compared with the soldiery of any other war in human history.

Fourthly, by broadcasting the executions towards outlying areas of Iraq, we can pacify those regions as well. This will in turn further facilitate the demand for rebuilding the power grid and communications networks throughout the country. Laying cable TV lines to a given area will be seen as a security priority rather than merely an unneccessary luxury for the native folk.

Fifthly, the general peace in the area will free our contractors to complete their work in rebuilding the basic infrastructure of Iraq. Consistent power may be restored, garbage may be collected, and police trained in relative peace. Most importantly, this will allow our contractors to realize greater profits, by reducing those costs related to security concerns.

Sixthly, by killing only one American soldier per day, no soldiers at all need suffer any wounds or debilitating injuries! This alone will save our Veterans Administration untold billions of dollars over the future lifetime of those soldiers who might have otherwise needlessly burdened our society. It bears mentioning again that this expedient also reduces our casualties fully by half, saving greatly on funeral-related expenses.

Many other advantages might be enumerated. Aftermarket DVD sales of executions could bring further income to the families that our sacrificed soldiers leave behind. Broadcasts to other countries, such as Afghanistan and Iran could bring yet more peace and good will between Arabs and Americans everywhere. Given current world opinion, a broader worldwide market of supplying Americans for execution would certainly be developed as a result, which would bring years of entertainment and pleasure to people of every creed across the globe. Finally, we presently have such a supply of soldiers in Iraq that we could stably sustain the occupation in this manner for over three hundred and eighty years!

A small portion of the proceeds from related lotteries and gambling collected in Iraq, in addition to the vast savings to be realized in contracted work could then be paid to the doomed soldier's family. This sum would certainly be a much higher amount than they could hope to receive from the Department of Defense alone for the sacrifice of their child to the noble goal of expanding freedom throughout the Middle East. In fact, even ten million dollars per American soldier sacrificed would be little more than an afterthought, given the vast opportunities for savings brought about by this plan. Such a sum would surely be a great benefit to that soldier's family, at once raising them to a future life of luxury and plenty. By paying out such amounts we will also purchase further peace at home, as those family members will be less likely to raise protests or otherwise annoy our leaders with unreasonable questions and demands.

I can think of no one objection that will possibly be raised against this proposal, unless it should be urged that the number of American soldiers stationed in Iraq will be thereby much lessened. This I freely own, and it was indeed one principal design in offering it to the world. Moderate politicians in both of our parties claim to desire the reduction of our troop levels there, but only within a cautiously extended time frame, and certainly not with any appearance of defeat. By employing this simple measure, we can actually draw down our forces without suffering the ignominity of retreating from the country! Therefore let no one talk to me of other expedients: of crafting a set of rationally achievable goals and meeting them one by one; of setting a reasonable timetable connecting withdrawal levels to the achievement of those goals, and keeping to it; of reaching out to other regional powers to assist in maintaining the political stability of their neighbor; of employing local and regional workers to assist with the rebuilding effort rather than contracting those jobs to American companies; of learning to view Iraqis, as well as Arabs and Muslims in general as human beings rather than as a problem to be solved. Lastly, of crafting foreign policy in terms of our permanent American principles rather than in terms of passing "American interests," as if we were nothing more than another in the long line of mercantile empires to trample Arab soil in pursuit of mere profit.

Therefore I repeat, let no one talk to me of these and the like expedients, until there is at least some glimpse of hope that there will ever be a hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice.

But, as for myself, having been wearied out for these last three-and-a-quarter years with offering vain, idle, visionary thoughts, and at length utterly despairing of success, I fortunately fell upon this proposal which, as it is wholly new, so it also has something solid and real, of no expense and little trouble, full in our own power, and from which we can incur no danger of either escalated casualties or ignoble retreat. For by converting our casualties into a manageable commodity, we thus bring the most effective hallmarks of American capitalism to bear upon our current problem: ingenuity, control and profit.

After all, I am not so thoroughly bent upon my own opinion as to reject any offer proposed by others, which shall be found equally entertaining, profitable and effective. But before something of that kind shall be advanced in contradiction to my scheme and offering a better, I desire the author or authors will maturely consider two points. First, as things now stand, how can any politician or party bear the ignominity of going down in history as having either lost or greatly escalated this war? And secondly, how otherwise may we achieve our aims and thus declare "victory" when the work crews required to provide the requisite stability face certain death the moment they set out to work? I desire of those politicians who dislike my overture, and who may perhaps be so bold as to attempt an answer, that they will first ask the parents of our slain American soldiers whether they would not think it better that their child had died to meet any concrete goal at all, be it a single completed power transformer or reconstructed sewer line, rather than having died to achieve no purpose whatsoever?

I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the public good of my country, by advancing the aims of our coalition, providing for stable Democracy in the Middle East, relieving the violence, and giving some pleasure to the humble citizenry of Iraq. I myself have no children who might be sent to Iraq by which I can propose to get a single penny, my only being nine years old, and myself well past draft age.

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