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Monthly Archives: December 2006

Paradoxes Galore

December 30th, 2006 - 2:48 pm


Expect Westerners soon to begin criticizing Ethiopia. After all, it had enough of Somalia’s jihadists’ provocations, invaded, and let all hell break loose on the fundamentalists. Such a “simplistic” or “disproportionate” use of force isn’t supposed to work against radical Islam—and shouldn’t be tried, as we were lectured during first Fallujah and the Israeli efforts in Lebanon. So expect the liberal world to decry excesses on the part of the Ethiopians—all, except the Russians, who did something similar, albeit to a much more brutal degree, in Chechnya.

The Western Veneer

One common complaint against the West is that it is egocentric. In one sense that charge is surely true: we automatically assume that others, who dress like us, or enjoy our technology and entertainment, must naturally admire and wish to be Westerners.

In February 2003 CBS anchorman Dan Rather flew to Baghdad to do a one-hour interview with the mass-murdering Saddam Hussein. By the nature of his obsequious questions, and compliments on Saddam’s then recent 100% margin of election victory, he seemed to think the smiling Saddam was about like an American politician.

Rather apparently did not connect the murderer of thousands of Shiites and Kurds with the smartly dressed “President” hitting his softball questions in royal splendor. And about the same time, Saddam’s Foreign Minister, Tariq Aziz, chatted on “Good Morning America.” Again no thought that such an articulate, Westernized “diplomat” in suit and tie could be helpful in overseeing a vast state killing machine.

More recently, Mr. Ahmadinejad, in stylish sport coat, graced Time Magazine. Apparently the intent was to show readers that such an international magazine could bridge the gap of misunderstanding between Iran and America. Why else, would the interviewer Scott Macleod fail to ask why Ahmadinejad threatened to wipe out Israel, whey he believed the Holocaust was fabricated, and why he trained terrorists to kill Americans in Iraq?

But, of course, to press a psychopath, would not only be undiplomatic (and dangerous), but suggest that there is very little that Time or any other Westerners could do to convince Ahmadinejad to temper radical Islamic fascism.

In the era of globalization where instantaneous mass communications can produce the veneer of sameness, there is this danger in thinking fashion, shared appetites of consumer goods, or knowledge of pop culture have made us into a global village. But the truth is that for all their sport coats and media savvy interviews, a Saddam Hussein or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are (were, in the case of Saddam) monsters from another age, who the more they talked to an obsequious Dan Rather or Scott Macleod, the more contempt they harbored for the notion of Western liberality in general.

In fact, there is a long tradition of foreign authoritarians hating America the more they got to know it. We feel we can seduce almost anyone with our material generosity, our openness, and or notions of radical equality. But for the authoritarian mind, that openness just as often comes across as corruption and decadence.

Carnivores in Suits

Remember that many of the 9/11 terrorist murderers had lived for long periods in the United States—dressing, talking, and entertaining themselves like Americans, as they despised the very culture they apparently enjoyed.

The father of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sayyid Qutb, developed much of his hatred of Western culture—Jazz, informality between the sexes, casual dress—through his residence in the United States. The Third Reich recruited terrorists to attack Americans from those Germans who grew up in the States.

Those imperial Japanese generals and diplomats who fought the most fiercely against the Untied States— Admiral Yamamoto, the architect of Pearl Harbor, General Kuribayashi of Iwo Jima infamy, and the pro-Nazi Foreign Minister Matsuoka—were precisely those who had lived in the United States and attended its universities.

In this regard, would it not be wise for a variety of reasons, and until this war is over, not to let thousands into the United States from the Middle East? They may well end up hating us more, not less; and they may think there is to be no penalty for the extremism of their governments. I’d like to see fast track admission for allies like the Poles, British, or Danes, and no-track for the Pakistanis, Saudis, Syrians, or Egyptians.

Impressions Are Everything

Not long ago I visited a tank museum—and was dumfounded at seeing up close the German panzers (Pz.Kpfw. I-III) that entered Poland in 1939 and France the following year. At this early juncture in the war, these light-weight, under-armed and poorly protected tanks were no better and often worse than comparable allied designs on display. We seem to have believed the Nazis were an unstoppable juggernaut in the late 1930s. But the German force that invaded France in 1940 was no better equipped and no larger than the combined opposing armies of France, Britain, Holland, and Belgium—even though offensive troops usually require a 3-1 margin for success. In short, neither Nazi numbers nor equipment ensured a German victory; lack of allied will did. A valuable lesson in these times.

Before Bush?

Has George Bush really crossed the line between Church and State? Jimmy Carter ran as an evangelical Christian who liked to be filmed teaching Bible class. Ronald Reagan, it seemed, could not give a speech without evoking God. The Reverend Jesse Jackson was a frequent spiritual advisor to Bill Clinton who often sounded like a gospel speaker when he visited Black churches.

Was the 2006 election a repudiation of Bush? In some sense yes, but that mid-year rebuke too is commonplace. In fact, in 1986 Ronald Reagan lost the Senate. In 1994 Bill Clinton lost control of the House and the Senate

But are things that different abroad? Did George Bush usher in an unprecedented anti-Americanism worldwide?

During the 1973 Yom Kippur war our NATO “allies” denied Americans airspace for resupplying Israel, but let the supposed common Soviet enemy fly over their countries to aid the Arab attackers.

I recall that “Death to America” and “The Great Satan” made their debut during the Iranian hostage crisis when Jimmy Carter was routinely burned in effigy. “Cowboy” and worse slurs started in earnest with Ronald Reagan who scared Europeans silly when he sent Pershing missiles to Europe to counteract Soviet tactical nukes pointed at NATO troops. When visiting Athens after the Kosovo and Bosnia bombings, I remember almost elemental hatred voiced against Bill Clinton and Madeline Albright for bombing a kindred Balkan Orthodox nation.

And did Bush invent “unilateralism” and forgo the old “multilateral” American approach? Ronald Reagan bombed Libya without much consultation. George Bush Sr. took out Manuel Noriega without much worry what Europe or Latin America thought. Bill Clinton skipped both the US Congress and the United Nations to bomb Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia.

The point of these comparisons is not to defend the administration of George Bush, but to understand why he evokes such inordinate criticism.

Two answers come to mind. First, unlike a Reagan or Clinton, Bush finds public speaking and public give-and-take awkward. Second, of course, is Iraq. Under Reagan, Bush, and Clinton there was a consistency about US military action in the Middle East. It was not predicated necessarily on solving problems or seeking long-term solutions, but involved a sort of containment. Hence we left Lebanon after the 1983 Marine Bombings. We fled Somalia not long after ‘Black-Hawk Down’ fiasco. Few believed that bombing Qaddafi as Reagan did in 1986, or sending missiles into a pharmaceutical factory as did Bill Clinton would change the global dynamic of terrorism.

Instead our directive was not to confront any enemy that might involve real American losses, and treat symptoms, not causes of Middle East terrorism through cruise missiles, GPS bombs, and federal indictments.

Bush changed that after going into Afghanistan and Iraq, spending American blood and treasure to establish democracies that might provide an alternative between Islamic fundamentalism and dictatorship. In other words, a President who lacked the rhetorical flair of either a Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton sought to wage a tough war that demanded constant exegesis and public explanation. Hence we see him more as a hated Truman in 1952 than a beloved FDR in 1945. That being said, by risking so much, Bush can not only lose everything, but win as well—if the governments in Afghanistan and Iraq stabilize and prove hostile to the jihadists.

The Mystery of Modern Greece

I confess I often don’t understand modern Greece, despite having lived there for over two years, and visiting nearly every other summer for the last twenty years. On the one hand, fears of radical Islam are voiced constantly—but only in two contexts: historical grievances against the Muslim Turks for their atrocities, both ancient and inside Greece and Ionia, and more recently in Cyprus; and, second, modern anger that the West bombed an Orthodox Balkan Milosevic to save Muslim Kosovars and Albanians.

On the other hand, that furor at Islam does not translate into support for either Israeli or American efforts to stop jihadism. Greeks deplore both countries and side more often with radical Islamists of the Middle East, either in fear of oil cut-offs, contemporary terrorism, or due simply to the convenience of easy-chair slandering of America and its friends. And worse still, all this slurring is always calibrated at cresting precisely at the point an angry America might pack it up, leaving the Eastern Mediterranean and its base in Chania, and letting the Greeks deal with the Balkans, the Turks, and the nearby jihadists on their own. Mention that and suddenly you are lectured that you are overly sensitive and reductionist.

Christmas Day Observations

December 25th, 2006 - 9:21 pm

The Last Full Measure

I thought throughout this Christmas day of the terrible sacrifice of our soldiers, now and in the past, whose ultimate sacrifices gave us this wonderful country. I don’t how youth today can go up into the Hindu Kush and fight savages like the Taliban jihadists on their home turf, or wade into Anbar province to battle Saddamites and Wahhabi killers. But they do, and we owe almost everything to them, as we did in the past to those at Gettysburg and Okinawa and Choisun.

The Great Disconnect

For all the holiday depression with the state of the world, there is great munificence and affluence around the globe, and especially here in the United States that have brought us a long way, for both good and evil, from our primordial existence of even the immediate past.

Part of the pre-January rhetoric of the Democrats is the notion of great inequality. Yet despite the budget deficits, the piling up of national debt, and amid the doom and gloom of the vast amount of US capital held by Chinese, or oil payouts to the Arabs, or a declining standard of education, there are signs of American wealth never seen before among any civilization on earth.

I live in one of the poorest sections of one of the poorer counties in California, but consider: there were near riots to get the latest PlayStation 3 video games nearby. I was looking at a 4-wheel drive truck recently, and passed up all the “extras” offered by the salesman—leather seats, GPS, DVD player, extra chrome, multiplayer CD—but that extravagant Toyota Tundra was snapped up by a family on welfare in the booth next to me. With a zero-interest loan package, and no money down, apparently almost anyone can walk into a showroom and drive out with a $40,000 monster-sized truck.

Then I drove into the local shopping center and walked through Office Max, Wal-Mart, and Food4Less where there were more signs of America’s new encompassing wealth. There were new Camrys and Accords all over the parking lot, nearly everyone was on a cell phone. Nearly everyone was also speaking Spanish and no doubt a first generation immigrant (legal or not from Mexico). But in terms of traditional notions of poverty and the ability to acquire material goods, food, communications gear, transportation, etc. they were hardly poor.

Perhaps this new prosperity that encompasses almost all social classes in America is due to the miracle of science that now gives us such cheap appurtenances, or the addition of 1 billion Indian and Chinese fabricators to the world’s work force that results in endless consumer goods; or the ability of low interest and almost universal instant credit.

We are not talking of European vacations, second homes, or SAT camps for junior, but nonetheless there is something very different from the past that I remember when the poor nearby lacked indoor plumbing and at school in the early 1960s students ate thirds and fourths at our noon meal of barely edible surplus cafeteria food. Surely something has gone right in eliminating elemental poverty that we never hear in the din of constant accusations and complaints about American inequality.

This summer I bought on sale an old-style color television, 32-inch screen (the kind with the big tube in the back and curved front) for about $130. A decade ago it would have cost $500. The surprise was that the clerk laughed about what he thought was the idiocy of wanting one of these now obsolete, but perfectly fine, televisions. He probably made about $10 an hour, but would never have apparently stooped to such sacrifice. Again, any discussion about this surreal world is entirely lacking in the current political debate.

A final note. I wrote about such anomalies about three years ago when I broke my arm and visited the local emergency room in Selma about three miles away. Nothing much has changed since then, which is good—however little the credit this country gets from its critics. (http://www.victorhanson.com/articles/hanson031304.htm)

Don’t Talk with Ahmadinejad!

Right in the midst of all these calls for talking with Iran—whether by realists like Zbigniew Brzezinski or naifs like John Kerry—we see the following happening to Ahmadinejad: his anti-American slate of Islamists can’t even win the usual rigged elections; he is shouted down by students during an internationally taped address; the timid UN actually passes a resolution calling for some boycotts and embargoes of his government; Tony Blair damns him in tones far exceeding anything George Bush said in his Axis of Evil speech; Iranian terrorists are embarrassingly captured and detained by Americans in Iraq; and his handouts in the billions to Hezbollah in Lebanon are enraging hard-pressed Iranians.

In other words, he is taking Iran into further isolation and poverty—and is ever more unpopular at home. Why, when our steady, quiet, and calm ostracism of this madman is working, would we want to hand him the stature and the legitimacy that even his own people will not extend?


While driving through Fresno this Christmas evening, I saw some “peace” demonstrators at an intersection shouting about “Free Palestine” and condemning Israel. It is now taboo to say such legitimate criticism is grounded in anti-Semitism. But I think it is—and here’s why.

On this Christmas day there is a terrible amount of injustice in the world. All of Tibet has simply been absorbed by China. Greek Cyprus is still occupied by an illegitimate Turkish state. Iran is killing innocents in Iraq and violating UN accords to get the bomb. In Darfur there is a real genocide. Somali Islamists are killing Ethiopians. Hezbollah and Syria are trying to destroy Lebanese democracy. The list of injustice and carnage could be expanded.

Why then would these particular protestors ignore all these other atrocities to focus entirely on the Jewish state—especially when over a million Arabs live in peace and enjoy the benefits of democracy inside Israel?

The answer can only be that something about Israel—not any facts that it is uniquely harsh to its neighbors by the world’s standards—infuriates a few elite Westerners to the point of driving them out on the streets of Fresno at Christmas. And that singular emotion that privileges purported Israeli felonies over all the others in the world, I submit, can only be explicable in terms of hating the notion of a Jewish state.

The point again is not the legitimate criticism of a foreign nation, but the obsession with the purported misdemeanors of a humane democracy and the complete lack of comparable interest in the felonies of murderous dictatorships around the globe. Why, why, why?

Three Stages of Development in the Middle East?

No doubt that the Islamic Middle East—four major wars against Israel; twenty years of nihilistic bloodletting in Afghanistan; the million-dead Iran-Iraqi war; Pakistan’s ritual wars against India; thousands butchered by Saddam; Syria’s vaporization of the town of Hama; Lebanon’s twenty years of assassinations and bombings; Nasser’s gassing of Yemenis; the Black September bloodbath in Jordan, serial Iranian murdering of dissidents, Algeria’s death struggle against the Islamists—was always a mess, and is only getting worse.

Everything and Nothing

But there is a difference now. What has changed? Everything and nothing.

Nothing in the sense that tribal, sectarian, and religious hatred continues, along with the old random killing and torture. Women are still second-class citizens; Christians live in fear; Muslims demand protocols that they would never extend to others (try walking into Mecca in the manner a Muslim strolls into the Vatican or opening a new church in Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Syria the way Muslim exiles found mosques in the West).

But suddenly in the last four years there is a new wrinkle to the old violence. After the elections, Fatah and Hamas on some days are fighting among themselves more than they are against Israel. TV stations broadcast live feed from Iraqi parliament debates when before such film usually captured “delegates” being called out by Saddam to be summarily executed outside the auditorium door. The most primordial tribal society in the Middle East in Afghanistan is now trying to stabilize a democracy. And while the same old/same old killing continues in Lebanon, there is a democratically elected government that includes both Muslims and Christians. And who would have thought the children of Moammar Khadafi would be discussing the pros and cons of democracy coming to Libya with Western journalists?

A Little Something

Expect more violence, more denunciations of the Bush doctrine of encouraging democracy in the Middle East, from Western elite leftists, hard-core realists, the unhinged Lew Rockwell/American Conservative isolationists, and hothouse Arab intellectuals. But if just a few states could break through this second-stage chaos and establish a democratic government, the entire region would have a ray of hope that never shone amid the millions of corpses in the past.

So besides seeing faction kill faction, or dictatorship murder rival dictators, what we are witnessing in post-Saddam Iraq, post-Taliban Afghanistan, post-Arafat Palestine, or post-Syrian Lebanon, is also a different kind of violence where for the first time in recent memory elections and the notion of democracy are part of the landscape.

And in the bleak world of the Middle East, that little counts for a little something.

So Much Confusion…

December 19th, 2006 - 8:01 pm

Fast and Loose with Individual Liberty?

Kofi Annan in his farewell address lectured America on its apparent abandonment of civil liberties—remonstrating that when the United States “appears to abandon its own ideals and objectives, its friends abroad are naturally troubled and confused.”

Some thoughts: the use of wiretaps, surveillance cameras, and civil detention of citizens is far more common in Europe than here in the United States.

In comparison to past wartime measures—suspension of habeas corpus (Lincoln/Andrew Johnson), shutting down newspapers (Lincoln), jailing of dissidents (Wilson), interning citizens, military tribunals (Roosevelt), or enemies lists, misuse of the IRS and FBI (Nixon), the Patriot Act, passed by both houses of Congress, is pretty tame.

The UN versus the US

In fact, there is much more transparency, accountability, and free speech in the present U.S. government than under the UN as run by Mr. Annan. Had one of the Bush children, Annan-style, shipped in a Mercedes using government exemptions to avoid fees and charges, or had Bush himself turned over his government-subsidized apartment to a wealthy sibling, the outrage would have been immediate.

When we do see prosecutorial abuse and judicial overreach—such as the supposed rape case at Duke or the Kafkan pursuit of Scooter Libby (when Mr. Armitage, at no apparent liability, has confessed to the leaks concerning Ms. Plame)—Mr. Annan and others are conveniently quiet.

Apparently for the Ghana-born Mr. Annan and his Swedish wife, their near constant criticism of the United States rarely seems to reflect commensurate unease with the judicial, cultural, social, or legal life of Manhattan.

And how Orwellian for Mr. Annan to point to Truman and the Korean War in his farewell sermon as an object lesson about the UN for the Bush administration. Truman could use that agency only because of a Russian walk-out (and hence absence of a veto) over China. Furthermore, the percentage of US troops in the present multilateral coalition is probably smaller in Iraq than was true in Korea. And there may have been more nations represented in 2003 than in 1950.

A better concern would have been Bill Clinton’s unilateral (no congressional approval) bombing of Kosovo and Bosnia, since, unlike the Bush administration, there was no American effort even to engage the UN (e.g., the threat of a Russian veto).

Therapeutics 101

And concerning Kofi Annan: But by any fair token, his tenure at the United Nations will go down as one of the most corrupt in the entire history of the organization. The extent of the $50 billion oil-for-food scandal boggles the mind. Annan’s son profited from his dad’s position, and tried to profit from an embargo that put Saddam Hussein’s interests ahead of the strapped Iraqi people. When you add in the son’s business with the Mercedes, and the father’s apartment deal, then the corruption extended to the personal and petty. All this is largely forgotten once the suave Annan, emblematic of both the Third World and replete with a sophisticated British-Continental accent, begins his teary-eyed moral sermons.

Jimmy Carter’s recent book likewise displays glaring lapses in character—from his unacknowledged use of someone else’s maps, his questionable recollections of conversations, his factual errors, and his equation of democratic Israel with apartheid. Yet once Carter talks of God, his own past anti-poverty work, or the unique utopianism of the Carter Center, and bites his lip and looks down in humble fashion, we give him a pass as well.

Bill Clinton was a past master of this therapeutic style, voicing the now famous “I feel your pain.” He bit his lip and talked of global brotherhood as he went through Monica, shady financial deals, and reprehensible 11th-hour pardons.

Any of the three could have lectured George Bush that in lieu of ‘smoke-em out’ and ‘dead or alive’ or ‘bring ‘em on’, the creased brow, the bitten lip, and the eyes skyward looking for divine guidance or in solemn humility pointed downward can provide quite a pass on all most anything.

Some Thoughts About Readers’ Responses

The Taliban is not the government of Afghanistan, although it is now popular to say the war is about lost, and that they “are back.” To the contrary, there is still an elected government in Kabul and, yes, it is under assault by Taliban insurgents streaming in from the border from Pakistan, whose government detests the present democracy in Afghanistan. But the Taliban will not come back into power unless the United States and NATO withdraw before Afghanistan is stabilized.

On rules of engagement: Changing tactics and wider latitudes of operation are necessary if we are going to surge more troops and raise the stakes. If we don’t disarm the militias, stop Saudi money and Iranian arms, control Iraq’s borders, disarm the gangs, and go after the militia leaders, then we will simply become more numerous and visible targets and ensure Iraqi dependency. The military response can only give a window of security for the Maliki government, which came on the heels of elections in a free autonomous Iraq.

Our leverage with it rests only with our willingness to depart if it chooses not to secure the country: again, Iraqis are now independent and free to ask us to leave.

Iraq is Not Lost!

The odd thing is that while the violence increases, so does the economy strengthen in Iraq, with more GDP growth, more investment, and more oil revenues. The surging economy—higher salaries, more consumer spending, strong real estate—along with efforts to stop Saudi financing of Sunni terrorists, and Iranian arming and training of Shiite radicals, would in turn take the strain off US soldiers. This month the Iraqi Security Forces should reach their targeted strength of 325,000 troops. In short, Iraq is far from lost, as John Murtha, for example, insists.

Hard Pounding…

At some point one side will crack as happens in all wars: either American public opposition, sick of the violence and killing, will reach such Vietnam-era proportions, that Senators will be emboldened to cut off funding and our troops will “redeploy”, OR the insurgents will become isolated from Iraqis who want to get in on the new prosperity, and will learn it has become too dangerous to support terrorists, given the new rules of engagement of the US military and the increase in size and effectiveness of the Iraq army.

In terms of will, it is reminiscent of spring 1918, when the German spring offensive, energized by divisions sent from the freed-up Russian front, nearly won the war—only to be followed by a startling reversal with the allied 100-day summer and autumn resurgence. Then infusions of American manpower, and Anglo-Gallic courage, demoralized and routed the once undefeated Germans. In March-April 1918 it looked as if German would at last win; by September 1918 it was clear they were going to lose.

More on More Troops

We do need to enlarge overall U.S. ground forces, and do it without more borrowing. A modest gasoline tax would be helpful. But barring that, it would be, in fact, even more advantageous to end agricultural subsidies at a time when the US farm economy is doing well. In all their manifest incarnations, they now reach $32 billion and would fund and supply easily the yearly costs for 100,000 more Marines and army units. Farmers are conservative and patriotic folk, and should welcome the challenge. In any case, federal expenditures threaten again to climb above 7% per annum, far above the rate of inflation, and far higher than during the Clinton administration.

War Won’t Be Wished Away

No one wishes to see more war in the Middle East of any sort. But since the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, we have seen a crescendo of violence against the US. Neither Jimmy Carter’s denunciations of the Shah, nor George Bush’s realism, nor Bill Clinton’s praise of Iranian democracy and embrace of Yasser Arafat—and not the American saving of Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo, or the military aid to the anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan, or the billions in money sent to Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinians, or even the emergency aid provided to feed the Somalis or the Indonesians—have done much to counter the cheap appeal of jihadism. Hence arose the present policy of going after Islamist militias, and autocratic regimes that sponsor terrorists, while offering the people of the Middle East a third choice other than autocracy and theocracy.

Who is Who?

It used to be that Democrats championed human rights abroad. Now their leadership praises the likes of Mubarak, and wishes to talk with the anti-Democratic Syrians and Iranians that are at the apex of Middle East terrorism. Whatever one thinks of neo-conservatism, there was a strong strain of Wilsonian idealism in it—the academic President that Democrats still worship.

In turn, it used to be that Republicans insisted on fiscal parsimony. But had the Bush administration, through vetoes and the bully pulpit, just kept congressional spending at the rate of inflation the past six years, we would now have a budget surplus, be paying down the deficit, and all agreeing that the tax cuts brought in more revenue, not less, and came concurrently at a time of federal budget surpluses.

The common denominator? The path of least resistance explains much of anomaly: no one wishes to upset the old realist status quo abroad of subsidizing Egypt, kowtowing to the Saudis, and ignoring the crimes of Iran and Syria. And by the same token, the more entitlements, the more complacence at home.

Milk-Toast Politics

So Democrats have become old Republicans abroad, and Republicans have become old Democrats at home. We the public think the renewed realism is stability and a return to normality, but it is a prescription for disaster: a “stable” Middle East gave us 9/11. Its dictatorships, along with the terrorists they subsidize, will only incite their impoverished citizens and continue to blame us for their own abject failures. At home, Social Security and Medicare are time-bombs, and when the baby-boomers hit full stride very soon, we will discover that something must give—and radically so given our present financial incontinence.

Things are coming to a head

December 15th, 2006 - 8:23 pm

Surging Troops?

If we add another 30,000 or so troops to Iraq, in a final effort to win the war, then we must change (widen) the rules of engagement. Only that way can America ensure that it simply does not create more targets for the insurgents, add a larger logistical trail, and ensure more Iraqi dependency on our soldiers.

What would that entail?

Putting Iran and Syria on notice that we will bomb terrorists flocking across their borders.

Give an ultimatum to militia heads, especially Moqtadar Sadr, to disband or face annihilation from the United States.

Expand the rules of engagement in all matters dealing with IEDs, with a shoot on sight rule concerning anyone found implanting or aiding such efforts.

Enlarge the planned Iraqi security forces to near 400,000, and embed far more Americans in those units.

Recalibrate the ratio of support to combat troops, so that we don’t simply create bigger compounds to facilitate larger troop levels to end up with more stationary and more numerous targets—and ever more enclaves of Americans behind thousands of acres of bermed reserves.

So spell out the mission, the new rules of engagement, and then, and only then, surge—if need be— more troops.

Meanwhile, are we losing it here at home?

Does running for President allow a candidate to freelance at a time of war by talking to our enemies and triangulating against the president? Why is Gov. Richardson talking to North Koreans, or Sen. Kerry trying to talk to the Iranians, or Sen. Bayh to the Syrians? Wouldn’t that be like a Tom DeLay talking to Milosevic to undermine Clinton during the Kosovo bombing? Or Trent Lott dealing with the Taliban as Clinton sent cruise missiles against them?

Perhaps in the interest of fairness, readers can cite past examples where Republican Senators and Presidential candidates went abroad, undercut Democratic foreign policy at a time of war, and made statements that were welcomed by our enemies. I know Senators of both parties talked to Saddam in 1989-90 and often nearly empathized with him, but we were not yet at war with him.

Nota bene: Senator Nelson just returned from talking in Mr. Assad’s Syria—the serial murderer of Lebanese reformers, the clearinghouse for Hezbollah, the refuge for the killers of Americans in Iraq—with assurances that Syria wishes to be a stabilizing factor in the region.

Sen. Kerry in Cairo just praised Hosni Mubarak, lauding him by chastising President Bush’s failure to listen to this voice of reason and his criticisms of the United States. And why not listen to such advice, since this autocrat has been the recipient of billions in American aid, while squelching all reform for some thirty years in the bargain?

No doubt Kerry also lectured Mubarak about once hyping the WMD threat (“Mubarak lied, thousands died?”). Remember, the Egyptian strongman, as part of his reservations about Iraq, had warned our generals that American troops would be targeted with gasses of all sorts by Saddam.

Kerry also called for new talks with Iran—a rogue state presently in the middle of uranium enrichment, supplying IEDs to the militias in Iraq, promising to wipe out Israel, and hosting a Holocaust denial love fest in Teheran. Surely if the senator once denigrated our own soldiers as terrorizing Iraqis he can at least say that Iranians do the same?

Jimmy Carter is publicizing his indictment of Israel as an apartheid state, this apparently awful democracy that is the only country in the present Middle East where Arabs freely vote in safety, publish their views without censorship, and enjoy a material existence unknown in the West Bank.

Perhaps he can offer suggestions on how to deal with Iran, since the last time he entered into that diplomatic arena he sent Ramsey Clark as an official envoy to apologize for American sins, to offer a new partnership, and in vain to beg for the return of the hostages. And we know the results of that gambit—and the subsequent moral careers of both the sender and his emissary.

The Iraq Study Group insists that it is not in the long-term interest of either Syria or Iran to perpetuate the present chaos (i.e., Americans soldiers and Iraqi reformers being blown up) in Iraq. But Iran’s own military commanders praise the present violence there for tying down American forces, and presumably giving them a pass to continue their bomb-making, whether nuclear or IEDs. Among the most prominent who praise Iran’s positive role is David Duke, who at last has found a kindred host government.

So all in all, it’s been a strange week, in a strange war.

More still on our panic

What to make of this mass depression over events on the ground? Our supposed setback surely is not comparable to the destruction of the entire French army in less than eight weeks in 1940, the flight of the British from Dunkirk, followed in the next 24 months by the surrender of two British armies at Singapore and Tobruk, all of which led to consideration of a writ of censure of Winston Churchill.

Nor is our lament comparable to the hysteria that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor, the loss of Wake Island, and the fall of the Philippines.

Nor is the panic comparable to the near destruction of an American army when nearly 1 million Chinese crossed the Yalu in November 1950.

Why then has the United States become unhinged?

A variety of reasons.

A media that makes Cindy Sheehan, Valerie Plame, Mark Foley’s email, or lies about flushed Korans in Guantanamo into headline stories is itself nearly lunatic.

The once quick victories in Afghanistan (8 weeks) and Iraq (3 weeks), following the easy wins over Noriega and Milosevic, unrealistically sent the message that the United States could almost simultaneously win wars without losses and continue to honor its global obligations with a vastly reduced Army and Marines.

And the problem in Iraq has not been so much the constant “mistakes” (such lapses happen in every war), as the inability of our government to articulate why we are there and how we will win.

The result is that we have almost worked ourselves into some sort of self-induced paralytic state. But on sober reflection, things in fact are hardly lost. There has been no repeat of 9/11. The U.S. military has killed thousands of jihadists. The Taliban and Saddam are gone. There are still democratic governments in Afghanistan and Iraq struggling to make it, the first in the history of the region. Our troops in the field have high morale and believe they can secure Iraq. And the world, especially in Europe, has become vigilant against Islamic fundamentalism.

We are in much better shape that during any of the crises that Churchill, Roosevelt, or Truman all weathered. And while 50 dead every month since 9/11 is a high toll in this war against jihadism, it does not compare to the 8,000 plus killed from December 1941 to August 1945, a war that similarly started out with a surprise, though less lethal attack on the United states.

The World’s Wars

These last few weeks Somalis were killing Ethiopians. Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis were killing each other. Pakistani and Afghan fundamentalists were killing Afghan reformers. Hamas is killing Fatah and vice versa. Syrians are killing Sunnis and Christians in Lebanon, as is Hezbollah that also attacked Israel.

Off the battlefield this past year Muslims were threatening Danish cartoonists, the Pope, Salman Rushdie again, German opera producers, French high-school teachers, and Dutch filmmakers. The common denominator in all this is not, pace the Western Left, the nefarious United States, its Patriot Act or wiretaps, but rather Islamic extremists—mad that the modern world both excites them, and ignores and passes them by. And of course they play to the millions of their brethren appeasers who don’t really want these radicals to bring them a Taliban Dark Ages, but sorta, kinda, like the idea that they kill a few of those arrogant infidel Westerners as blood sport.

Like Watching the Oedipus or Ajax?

The war since 9/11 is sort of like a Greek tragedy whose end we all anticipate, but apparently have no means to avoid. We tried to remove the worst of the Middle East’s murdering regimes, and to offer in their places consensual governments that might serve as models how Muslims need not kill each other, and need not ruin their economies and oppress the innocent. But all the while Islamic jihadism keeps trying to repeat September 11, with the clandestine aid—whether sanctuary, cash, or arms—from Iran, Pakistan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.

We periodically arrest these wannabe terrorists as we kill jihadists in Afghanistan and Iraq. But at some point, it is likely, whether from sheer exhaustion or from our own internecine squabbling here at home, we will lower, if even for a second, our guard, and thus experience another mass murdering. And then the United States will be in a quandary, realizing that a sophisticated, and complex society cannot long endure with a catastrophic attack on its homeland about every five years from radical Islamists who count on their sponsors claiming deniability of culpability. At that point, we will either unload on host nations, or John Kerry/Jimmy Carter our way out of it through concessions and beseeching. Either way something either frightening or creepy is in store for us all—unless we begin to get serious and secure both Afghanistan and Iraq, and put Syria and Iran on notice that they will be held collectively responsible for any of their jihadist terrorists who kill outside their borders.

A final suggestion?

Could we not raise two more Marine Divisions and four more Army divisions (e.g., about 100,00 addition combat troops), costing per annum perhaps about 6-8 billion dollars–to be paid without more borrowing but by cutting farm subsidies and putting a 10-cent per gallon tax on gasoline? Not only would we have more troops should North Korea or Iran try to take advantage of our strapped military, but they would give our Marines and front-line army divisions a breather, and take the pressure off National Guard units—as well as sending a strong signal to our enemies of both our intentions and ability to deal with opportunistic aggression.


The Autumn of our Discontent

December 10th, 2006 - 12:14 pm

The War at Home.

The pundits and politicians on the East Coast have really lost it, declaring the war in Iraq now over and lost—even as 140,000 American soldiers are not only still in the field, but fighting in the belief that they can and will win, and that such a victory leading to a stable government in Iraq will enrich millions in the region and make us safer at home.

Lessons from Farming

I would have hated to farm with any of this current bunch of pundits. In 1976 and 1978 we lost our entire raisin crops to unforeseen and unseasonable tropical storms—and with those disasters much of the ability to pay back thousands of dollars in crop loans.

I suppose our family could have turned on each other—Who decided to pick so late? Why didn’t you watch the long-term weather report more closely? Who was the genius that didn’t buy rain insurance? Etc.—instead of joining together, trying to salvage and dehydrate the rot, learning the necessary lessons to prevent such a reoccurrence, and remembering the age-old truth not just of farming, but of life itself: that it is often tragic and things are not always as we planned or wanted in this life—or lost just because they for a period seem bad.

The wonderful thing about farming is this need to endure when events go awry, both due to carelessness and to conditions “beyond our control”. In the end, as I look back at members of my family and neighbors who found success in this most brutal and cutthroat business of small farming in the age of corporate agriculture and serial natural, man-made, and global disasters all during the 1980s and 1990s, it seems it was not brilliance, nor luck, nor money alone that brought survival and sometimes success, although all those helped, but will, patience, and persistence—the very traits we as a society either belittle or ignore.

Pots and Kettles

What worries me most about this country is not the threat of Islamic fascism, but this strange new hysteria that erupts at any suggestion something has not gone quite according to script, or that perseverance and doggedness are needed for eventual success.

A reminder of that is to read of the attacks on Lincoln in the months before Sherman took Atlanta, or what Churchill heard in the late 1930s, and then after the fall of Singapore, or the madness that broke out in Washington after the Chinese crossed the Yalu when our troops had been promised to “be home for Thanksgiving.”

Reading the columnists of the New York Times might make one forget that the present managers of a venerable newspaper inherited a noble legacy and have nearly ruined it within a mere twenty years—losing readers, issuing as many daily retractions as news scoops, and still not fully recovered from the Jason Blair scandal.

Watching CBS news requires amnesia, since it is impossible to take it seriously after Dan Rather serially, almost nightly, assured millions that a forged document that had fooled him was real. When I see a Reuters photo I look instinctively for signs of photo shopping. AP dispatches from the Middle East I assume are primarily the impressions of bought Arab stringers, ghost written by sympathetic Western journalists.

How Soon We Forget

Listening recently to the pious homilies of Jimmy Carter on C-Span demands a bath in the waters of Lethe. How else to think away hundreds of days watching him like a deer in the headlights as a few students in Teheran paralyzed his administration, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, he sent Mohammed Ali on a mission to boycott the Olympics, Central America seemed lost to Cuba-like communism, over a million died in Cambodia, the economy suffered double-digit inflation and interest rates, high unemployment, and low growth—before, then and afterwards punctuated by petty, snide comments about kicking Ted Kennedy’s ass, George Bush Sr. being effeminate, secret lusting in his heart, and vicious, swamp rabbits skimming toward the President in a pond attack mode.

The point of all this is to remind the most fierce critics of the present that they themselves are human, and could at least exercise some humility as they play god in judgment of other lowly mortals.

In the case of the changing role of Carter as President emeritus, perhaps it was the frustration of witnessing history’s harsh rebuke of his presidency that made him metamorphosize from the dutiful benefactor and carpenter of the 1980s into the snide and meanspirited gawker of the recent age who seems to have praised almost every dictator who invited him for a visit while demonizing democratic Israel as an apartheid state.

More troops or more action or both?

The ripples from the Iraq Study Group still emanate. They are like castor oil: the left thinks this nasty elixir must be swallowed to find a cure; the right believes that its bad taste proves it is no nostrum. For the latter group, there is an honest difference of opinion over sending more troops into Iraq. The arguments on both sides are well known.

Aside from whether we have the political will to deploy more soldiers, even those who support such an increase must at least brief us on the new tactics that will ensure we can secure the country—otherwise we just breed more Iraqi dependency and keep suffering losses to IEDs and suicide bombers.

Over two years ago I wrote the following in June 2004 on the topic for the New Republic, and see no reason now to change my mind:In our current postmodern world, we tend to deprecate the efficacy of arms, trusting instead that wise and reasonable people can adjudicate the situation on the ground according to Enlightenment principles of diplomacy and reason. But thugs like Moqtadar Al Sadr’s Mahdi Army and Saddam Hussein’s remnant killers beg to differ. They may eventually submit to a fair and honest brokered peace–but only when the alternative is an Abrams tank or Cobra gunship, rather than a stern rebuke from L. Paul Bremer. More important, neutrals and well-meaning moderates in Iraq often put their ideological preferences on hold as they wait to see who will, in fact, win. The promise of consensual government, gender equality, and the rule of law may indeed save the Iraqi people and improve our own security–but only when those who wish none of it learn that trying to stop it will get them killed.

A year ago, we waged a brilliant three-week campaign, then mysteriously forgot the source of our success. Military audacity, lethality, unpredictability, imperviousness to cheap criticism, and iron resolve, coupled with the message of freedom, convinced neutrals to join us and enemies not yet conquered to remain in the shadows. But our failure to shoot looters, to arrest early insurrectionists like Sadr, and to subdue cities like Tikrit or Falluja only earned us contempt–and not just from those who would kill us, but from others who would have joined us as well.

The misplaced restraint of the past year is not true morality, but a sort of weird immorality that seeks to avoid ethical censure in the short term–the ever-present, 24-hour pulpit of global television that inflates a half-dozen inadvertent civilian casualties into Dresden and Hiroshima. But, in the long term, such complacency has left more moderate Iraqis to be targeted by ever more emboldened murderers. For their part, American troops have discovered that they are safer on the assault when they can fire first and kill killers, rather than simply patrol and react, hoping their newly armored Humvees and fortified flak vests will deflect projectiles.

This is the context for the current insistence on more troops. America’s failure to promptly retake Falluja or rid Najaf of militiamen demands more soldiers to garrison the ever more Fallujas and Najafs that will now surely arise. In contrast, audacity is a force multiplier. A Sadr in chains or in paradise is worth more, in terms of deterrence, than an entire infantry division.

Almost Everything Today

December 7th, 2006 - 1:57 pm

Day of Infamy

Sixty-five years ago today we were attacked at Pearl Harbor. I wrote today in my weekly Tribune Media Services column , why, unlike our forefathers, we haven’t been able to finish the war within four years following that similar preemptory and surprise attack on American soil.

Suffice to say that when the Democrats allege incompetence because we are not yet victorious, they forget we have lost 50 soldiers a month since September 11, not 8,000 as was true of every month during World War II. And it is much easier to carpet bomb Tokyo, as horrendously difficult as that was, than to go into Fallujah and sort out the terrorists from the “innocent” under the glare of a hostile globalized media, and a disunited American public, some of whom believe that Cindy Sheehan or Michael Moore should be consulted for their superior wisdom.

Mistakes and then there were mistakes

I haven’t engaged much in the parlor game of identifying mistakes in the occupation, because none of them (and there were many) reached a magnitude of those in World War II (e.g., daylight bombing without fighter escort in 1942-3, intelligence failures about the hedgerows, surprise at the Bulge, etc) or Korea (surprise at the Yalu). Nor were any fatal to our cause, despite the ‘disbanding’ of the army, Abu Ghraib, etc. If there were any serious blunders, they concerned the sense of hesitation that gave our enemies confidence—the sudden departure of Gen. Franks, the pullback from first Fallujah, the reprieve given Sadr, etc. In other words, once we were in a war, whatever public downside there was to using too much force was far outweighed by losing our sense of control and power, and ceding momentum to the terrorists. So we can learn from that, and begin again cracking down hard on the insurgents before calling for more troops.

A Bad Spell

We, deliberately or inadvertently, have empowered our enemies this last month or so by the Rumsfeld departure, the grandstanding comments about failure in the Gates confirmation hearing, the Bolton resignation, and now the Iraq Study Group, all of which conspired to convey the image of an overripe, juicy American plum easy to be picked off by assorted enemies. Which brings us back to …

The Baker Commission…

I just finished reading the 107 page PDF version of the Iraqi Study Group report, and posted something on National Review about initial reactions. There is the obviously accurate diagnosis of the problem that a weak elected government in Iraq has been able neither to provide enough basic services to the people to ensure their support, nor to marshal the will to kill the jihadists—given various Shiite and Sunni militias’ infection of the government itself.

Some of their suggestions are likewise clearly sober, such as more training of Iraqi troops and the blunt threat to the Iraqi government to rein in the militias since the American commitment is not open-ended. But while accurately describing symptoms and forming a diagnosis, most of its other recommended therapy and prognosis are surreal.

Does anyone really believe that Syria and Iran, at least in the short-term, abhor chaos in Iraq? Iran fought a long war with Iraq, and fears deeply American scrutiny of its nuclear program. Only a perceived mess in Iraq keeps the attention of the United States and, indeed, the world community away from Teheran. Ditto Syria that does not want more Cedar Revolutions on its borders, given that democracies or the efforts at such in Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, and Turkey now surround this dictatorship.

There were three wars fought to destroy Israel before the Golan Heights were taken. The withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza did not lead to commensurate moderation on the part of the Islamists or dictators. And if the Study Group believes that Israeli concessions will result in Syria and Iran “helping” us in Iraq, they are wrong on both counts. The most these two terrorist regimes will do is offer a safe “escort” out before the deluge; and, second, we will have reestablished the old principle that the way for radical Islamic and Arab regimes to pressure Israel is through attacking American interests in the Middle East.

The Syrian Enigma

Finally, why are there not terrorists attacks originating from Syria on the Golan Heights? That is, why don’t the Syrians send in various teams to broach the borders and ascend into Israel, or at least shell or send missiles against Israeli positions? Why not at least one Kassem or Katyusha targeting an Israeli outpost or winery in the Golan? The answer probably is deterrence; that is, Syria knows that a single Israel plane might in response take out the power grid of Damascus for a year or so.

So the Assad regime use surrogates in Lebanon or the West Bank that offer deniability of culpability of sorts. After all, hit back at the West Bank and you only add to the “misery” of the poor “refugees” and end up on CNN. The same is true of Lebanon.

But Damascus? That is a horse of a different color. The regime is hated; its infrastructure is vulnerable to conventional attack; and a few GPS strikes in the middle of the night to hit an airfield or power station would be finished by the time of CNN’s or Al Jazeera’s morning news.

So Syria understands that it can be harmed, without much publicized collateral damage, and to the silent satisfaction of the most of the Middle East. And as a result, Damascus does not actively wish to be seen mounting terrorist attacks—and why there is such hesitance should be a lesson for everyone involved. After all, even the French do not advocate talking with the Syrians.

Our Military

It seems banal to suggest that we need to change “tactics” in Iraq, not either withdraw or pour in more troops. But I think that is still the correct approach. We forget that the jihadist websites are still worried about Iraq, both the losses suffered there, and the emergence of a democratic government. We think we are not winning, but so do they think they aren’t either.

Without new rules of engagement and a radical shake-up in operations, 30-40,000 more American troops, circa the pattern in Vietnam around 1965, will only increase the rear echelon compounds and offer more targets, while assuring Iraqi dependency. Instead, we should aim for the situation in Vietnam around 1973-4 where we had withdrawn ground troops, but not air support and material aid.

But FIRST to get to that point the United States military is going to have to offer a broader window of opportunity for the political solution by defeating the jihadists and killers. I am all for more troops—but only if the parameters of action are commensurately enlarged as well and then, and only then, we are sure that we presently don’t have sufficient manpower to conduct air strikes on the borders to stop infiltration or enough embedded American troops within Iraqi units.

In the meantime we can change our ratios of deployment: less soldiers in enormous compounds to the rear, and the green light to target militias heads like Moqtadar Sadr, preferably with mixed American and Iraqi units.

Otherwise pouring in more manpower will only exacerbate the situation. Right now with all coalition troops and Iraqi security forces combined, we must be nearing 450,000-500,000 soldiers pitted against perhaps 10,000 terrorists. Thus the problem is not numbers per se, but the conditions of engagement under which the enemy finds advantage regardless of numerical inferiority.

California Dreaming–Again

I have developed a sort of ritual recently of driving from the High Sierra (Huntington Lake, ca. 7,200 feet), descending into the San Joaquin Valley and stopping at the farm for work and maintenance (southwest of Selma, between Fresno and Visalia), and then continuing over to sea-level at the Hoover on the Stanford Campus.

Trying to be empirical rather than romantic, one nevertheless must admit that this state offers one of the most rare landscapes in the world. Anyone can leave a vast untouched Sierra alpine forest, snowbound, and on the edge of an even more vast wildness to the immediate east over Kaiser Pass, and then within one-and-a half hours descend through foothills into the richest agricultural land in the world—still at this late date not yet completely turned into a San Jose or San Fernando Valley, and replete with orange groves, table-grape vineyards, and endless miles of tree-fruit. Then in a little less than three hours, you drive over a Mediterranean-like coast range and end up near the Pacific with a climate like the Greek or Italian seaside.

We sometimes rightly cry about despoiling our natural heritage. But eastward 50 miles from the Stanford campus to the coast are literally millions of acres that are untouched, and relatively unknown—as is true even in the corridor surrounding the 280 freeway. And this radical change in landscape within hours is matched by equally radical cultural transmogrification as well.

Up in the Sierra at this time of year, there are a number of rugged, 1940s types who plow snow, supply propane, or work for the power company who are as eccentric as admirable in their contrariness and independence.

The world should visit the Valley below to see how various races and religions live in relative harmony without killing each other. Millions of Mexicans, whites, blacks, Punjabis, Southeast Asians, Armenians, and Filipinos intermarry, integrate, and assimilate. Tuesday in Fresno County in the space of 30 minutes I drove by a Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church, mosque, Sikh temple, and synagogue—and about thirty Protestant congregations from Unitarian to Church of the Holy Redeemer. Anywhere else in the world—the Parisian suburbs, Darfur, the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Congo, etc., such races and religions would be letting off bombs, assassinating or rioting.

And yet, and yet somehow the United States is pilloried for its “anti-Muslim” stance. When one reads that the Chinese government does not even allow the electric amplification of mosque prayers, that Moscow flattened Grozny to global silence, that the Arabs grow quiet when a Hama is leveled or the Kurds gassed, or that Africa is a story of serial genocide, and instead we are still talking of Guantanamo, then reason fails and we enter the dark world of primordial emotions, as hearts and minds are governed by envy, honor, jealousy, and a sense of inferiority.

But moving on: the most notable cultural achievement of the Valley is a shared allegiance to hard work, family tradition, and the sense of the land that combines to destroy pretension and self-importance. Valley people cannot stand affectation; and are great haters of all pretense.

Finally, under three hours away, then comes the sociology of the Bay Area . . .

But while it would be easy to caricature the pampered, selfish nature of many of these overachievers in Silicon Valley, and the manifestations of their newfound wealth—lavish homes, BMWs, electronic gadgetry—there is also an undeniable talent and egalitarian competitiveness, a meritocracy at work that creates new things of value to the world and, especially, to the United States. And all that energy and brilliance are sometimes apparent on the street of a Palo Alto or Menlo Park—something to grant and appreciate, albeit in small doses of a day or so. It is a world away from the Sierra or Selma, but in a strange way a logical part of this most unusual state.

Well, that was a long excursus about the eerie geographical and cultural miscellany of a great state—beautiful and majestic even at its supposed eleventh hour.

War and More

December 2nd, 2006 - 8:26 pm

Too much about Iraq?

Some readers will complain about reading here more on Iraq, and the need to defeat the Islamists in the more general war against terror. But the serial writing about the topic is like yelling “Fire” as flames engulf the house. Do we yell it only once, and then keep mum in fears of boring the scorched inhabitants?

Iraq Strategy

The Iraq Study Group will probably suggest, as the Democratic Party suggests, as the administration suggested, that we accelerate Iraqization in preparation for downsizing and leaving. There will be disputes over what to call the status quo, over how long this process will, or should, last, or over whether it was the policy of the administration (despite the Halliburton slurs and ‘no blood for oil’ sloganeering) in the most recent months (cf. the recent leaked Rumsfeld memo); but nevertheless both critics and supporters of the war will come to some sort of consensus of finishing the training of the Iraqi security forces, hoping the democracy can survive, and then “redeploying” American troops. Success or failure will be adjudicated whether by 2008 there is still a functioning constitutional government.


In a recent debate of sorts on a Boston radio show, an ex-Clinton official lectured on Iraq as already lost, apparently reflecting this new communis opinio of despair. Given the level of violence and our losses in Iraq, in this view, we supposedly have no chance of securing the country and are now defeated—and should leave precipitously.

But don’t we need some perspective on this new assessment of “lost”? What would these same critics say to Abraham Lincoln in May-June 1864 (“Each hour is but sinking us deeper into bankruptcy and desolation.”) when Grant’s Army of the Potomac tottered at the brink (Spotsylvania [ca. 18,000 casualties]; Cold Harbor [ca. 13,000 casualties]; Petersburg [ca. 12,000 casualties), prompting calls for an armistice on the basis of a status ante bellum, and the real prospect not just of Lincoln not winning the election of 1864, but perhaps not even receiving the Republican nomination? Or what would the pundits of the Kennedy School of Government or the Council on Foreign Relations have said about retreat from the Yalu River in November 1950 (ca. 14,000 casualties)? Korea is lost? We destabilized the Korean peninsula? We only empowered the real enemy Russia in Europe?

If anyone wishes to understand the ripples of an immediate American withdrawal from Iraq, try reading Raul Castro’s public address in Havana, in which he announces the end of American global influence as evidenced by our inability to defeat the terrorists (e.g., “In the eyes of the world, the so-called "crusade on terrorism" is unavoidably heading down the path to a humiliating defeat.”). My favorite line is the enforcer of the Cuban Gulag sermonizing on Americans' “secret prisons.”

Do we have another Sherman, Patton, or Ridgeway?

That is not to say that simply staying the course will bring victory without radical changes in tactics and strategy—but that ability to change quickly and fundamentally is nothing novel in American history. That infamous summer of 1864 was saved by Uncle Billy Sherman’s completely unorthodox siege of Atlanta, and then followed after the elections with the march to Savannah (opposed by Grant and without consultation with Lincoln). Matthew Ridgeway saved the American army in Korea, and after the removal of MacArthur ensured a counter-offensive back up to the DMZ. The billion-dollar plus B-29 effort was facing catastrophe before the arrival of Curtis Lemay in the Marianas. Creighton Abrams, who oversaw Vietnamization and the drawdown of over 500,000 to less than 30,000 U.S. troops by 1972, turned a disastrous war into one in which, had we not cut off aid to South Vietnamese, our allies were in a position to win.

The point? As in prior crises, the U.S. military realizes that public support is waning for the effort in Iraq, and it must find a way both to drawdown only in measure and at the same time train the Iraqis to stop the insurgents from destroying the nascent democracy. So let us hope there is a Sherman, Patton, Ridgeway, Abrams et al. among us.

American slang

Has there been an upsurge in the vocabulary of cynicism, sarcasm, and nihilism? On the old philologist’s dictum that words alone reflect reality (in graduate school, we were often asked in seminars on Xenophon or Thucydides to support grand assertions about “democracy” or “freedom” with precise words in the ancient Greek vocabulary [together with citations to ancient texts])—do our newly created phrases tell us something about our postmodern mind? I heard on campus last week a barrage of the usual slang: “Whatever”; “I don’t think so…”; “Duh?”; “Hellooo?”; “See yaaa”.

I was wondering whether on the farm our ancestors used to employ the same language—as in…

“Cyrus, are we going to in get the crop?”

“Emma, did you get the butter churned?

“Langford, did the freeze hurt the blossoms?

And when you compare the relentless smirking and snickering of a David Letterman or Bill Mahr with past variety hosts of the 1950s, or TV shows like Desperate Housewives or Sex in the City with Bonanza or Paladin, then we get a good glimpse of the rapid devolution to a postmodern society. Not that we don’t have genius and flair in our midst, but the gap reminds me a lot of the change in temperament of a Juvenal or Petronius compared to an earlier generation of Horace and Virgil. While Trimalchio and his bunch argue over stuffed song birds and dancing catamites, some legionary is on the Rhine or Danube holding back the tide. One wonders about an audience’s taste that went from Fibber McGee and Molly to Howard Stern in less than 50 years.


Currently I am reading Barry Strauss’s %%AMAZON=074326441X The Trojan War.%% Strauss is the type of classicist whom in %%AMAZON=1893554260 Who Killed Homer? %% we once thought were desperately needed for a dying profession. He wrote solid academic books about the Peloponnesian War, then a memoir about sculling, and more recently this reinvestigation of the Trojan war, encompassing the latest archaeological, linguistic, and literary evidence, all aimed at capturing a wide audience and renewing interest among the broader public in antiquity.

The strange thing about the Trojan War is that as the decades roll on, and more philological evidence from Near Eastern and Mycenaean texts is sifted and resifted, and the site is re-excavated and enlarged, the more likely it becomes that Homer really was the custodian of a far off, quite important war near the end of the Mycenaean Age. Despite the necessary requisites of oral poetry, the nature of fiction, the passing of five centuries, the contamination of Dark Age and early polis allusions, and the aristocratic nature of early oral audiences, the %%AMAZON=0147712556 Iliad%% and the %%AMAZON=0147712556 Odyssey%% probably capture a great deal of information about this shadowy war between Mycenaean lords and an outpost of Near Eastern rivals in Asia Minor.

I am also reviewing Walter Reid’s new biography of the much maligned %%AMAZON=1841585173 Gen. Douglas Haig%%, who oversaw British forces in World War I from 1916 onward. As Reid shows, while not a military genius, Haig was never the reactionary, blinkered, and technologically backward old stuff shirt that we have become accustomed to accept as entirely culpable for the Somme. It is hard to know what could have done once the German army of 1914 crossed the borders into France and Belgium, inasmuch as it was the best equipped, most professionally organized, and best led infantry force of the age.

Nothing, but ill-prepared British and French armies stood in its way—and in the way of a very different vision of a future Europe than shared by the liberal republics of London and Paris. Reid is a first-class biographer, and Haig is both a frustrating and yet at times sympathetic figure

I must say I am not looking forward to next week’s book, a 1000+ page new account of the crusades (%%AMAZON=0674023870 God’s War%%) by Christopher Tyerman. Just the introduction was overwhelming, not made easier by a ponderous prose style—but I will reserve judgment until I actually finish the book.