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Belmont Club

Missing the Boat

November 11th, 2012 - 3:38 pm

Probably the most famous example of a “poisoned pawn” in military history was the German attempt to bleed the French army to death at Verdun. It was said that the German General Staff in 1916 had concluded that the best way to defeat France was to give them a rock to smash their heads against. They would take a position on the French line and watch the French exhaust themselves in counterattacks.

The string in France has reached breaking point. A mass breakthrough—which in any case is beyond our means—is unnecessary. Within our reach there are objectives for the retention of which the French General Staff would be compelled to throw in every man they have. If they do so the forces of France will bleed to death

The Germans, of course, failed in 1916. But forty years later the French would fall for the same gambit in a distant Indochinese valley called Dien Bien Phu. The French paras easily won control of that isolated valley. But it was holding it, as Vo Nguyen Giap had foreseen, that proved fatal. General de Castries, facing defeat, saw the parallel immediately. “Diên Biên Phu, c’est Verdun sans la Voie Sacrée” — Dien Bien Phu is Verdun without a resupply route.

Time will tell whether November 7, 2012, will prove to be Barack Obama’s greatest moment of fortune or misfortune; it will show whether Mitt Romney missed his chance to be Mariano Rajoy. Leo Linbeck III wrote at the time:

The President ran a brilliant campaign. He ran overwhelmingly negative ads, early and focused and targeting the battleground states. He was able to define Romney, and his messaging was perfectly calibrated for his target audiences. Given his first term record, he really had no other choice, and his execution was first-rate.

But now he will reap what he sowed. His pretense of being a uniter, someone who can reach across the aisle and work together to solve pressing problems, lies in ruins. Whatever reservoir of goodwill and trust that existed in January 2009 is now bone dry.

So, yes, he won. But it will almost certainly be a Pyrrhic victory. He chose to divide the country deeply to win his second term. He will find that the nation he will again lead is not governable by him, and he may have tipped it to where it is not governable by anyone. He is so deeply despised by so much of the country that he will never be able to do what needs to be done (assuming he even wanted to, which does not appear likely).

The reaping will begin sooner than he probably expects. The ship of state is heading toward the Scylla and Charybdis of the fiscal cliff (in 2012) and Obamacare (in 2013). At work, we have been looking at the impact of Obamacare, and all I can say is that the average person has absolutely no idea how enormous the impact will be on their life. It will be an enormous shock to the system, and it will hit almost everyone in the country.

The president will, in other words, be saddled by the legacy of the previous administration. He bought the next four years at a great cost. Will it pay off? Or will he be like those college students who’ve found that getting into big time debt to get a degree in fashion, sculpture, and performance doesn’t pay off? Maybe 2013 will be Verdun without the Voie Sacrée.

The most important thing about Allen West’s demand for a recount in Florida is that unlike Romney, he’s not giving up and is making the administration pay for every bite of that poisoned pawn. Is he doing this in the belief that he can really reverse the anomalies? Or is he doing it because he intuitively understands that he is ironically in a very enviable position: he has the freedom to attack what the other side must defend, at whatever cost?


The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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