It’s difficult to pick a new direction in a murky conflict

Tomorrow, Dec. 7, is the 65th anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history – the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Last year I visited Pearl Harbor for the first time. It was a late winter day in Honolulu, which meant the air was warm but not particularly hot. The ocean was warm too. It was nice. It was easy to see how Americans, most of whom suspected nothing, could be caught unawares early on that Sunday morning in December.

Obviously, we’ve moved on since that attack. The Allies won that war. We helped Japan rebuild. We now buy high-quality electronic products, vehicles and other exports from our former enemy. We’re now about as good friends as two culturally opposite countries can be.

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about what we’re doing in this other war we’re involved in – the effort to “free” Iraq.

With the shift in power in Washington, as Democrats assume the majorities in both the House and Senate, I wonder what’s going to happen.

Having been immersed in covering events here in Sweet Home for the last year and a half, I have to confess I’m not as aware of the fine details of the conflict in Iraq as I was when I had a 45-minute one-way commute to work. I used to listen to a lot of radio, including National Public Radio.

It wasn’t very comforting. In the early months of the war, I remember hearing a lot of “experts” weigh in on the Bush Administration’s motives for the war and the mistakes they thought Administration officials were making in pursuing their goals in the Middle East.

These critics weren’t necessarily “liberals” Some were from conservative think tanks and some were simply men and women with extensive knowledge and experience in Mid-East culture and politics.

I particularly recall one man, I don’t even remember who he was, who predicted very early on that by discharging the military and police forces in Iraq and failing to take into account the deep divisions that existed in the country, the U.S. was risking a very serious civil war-type situation. I remember he said he was afraid that Administration officials were plunging into Iraq with little knowledge of the mentality of the people who lived there. He predicted there would be a nasty backfire.

Well, voila, guess what? He was too right.

So here we are, more than 3 1/2 years into this conflict, with thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead in what has become very much a civil war between Iraqis who hate each other.

As I said, I really don’t listen to the radio any more because most of my waking hours are consumed with local affairs.

Last week President Bush announced that he’s going to change tactics in Iraq. He hasn’t said what they are, but it’s clear that he apparently is realizing things can’t keep going in the direction that they are.

Bush has attracted a lot of enemies, vicious enemies, in this war effort. The fact that he’s not glib and that he clearly depends on the “experts” around him to develop policies hasn’t helped him.

This war is not World War II. The Pearl Harbor attack that caused our entry into that war came from a clearly defined foe, who brazenly stuck it to us.

The attack that led to this war was brazen too, but the enemy out there is someone we still know little about – especially about where he might be. We have Saddam Hussein, but the guy we really want to get is Osama Bin Laden.

That’s the problem with this war. Osama and his followers don’t play by any rules except their own. They don’t recognize the Judeo-Christian values that, until recently anyway, dictated to some extent how warfare should be conducted for much of the West. Rules such as avoiding innocent bystanders – especially women and children – whenever possible when attacking. These guys play dirty and they’re forcing us to. We don’t like that.

Whether America has the stomach to do what it has to do to achieve Bush’s goals of establishing a democratic state of some sort in Iraq remains to be seen. It’s already cost us more than many want to pay.

All war is horrible. Vietnam was horrible. So was Korea. World War II was a dirty war too. When people start trying to kill each other en masse, things get messy. What do you do when you know a kamikaze pilot is aiming for your ship’s deck? What do you do when he misses and ends up in the water? War’s a dirty business.

The balance of power in Washington has shifted and it’s clear change is coming. What kind of change it will be is the question.

All we can do is hope that somebody back there will show some true wisdom and chart a course that makes sense. It may be a difficult one, but ideally, it will result in a moral victory for the United States.

Because right now, in the eyes of the rest of the world, our honor is at stake and we could be looking at a debacle that will haunt us longer than Vietnam has.

If that doesn’t prompt us to pray for our leaders, I don’t know what will.