I've just finished reading Tom Bissell's Improvised, explosive, and divisive: Searching in vain for a strategy in Iraq in the latest issue of Harper's. Sadly, it's offline, but I'd recommend hunting it down for an in-depth look at the stupidity and pointlessness of the Iraq war. As the title suggests, he's looking for some idea of what the US is actually doing in Iraq which might help them "win". Unfortunately, from what he's written, the search seems to be in vain; nobody knows what the strategy (if there is one) is, and few even want to talk about it. And so instead, they waste their time in missions of almost comedic pointlessness: every day the Marines go out and clear the IEDs off the road, and every night the resistance puts them back. They risk life and limb to deliver truckloads of air conditioners and TV sets to other bases, and have to deal with Iraqi civillians without any knowledge of Arabic and no translators. And in the free, "improving" Iraq, they have to go out loaded for bear, in full body armour (and having sat through a lengthy security briefing) for a breakneck-speed trip down the road to the adjacent Iraqi military base which takes all of 90 seconds.
There's a lot in it worth quoting, but the bit that stuck with me was right at the end:
It is one of my last nights on Taqaddum, and I share a non-alcoholic St. Pauli Girl beer with a Navy commander who works in TQ's surgical ward. We speak not of the war but of home: what he misses (golf), what he will do when he gets back (golf). It is near dusk, and we both agree that, sometimes, Iraq can seem almost pleasant and its violence very distant. The moment comes for the commander to do what we are waiting for, which is to take down the U.S. and Iraqi flags that fly in tandem at every official site on the base. "Take hold of the grommets," he tells me when he unhooks the U.S. flag from its ropes. As I hold the grommets the commander carefully folds the flag, leaving the star side up, and by the end he has managed a tight triangle of bright, perfectly bundled cloth. The Iraqi flag is next. I stand there, waiting to be handed my end, but after he unclasps the Iraqi flag he bunches it up and throws it onto a nearby chair. I look at this sad, rumpled bit of cloth and then at him. He catches himself and does not quite smile as he looks down at his boots. "We don't usually fold that one."
And that's America's attitude to Iraq, Iraqis, and arguably the rest of the world, right there in a nutshell. And then they wonder why the people they're occupying hate them...