America is sitting at a very expensive table at the Restaurant of International Diplomacy, vegetating after a big hearty meal of Liberation and Occupation. This restaurant has everything: from War to Trade Disputes to those interesting little Peace Treaties like the one in Israel where people are still allowed to bomb each other. They were fresh out of WMDs, but they’ve got a lot of anti-American sentiment for you to chew on; the Arabs at the table in the corner are practically feasting on it. America lets out a little burp of Insurrection, stifles it quickly (and rather violently), and proceeds to gluttonously pick its teeth with a toothpick made out of recycled post-conquest rebuilding contracts (mmm . . . tastes lucrative).
Now the bill for occupying Iraq has finally come to the table. The waiter spent all that time trying to beg the French, German, and Russian customers at the other tables for some cash, but they balked. “$87 Billion!!!” America roars. “That’s outrageous! We could have gone elsewhere, and spent our money at the little Social Security CafE across the street, or perhaps that Bistro where they make great Education. I demand to see the manager!” America commands, and the frustrated waiter scurries off in anger. After all, somebody’s got to pay the bill, and soon, or else America’s going to have to start washing some dishes, figuratively of course.
The manager arrives and gives some speech about God’s will and the need to wipe out Terrorism (apparently, a cousin to salmonella). It’s all there on that enormous bill: troops, supplies, medicine, food, weapons, money to rebuild oil refineries, and the high-priced wages of Ambassadors and Administrators. Occupation tasted good, said the crowd at the America table, but they didn’t think it would cost this much. And people are dying back there in the hot, poorly supplied kitchen, too. It’s a desert in there! The sooner we pay this the sooner our boys can get out of the kitchen, because they don’t seem to be taking the heat very well at all.
Well, now the bill’s just sitting in the middle of the table and everyone is arguing about it but no one is picking it up. The Democrats argue that $10 Billion should be treated as a loan, that (grateful or vengeful?) Iraq should pay back once we’ve fixed the economy and infrastructure we had to break to teach them a lesson. The Republicans are mortified. Shame on those Democrats, trying to skimp out on the bill just because they’ve got a grudge against the President. If we don’t pay this bill, they argue, Iraq will fall into (more?) chaos and (greater?) economic depression. Some of the more independent Americans think it’s funny that the Republicans and Democrats are only now thinking along those lines, rather than being worried about the decay of Iraq’s infrastructure, oh, maybe BEFORE the war. The only thing everyone can agree on is that the best time to remove troops from Iraq will be right around Election Day, 2004, and that it is somehow a good idea to open up Iraq’s first-ever Burger King in the former Saddam Hussein International Airport (Motto: “Have it your way and we’ll shoot you for looting”).
A columnist in The Washington Post related our nation and our President’s headstrong and cocksure attitude (or is it head-sure and cock-strong?) to an old African legend (“The Iraqi Monkey Trap,” 10/20/03). You can catch a monkey by filling a paw-sized hole in a coconut with rice. The monkey will reach in to grab the rice, and with its fist clenched can’t get its paw out through the hole, even though it knows that it could open its fist and withdraw its hand. This poor monkey values the treasure more than its own freedom! When the hunters come to catch the monkey, it will refuse to unclench its fist and escape, because that would mean giving up the rice. Ensnared by greed-that’s just how America still sits at the table, arguing over the bill, too busy clenching fists and playing partisan politics to realize the situation we’ve placed ourselves in, and what it can teach us about International Diplomacy, or lack thereof.