Iraq A Jigsaw Puzzle Without A PictureIraq A Jigsaw Puzzle Without A Picture

Occasionally, I love to go to war with one of those 1500 piece jigsaw puzzles. The last battle, oh about a year ago, was pitched against a very complicated, very dark, fantasy picture of Smaug, the fire breathing dragon from The Hobbit, protecting his horde of gold and treasure?probably belonging to the innocents of Middle Earth. It took three of us, seasoned veteran puzzle pugilists, over several long weeks to finally claim victory; much longer than we had originally projected.

It was a mere two days in when we realized the puzzle was much more difficult than we had ever imagined. Of course we prematurely announced mission accomplished once we had completed operation, ?Build the Border??a relatively meaningless but easy-to-measure feel-good point for jigsaw jarheads. Elated by our early success, we moved onto operation, ?Divide Colors and Conquer??another quick hit feel-good campaign whose objective is to separate the remaining pieces into colors and pattern groups. Our earlier declaration of an easy victory was further substantiated by this second easy win, as we began to proclaim wildly optimistic completion dates. But in the aftermath of ?Divide Colors and Conquer?, we were left with only three large piles, a lot of blacks and dark browns that mapped to the top and sides of the picture, a significant amount of gold and yellows that mapped to the bottom, and a smaller pile of testy crimson shapes that mapped to the strategically important center of the picture.

There were three of us so we each took a pile and began operation, ?Low Hanging Fruit?, whereby we built small core components based on tiny, easily recognizable images: a small jar there, a foot here, a sword over there; three piece, four piece, five piece insignificant wins. The objective of the operation was to reduce the three piles by building simple little infrastructure items. When we were done however, we hadn't made a dent in the piles, and we were down to the final operation, ?Now Finish the Puzzle You Smart Ass?. Being the veterans of puzzles past, we knew the going would be tough. But we also knew what the objective was. It was clear. It was the picture on the box. And as long as we continued toward that goal, we knew that eventually we would claim victory. And when we did it would be very satisfying.

That brings me to the jigsaw puzzle we call Iraq. We accomplished the easy stuff; we have defined the borders, we have identified the broad groups, and we have put tiny pieces of infrastructure together here and there. Now we are in that last phase, ?Now Finish the Puzzle Smart Ass?. And if there is one thing we can all agree on finally, it is that the puzzle is a much more difficult than we had ever imagined.

Unfortunately, there is one significant difference. We don't have a picture of what this puzzle is suppose to look like at the end. We can't go to the box and see the final solution. There is nothing to zoom in on. We have all these pieces nicely piled but no picture.

So when I hear Republicans say Democrats have no plan or I hear Democrats say the Republicans have three plans (i.e., the Bush plan, the McCain plan, the Hagel plan), there is a reason for that. It is a jigsaw puzzle without a picture. In other words, it is a mess. We got a bunch of puzzle pieces and we don't have a clue as to how they might fit together because we don't know what the result needs to look like.

So what do most of our politicians do? They make up pictures. Here's a popular feel-good one: a democratic Iraq government that can protect itself. Sounds good to me. Sounds real good. That's a sweet picture. But what if the damn pieces we have on the table can't make that picture! Ya gonna force them to fit? You don't have to be a jigsaw junkie to know that won't work.

When will we learn?

This has happened before, not that long ago. It was Vietnam. And although it was bitterly painful to walk away and leave the pieces on the table, it turned out to be the best thing; thirty years later the puzzle came together. Granted, the final outcome looked nothing like the picture we thought it had to look like, but it ain't a bad picture. We're talking. We're trading. The truth is the picture we thought Vietnam should have looked like couldn't be constructed because it was the picture to a different set of pieces.

It was hard to walk away from that puzzle, real hard. We had invested blood, lots of blood, trying to get those pieces to fit before we realized they couldn't.

In Iraq we have invested blood as well, lots of blood. But that isn't the only reason President Bush and others continue to work on this puzzle without a picture. If we leave the Iraqi pieces on the table, we might have to come to grips with our country's addiction to oil, an addiction as hallucinogenic as crack cocaine. And Dubya and the rest are hallucinating.

Maybe the picture we should be looking at is a picture of a country after a national blood transfusion that removes fossil fuel dependency and old technologies, replacing them with renewable fuel and new technologies. We have the pieces to that picture. Just need to put them together.

I think Representative Murtha has it right. I think he has worked a lot of jigsaw puzzles. I think he sees a bunch of pieces with no picture. And I think he is willing to face our country's addiction, if it means stopping the flow of blood.

by Robert Crane
References and Bibliography

The article above was written by humorist Robert Crane. For more articles like it, as well as great stories from growing up in the Sixties, and more, visit his popular website at:

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