July 12, 2004


I must respond to those who "want a breather" or wish "to take time out" from the war.

There is no time out in war. Occasionally soldiers get R&R, but that means someone else is pulling guard duty or running patrols. I see Mickey Kaus says "we need a break" and Peggy Noonan is worried that the American people want a breather because current history is too "dramatic." I read Peggy's essay and I get the distinct impression her brilliantly conceived column springs from her own personal weariness-- maybe I'm wrong, but she explicitly tells us she's on vacation. Over at, Andrew Sullivan wrote (linking to Noonan) that he had expressed similar thoughts ("Americans are drained"). I appreciate their openness and honesty; I hope they'll appreciate mine. I enjoy thoroughly Sullivan's commentary, and I'm certain he would be the first to say he can climb in his Cape Cod hammock and blog because soldiers put on their helmets and slog-- and don't quit. Perceptive, honest Americans like Noonan, Sullivan, and Kaus understand that quite well. I make the point as a reminder, a useful reminder. Believe me, the hammock is far preferable to the helmet. I would love to be in my hammock in the Texas Hill Country right now (95 degrees in Austin is far cooler than 119 degrees in Baghdad). But this is helmet time. We --the lot of us, all Americans-- are a long haul war, a constant test of will requiring consistent, insistent effort.

I see that effort given every day here in Iraq. Check the photo you ran of those two young soldiers from the 81st Brigade (Washington State National Guard). I snapped it, at sunset, right after they had returned from a patrol. I see the same vignette every morning, every evening. The smiles break out despite the fatigue-- and then the troops buckle up and do it again. Blood, sweat, toil and tears: that's not simply Churchillian poetry, that's the price of victory, and it's the product of spine. This peculiar war will take years to win, long, focused years of trial and error, mistake and success, but a breather, a time out?

"Time out" is a mirage of the chattering class. Credit Peggy's and Andrew's antennae for culling out the driving emotional angst behind the chatter. Hate to say it, but the call for "time out" Noonan fears may be another case of Baby Boomers who can't separate Hollywood war from the real thing. Hollywood wars end in a couple of hours. Real earthly hells have no intermission. In current GI lingo, "the enemy has a vote" (the enemy can exercise his will, and act). Take a break and the enemy votes. On 9/11 our enemy went to the polls. We were either going to work, eating breakfast, or lollygagging in bed.

Before I head off to a meeting, let me play history prof for a second. I see several analogs between 1944 and 2004. Fact is, I started a column on that subject before I left for Iraq, but long nights on the ranges at Ft Hood spinning up for deployment left it a sketch. Imagine calling for "Time Out" right after D-Day, which broke Fortress Europe, or during Saipan, which broke the Japanese "inner ring" island defense (many in the Japanese military thought we'd never pay the price to break it). Hey, FDR, we've made the deep offensive penetration, can we take a break? The analogy has weaknesses, as do all historical comparisons. That being said, I think we're in the strategic exploitation phase of this war, a hard, difficult, prolonged exploitation phase, one that requires more hammers and bricks than it does rifles and bombs.

However, we're winning. We can't quit.


UPDATE: Reader Rick Richman emails:

Can I add a postscript to Austin Bay's perceptive email?

The rest of the world is in a bit of a "breather" and "time out" as they await the American decision on November 2. It will make a big difference whether George W. Bush is going to be around for four more months or four more years.

If they know that Bush will be there for four more years, with a mandate from the American people (earned after a campaign of unprecedented personal and political vilification by those who opposed the liberation of Iraq), decisions in Syria, Iran, North Korea and other places (including France and Germany) are going to be different.

Conversely, if the American electorate can be convinced to remove the commander-in-chief of the war on terror, to be replaced by the Education President, the Environmental President, etc. and his Two Americas vice-president, all of these other state actors will make decisions in a very different direction. They will perhaps not be able to see the subtety of a "breather" and "time out" and may mistake it for what it may in fact turn out to be: a surrender (except, of course, for the continuation of our 9/10 law enforcement and intelligence activities).

The current breather and time out is excruciating.

Indeed. I'm not sure Mickey meant quite this by his "time out" post, but perhaps he'll clarify if he didn't.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Related thoughts here.