News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Saturday, January 13, 2007

There ain't no super glue that can fix it

[ An Iraqi hospital worker walks among the dozens
of bodies of victims of sectarian killings brought
to a hospital morgue today. How can you repair this? ]

It happened here in Brown County. Some highway workers were ordered to tear down a house that the county had bought to expand a right-of-way. They came with their bulldozers and trucks and knocked it down and hauled the debris to the land fill. The only problem was that it was the wrong house. The county had to pay for the mistake.

While telling this story at a gathering of people from other places recently, one of them had a similar tale. Police had received information about a house in another city out of which a drug dealer was alleged to have operated. From their informants, they received enough probable cause information to obtain a search warrant. They assembled a task force team, broke into the house, held the occupants at bay, and ransacked the house. They found nothing. They were in the wrong house. The one they wanted was in the next block.

The story is loaded with complications. While they were searching the house, which process involved much damage, the police held a woman, man, and children at bay as suspects and witnesses. The couple had been estranged from each other until the previous week and were in the process of reconciliation. The children were traumatized by the police invasion. During the questioning of them and their parents by authorities who assumed they were involved in illegal activities, many accusations were made and many accusatory statements were made. A 14-year-0ld girl developed an exceedingly hostile attitude about the police and every other authority, including her teachers. A boy just entering his teens became withdrawn and distant. The family did receive a financial settlement and moved to get away from the many bad memories the house contained, but the damage done to the family at a crucial time was not reparable, according to my friend who related the incident. Even though the incident was clearly a mistake, it raised suspicions, distrust, tensions, and recrminations among family members to the point that no amount of counseling and efforts at reconciliation could rectify. It disrupted all the things that held the people together. The family disintegrated.

As for the occupants in the house where the alleged drug activity was taking place, they were given time to get rid of any evidence and move their operation elsewhere.

What happened to that family parallels what we did to Iraq. The first problem is that we busted into that country under the false pretenses that it was harboring and manufacturing weapons of mass destruction and in league with Al Qaida to attack America. As numerous books about the George W. Bush administration have pointed out, Bush and his cohorts were determined to invade Iraq and no amount of information or persuasion contrary to their desires was tolerated. When the true facts about their pretext for an invasion came to light, they switched their justification to removal of Iraq's evil dictator. But there is no way that the damage the Bush administration did to the public trust, our relationships with our democratic allies, and to the bonds of friendship and common purpose between people and countries can be repaired.

It all goes back to Colin Powell's pottery-barn warning about Iraq: If you break it, you own it.

A very large majority of Americans believe the plan to increase our troops in Iraq by 21,000 has no credibility as a measure to restore order and peace among a people who don't trust each other, don't like each other, and have lost all sense of common interest. Still, most Americans don't think we can go into a country, bust up its infrastructure, interfere with its human relationships, and then slip away without taking some responsibility for what we have done.

The big question is, what can we do? Or like that family that was so damaged by a police raid, is there really nothing that can repair the damage and salve the wounds? Sometimes broken things just can't be fixed.

President Bush today went on the radio and berated his critics for casting doubt on his plans but not coming up with any of their own. If he wants to take true responsibility for the horrific mess he created in Iraq, he may have to face the facts that he broke Iraq so thoroughly that there is no way it can be put back together again.

Sending in more troops, as many have pointed out, will just expose more Americans to ambushes and IEDs. If any headway is to be made in the civil war between sects and factions in Iraq, America will have to be less involved in the violence and destruction. We don't have any choices left. A redeployment with the essential role of our troops changing from combative roles to reconstructive missions is the only chance we have to a honorable withdrawal of our involvement.

When you break something in the pottery barn, you can sweep it up and dispose of the remains, but there is no super glue that can put it back together. All you can do is offer the potter all the help and support you can to build another vessel. That is where we are in Iraq. Iraq is the fragments and remnants of a country. We own it. We won't solve its problems and our problems by continuing the destruction.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States