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The Politics of Surging

January 29th, 2007 - 2:29 pm

Can It Turn Around?

In all the shouting about a lost presidency and the Bush disaster, few pay attention to actual facts, much less the always changing state of the union. In the last 30 days, federal revenues reached an all-time monthly high, gas prices keep heading down, interest rates and unemployment remain low, with the stock market, home ownership percentages, and economic growth strong.

The key is Iraq: stabilize it, curb American casualties, and shift regional and international attention onto Iran and Hezbollah, and everyone wishes to take credit for a bold, risky, and successful policy. Lose Iraq, and the “I told you so” opportunists will only become more shrill—all known to the jihadists who, though themselves increasingly tired, know that they can win only by dominating the daily headlines, the more gruesome and savage the attacks the better.

Democratic Traction

The Democrats are wising up: Sen. Webb—not shrill and shouting Sens. Boxer, Durbin, Kennedy, Kerry, or Rockefeller—was asked to respond to the State of the Union. Finally, they have begun to see that their best path in criticizing Bush and Iraq was never Michael Moorism (Iraqi terrorists praised as “Minutemen”) or Sheehanism (the American President as the “world’s greatest terrorist”), but a sort of ‘those tribal people over there are not worth another dead American’—hence the Democratic trashing of the Maliki government.

In other words, Americans were not so fearful that we might be imperialists (they knew we had taken no one’s oil), but rather we were not winning quickly enough, and cowardly terrorists were killing brave Americans, who were restrained by the very government we helped to create. That new formula of criticism, post Abu-Ghraib, ironically will force the administration to expand the rules of engagement and give them greater leeway in doing what they must to win.


If you are a Democratic candidate like a Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, or Joe Biden and voted for the war, or one like Chris Dodd who advocated more troops, or ones like all of them who demanded Rumsfeld’s resignation and new leadership in Baghdad, what do you do now as the campaign heats up and 70% of the electorate are upset about Iraq?

Insist, of course, that you were misled by the devious Bush/Cheney cabal into thinking WMD in droves were in Iraq. Ignore the other 20-something counts you threw in on October 11, 2002 as insurance to justify going to war. Pontificate you were for sending more troops when it counted, but now it’s too little, too late. Ignore now the Secretary of Defense, past or present, as irrelevant. Stop praising the liberal Princeton educated Gen. Petraeus as one of your own, as was done from 2003-6. Stay mum and watch the surge, ready to offer “I warned you” if fatalities mount—or if it works, “I warned you to do this long ago.”

McClellan did almost all of this a century-and-half ago—and it would have worked had Sherman not taken Atlanta.

Does this mean that Bush, like Lincoln did not, has a mandate to continue indefinitely? Hardly. Like Lincoln in August 1864, Bush needs good news that the war is on the descent and can be won. In 2003 it was wise of the Pentagon to warn that “counter-insurgency takes years;” but entering the fifth year hence, the voters are saying “Yep, about five years.”

The Odd Couple

As a sidelight, it is hard to recall a more remarkable congruence between extreme left and right than the current symbiosis of the ideas of, say, the Nation Magazine and the American Conservative, as the paleo/libertarian right agrees with the radical left in alleging all sorts of baser motives–or sheer stupidity—in continuing the effort to secure Iraq.

For the first six months of 1941 the far-left wing of the Democratic Party sounded a lot like the Lindberg Right. The former were alleging that reactionaries were pushing the United States into an imperialistic war against a mostly benign Germany that had won the confidence of the progressive Soviets, the latter that Jews and pro-British agents were intent on spending American blood and treasure in Europe’s internecine wars that were none of our business. Of course, the German surprise invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 and Pearl Harbor half a year later ended this first manifestation of that strange commonality for decades. Today something like a US intervention to stop genocide in Darfur or an elected Democratic President sending more troops to save Afghanistan would do the same to its current resurrection.

Kerryism: Laugh or Cry?

Let me get this straight: John Kerry goes to Davos, at the World Economic Forum, where Eason Jordan once alleged that the US military targeted journalists in Iraq, and Bill Clinton praised Iranian “democracy” as more liberal than our own.

Once there he called the United States a pariah, among other things, while chatting along side former Iranian President Khatami, whose government is sponsoring terrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon, while racing ahead to match its boast to wipe out Israel with the reality of nukes. And all this follows his deserved past chastisement for deriding those supposedly without education as “stuck in Iraq” and American soldiers as “terrorists” entering Iraqi homes.

What must be the irresistible urges that drive someone into such self-destructive pronouncements?

The List of Motives or Urges Is Endless.

Is it an elitism that is out of touch with what constitutes America? Or perhaps fear that Europeans might find even the American elite mere flag-waving bible thumpers like George Bush? Or a simpler partisanship that seeks to blame George Bush & Co. for things that go bad while attributing no credit for the positive. Or is it simply “I can’t believe I am losing to this guy” hurt after losing the election? Or a growing sense of self-realization—cf. his gaffes, his sad trips abroad to remedy lost stature, and the “I love you John Kerry (i.e., please go away)” homilies of Sen. Reid et al.?—that the game is over and he will never be President, much less a serious American politician and statesman respected abroad and honored at home?

Bipartisanship in War

Only once in American history did oppositional opportunism during a war reach such a degree that we lost a war—as we know from Vietnam, 1973-5. Usually the out-party tried to score points by ankle-biting the President, but not to the degree that demoralization set in.

Instead, usually the opposition kept the administration on its toes. We forget that most Republicans by 1943 were on the attack against the wartime Roosevelt administration. They condemned not only the escalating costs, but also the continued aid to the Soviet Union and the Roosevelt administration’s growing wartime powers at home. But when it came to fundamental changes, the out-of-power Republicans had few to offer.


During the election of 1952, Dwight Eisenhower pilloried outgoing Democratic President Harry Truman for the Korean War. He promised to visit the front and bring a general’s non-nonsense approach to fixing things—seeking victory rather than the quagmire of 1950-52. Yet after the Republican Ike was elected, the fighting still slogged on as before. Eventually, Eisenhower settled for a negotiated truce along the 38th parallel—about what the Truman administration had envisioned might be enough to contain communism in Korea.


Richard Nixon ran in 1968 against the six-year-long Kennedy-Johnson Democratic mess in Vietnam. He got elected in part on rumors of a “secret” plan of enticing Russia and China—through trade incentives and détente—to pressure their North Vietnamese client to be content with half, not the whole of the Vietnamese peninsula. But when in office, Nixon faced the same intractable problems that Kennedy and Johnson had. And so the war continued from 1969 through the end of his abbreviated governance in 1973.

Gerald Ford tried to win the Kennedy/Johnson/Nixon war he inherited, but his Democratic opposition cut off funds and ended it by 1975—the first defeat in American history, and one increasingly looked back upon as avoidable.


Bill Clinton neither consulted the Congress nor the United Nations in bombing and sending occupation troops to the Balkans. Republicans in the Senate protested and a few threatened to cut off funds. Democrats were unable to get a resolution passed expressing support for the President’s action. But Republicans offered no better way to stop the genocide in Kosovo and Bosnia.

No Nation-building

Even so, in 2000 George Bush ran on a platform of no-more expensive peace-keeping or nation-building, which Clinton had apparently decided—without Congressional sanction—was the proper new role of the American military in Haiti, Somalia, and the Balkans. Yet after Bush took office, American troops stayed in the Balkans. And they are now deployed by the tens of thousands nation building in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Rarely, then, in American history are wars the sole property of one particular party. Given our consensual system, they usually originate and continue from some sort of consensus. True, when things go bad, the out-party harps. And it always then takes credit when matters improve. Rarely, however, has one party been able to convince the public that the war was simply dreamed up by the war-hungry other.

And Now Iraq…

So too it is in Iraq. Right now we are in our fifth phase of a long Iraqi war. The first war of 1991 led by the senior Bush was supported by Democrats in the Senate, who were happy to see Saddam evicted from Kuwait. The second—the twelve years of no-fly zones and United Nations sanctions—kept Saddam “in his box.” It was overseen in bipartisan fashion by four consecutive administration. The third Iraqi war of 2003 lasted three weeks, ending with the removal of Saddam. It was authorized by Congress with Democratic approval, and the victory earned a 70% approval rating of the American people.

But the fourth—from 2003 to 2005—was the messy effort to oversee elections, and stop ex-Baathists, al Qaeda, and Sunni jihadists from destroying the newfound Iraqi democracy. As American losses climbed, public support eroded. As in the past, the opposition harped about mismanagement, but did little else.

For much of 2006 a fifth war of sorts evolved between Sunni and Shiite militias who both killed Americans in hopes of carving out their own spheres of influence. The Democrats are now vocal in their furor over the costs and the incessant violence, but so far have neither cut off funds nor quite written off Iraq as hopeless.


Despite the partisan rhetoric, sober Democrats know that Iraq won’t go away. Its strategic location, its natural oil wealth and importance to the world economy, worries over Iran, regional nuclear proliferation, proximity to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, and the pan-Arabic factional fighting—all that and more explain why, whether governed by Democrats or Republicans, the United States was engaged fighting in or over Iraq in some fashion for the last 17 years. Both parties worried about an Iraqi dictatorship that attacked its neighbors, used its vast oil wealth to purchase deadly weapons, and promoted terrorists.

Now the Democrats are at a crossroads. They can continue to play the traditional role of demanding wiser tactics in the use of American military force to win the war—as the opposition did in 1944, 1952, 1968, and 2000. Or, as was true in 1974-5, they can cut off funds and abandon a nearly two-decade, bipartisan effort to solve the nearly unsolvable problem of Iraq.

Not Quite So Fast?

It’s their call, but they must make up their minds rather soon, because there is another wild card: the surge/change in tactics could work, and Iraq could settle down by autumn.

If that happened, then we would see a re-triangulation of the original triangulation: after professing to being misled by Bush into a failed war, after insisting that their call for more troops was heeded “too late”, they would then have to apply the breaks, quit the talk of pulling out, neo-con conspiracies, etc., and instead reconfigure for the 2008 elections: Hillary, Edwards, Dodd, Biden etc. all rightly voted for the war, endured Rumsfeld/Cheney errors, then through their own brave critiques brought a change of course, and therefore at last “won” the war. So they still need about 6 months of wriggle room to adjust to the perceived verdict of the battlefield.


I hope next posting to reply to issues raised by various comments, which I read carefully. The surge and its politics sort of took over this time.

The State of the Union

January 23rd, 2007 - 1:31 pm

What is America—and is it worth defending?

I spoke on campuses recently and listened to a number of students discuss issues of immigration, national identify, and the old race/class/gender conundrum. What struck me were two things: the unwillingness of young Americans in the audience to define, much less in thought or speech to defend their civilization. And I noted the paradoxical criticism of the United States by those who have just arrived on our shores.

Why would any wish to come to a country that they almost immediately fault—that takes more legal immigrants alone than all other countries combined? Is it that such contrariness earns acceptance from our own cynical and nihilistic elite? As I pointed out to these audiences, rarely do Americans in turn define newcomers here by the sins of their homeland.

Imagine, I went on, if Chinese students were reminded that the antecedents of their current government since 1945 murdered or starved to death 70 million of their own?

Should the Indian immigrant be reminded of suttee and the caste system?

The students seemed a little stunned, but had picked up the current American campus trait of thinking that if the United States can be shown not to be perfect, it is therefore not good—and that no one would dare to question the moral principles, or consistency, by which they press their own moralistic attack on the United States.

We worry about the Patriot Act. Castro and Hugo Chavez end free speech. We worry about morality in foreign policy, China contracts with the Sudan and Iran for all they can get. We worry about the glass-ceiling, the Islamic world doesn’t mention much about polygamy or female circumcision. We worry about the religious Right, Saudi Arabia arrests those with bibles. The world abroad, these students sometimes forget, does not operate on the principles of the campus library or student union.

Because the US is increasingly a country of the mind, not defined by race or ethnic background anymore, it becomes more, not less, critical to agree on a shared language, values, and respect for a unique past—if we are not simply to descend into tribalism. We are not a Japan or Saudi Arabia that can fall back on race or religion, when the notion of nationhood falters. We only have common ideals, a history, a language, and a Constitution. It is not written in stone that these exist in perpetuity without periodical homage and defense. So criticize the US when it deserves it; point out our flaws, but understand that the alternatives are far worse—and for a variety of reasons that are rarely any more discussed.


What amazes is the pass given China, not only about its bloody past, or its authoritarian present, but also about its cutthroat international hooliganism, whether violating copyright laws, shooting missiles into space, or cutting oil and mineral deals with the worst regimes imaginable, as well as absolute intransigence over Tibet. Something about those Mao suits and revolutionary fumes provide exemption among the usual hothouse leftist critics.

Five Wars for Iraq

Right now the United States is fighting the fifth—not the first—war for Iraq.

I. 1991

The first was in 1991 when America liberated Kuwait from Saddam Hussein. Either out of deference to the United Nations coalition, or Arab sensitivities, it did not remove that savage dictator. An exempt Saddam then subsequently murdered thousands of Shiite and Kurdish dissidents. Americans were upset that for all the military brilliance of Gulf War I, it ended inconclusively. The peace apparently set off as much violence in Iraq as the war in Kuwait had intended to prevent.

II. No-Fly Zones

So in response, a second twelve-year war followed under Presidents George Herbert Bush, Bill Clinton, and George Walker Bush. From 1991 to 2003, America enforced no-fly zones, while the United Nations conducted embargoes and weapons inspections. Despite its length and cost, and the corruption by the United Nations, America suffered almost no battle casualties in this second conflict. Thousands of malnourished Iraqis, however, died due to Saddam’s manipulation of sanctions.

III.The Three Week War

After September 11 a majority of both Democrats and Republicans had had enough of 350,000 sorties, a decade of violations by Saddam, the corruption of the Oil-for-Food program, and the suffering of the most vulnerable of Iraqi society. So yet a third war ensued.

This time a brilliant three-week effort finally removed Saddam Hussein for good, one authorized by both houses of Congress that basked in the postbellum support of 70% of the American people. All were buoyed that the final end of the murderous Baathists was achieved at amazingly little cost.

IV.The Reconstruction

But the peace proved more difficult than the three-week fighting. And from 2003 through 2005, there was yet a fourth war to establish an Iraqi democracy to prevent the emergence of another petrodollar dictator with imperial ambitions.

This war was the costliest of the four, taking over 2,000 American lives and billions in aid. Terrorists—mostly ex-Baathists, Wahhabi jihadists, and al Qaedists—sought to ruin the lives of Iraqis and overturn the verdict of three surprisingly successful Iraqi national elections.

Iraqi War IV sputtered inconclusively with neither the United States able to quell the Sunni-inspired violence nor the terrorists able to force the coalition to leave and install a theocracy in its place.

V. Gangs and Militias

And now we are in yet a fifth sort of war that for most of 2006 has cost another 1000 American lives. Frustrated Shiites, many egged on by an opportunistic and theocratic Iran, finally ran out of patience and began to retaliate against Sunni terrorists. Both Shiites and Sunnis militias now kill Americans and each other—a bellum omnium contra omnes. Each carves out its own spheres of influence in efforts to collapse the elected central government in Baghdad.

Oil or Not?

We can learn lessons from these five wars. First they are—and are not—over oil. The United States does not wish to steal Iraqi oil—indeed we gave back to both the Kuwaitis and Iraqis themselves complete control over the petroleum that Saddam had appropriated when we had it in our power not to. Rather, the United States does not want one of the world’s chief supplies of energy to fall under the control of a madman nor the resulting petrodollar bonanza once more recycled into frightful weapons.

Why Iraq?

Second, Iraq is the linchpin of the Middle East, sitting in the middle of the oil-exporting Gulf sheikdoms, Israel and the Palestinians—and an unpredictable Iran. Stabilize the country with a constitutional government and the Middle East moderates. Allow a Saddam or his jihadist successors to invade or attack neighbors and the entire region unravels.


Third, until recently, Americans fighting in some fashion in Iraq did so by bipartisan sanction during seventeen continuous years. Bush I conducted the first Gulf War with support from Democrats in Congress. Bill Clinton continued the no-fly-zones, bombed Saddam, and warned against weapons of mass destruction. Bush II got the approval of a majority of congressional Democrats to remove Saddam. Only recently, following the 2006 election rebuke, has the policy become partisan—and costly— enough to question its continuance.

Currently the majority of Americans and the Democratic Party have had enough. They feel that either that the Iraqis are simply not worth the cost in American blood or treasure, or that our withdrawal won’t make that much difference either way. Only a shrinking number of Republicans still insists that by historical standards America has done surprisingly well in removing Saddam and fostering democracy—and we can still stabilize that achievement with a year or two more of costly custodianship.

Iraq Will Find Us

Fourth, and most importantly, Iraq won’t go away. Its strategic location, its natural wealth and importance to the world economy, worries over Iran, regional nuclear proliferation, proximity to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, and the pan-Arabic factional fighting and international terrorism, all that and more explain why, whether under Democrats or Republicans, we were engaged in Iraq in some fashion for the last 17 years.

We may not wish to find Iraq, but it always seems to find us.

Why No Westerns?

After the last post, someone wrote me asking why can’t we make a good western these days? A number of reasons come to mind. The multicultural rage has sort of defined the genre as a perpetual Dancing With Wolves, or at least no homage is to be given to the sort-of Sophoclean Ajax profile that framed a Shane or Will Cane, the persona that had given up on society’s plodding rules, and so went it alone. Very non-communitarian. Very preemptive and unilateral. Or as the Europeans say—very cowboyish.

More mundanely, it’s hard to find a Ben Johnson/Slim Pickens accent or even a manly Bill Holden/Alan Ladd/John Wayne manner in Hollywood anymore. That slightly southern/western, slightly rural, slightly drawly accent has passed away and it is hard to replicate, especially with the increasing nasalization of the metrosexual American male accent. A few like Tommy Lee Jones or Robert Duvall could of course play wonderful westerners, but then they are of a passing generation as well.

Yet I think the public would greet an authentic western, with a young against-the-grain actor, playing a role where a craggy single figure (of questionable past) pulls down the temple of the status quo for a principle.

The Land Was Everything

That was a title of a book I once wrote about farming. Since that publication, my siblings have sold out or stopped farming, the local town is now very near, and housing is zoned less than a mile away. My 43 acres of vines are aging. I rent the vineyard out now, and prices for raisins still are not break-even. So something has to be done, as I talk about the future with my 24-year old son. Either we finish remodeling the house, and tear out the vines and plant something more easily mechanized (a project from $3000 to $5,000 per acre), or give up and accept the future.

After about a minute’s deliberation, I decided to put a new kitchen in the 130-year old house that my great-great grandmother built. And I will try to start earning some money to lose it by fixing up the place (new pump, laser-leveling, extra drip irrigation system, patented trees to plant) for the next generation’s turn. I hope to be done by 60.

Prosecutors to Actors

January 17th, 2007 - 7:35 pm

Whom to Fear? The Patriot Act? Wiretaps? Detention in Cuba?

I doubt the average American is in much danger from some out-of-control government sleuth sending him to the Gulag, or putting her in a camp, or even reading his email.

But there are things to be afraid of—out-of-control prosecutors who can trample all over jurisprudence if their cause is considered to be progressive and politically-correct. The prosecution of Scooter Libby is a travesty. If the federal prosecutor knew he had to select a jury in Omaha rather than Washington DC, he would never bring this non-case to trial.

There are at least four considerations that are troubling about Mr. Fitzgerald’s case: (1) We know that Ms. Plame was not, as originally alleged, a covert, or undercover CIA agent at the time in question, and thus had no secret identity to be exposed; (2) we know the source that leaked the nature of her employment—and it was not Mr. Libby, at least initially and most prominently, but Mr. Armitage who apparently is not to be charged with anything (why not?); (3) we know that Mr. Wilson, as Christopher Hitchens has pointed out, lied about a great deal in connection with his trip to Niger and so far has escaped most accountability and probably will thereby seek to avoid testifying at the trial he once so eagerly demanded; (4) Mr. Libby is therefore being charged with obstruction of justice and perjury—not the original mandate of the prosecutor. Why not shut down the inquiry since it has not fulfilled its mission; then turn over the transcripts and testimony to local prosecutors to see if any feel there is a perjury case to be made? From my limited experience with trials (my late mother was a California Superior and Appellate Court Judge), perjury seems a rare charge, and most DAs do not peruse the testimony of witnesses to find contradictions to establish grounds for such indictments.

But if both Mr. Libby and Mr. Fitzgerald knew that Ms. Plame was not a covert operative, and that someone other than Mr. Libby first mentioned her job status to Mr. Novak, what motive would Mr. Libby have had for lying—other than fear that something he might have said might be construed as some sort of culpable action by a blank-check prosecutor, who during these interrogations already knew, after Mr. Armitage’s confession, that apparently Mr. Libby was not to be the chief target of the original investigation? Lost in all this, of course, is the original concern that Ms. Plame used her influence to select her husband for a sensitive mission, at a time when he was already quite politicized. Meanwhile, Sandy Berger removes and destroys classified documents and gets a slap on the wrist without the worry of a Special Prosecutor.

So Watch Out for the DA

The Duke case is worse. Evidence withheld; procedures violated; confessions recanted. There is no chance the accused are guilty as charged—or of anything other than perhaps being buffoonish, sexually gross, or racially insensitive. But like the Libby case, the accused fit a preordained profile that unleashes the self-righteous mob, whether the Washington media corps or many of the Duke faculty and minority community.

The one danger to civil liberties in the 1990s and 2000s has always been very clear: grandstanding DAs who can bring charges motivated by politics that will break, either financially or psychologically, their targets, especially in this age of sky-high litigation. Again, no liberal outcry arises about such unleashed prosecutors.

Dixie comparisons.

Furor arises about comparing Iraq to elements in the Civil War. I get irate letters when suggesting parallels to the terrible summer of 1864 before Sherman took Atlanta when the betting was that Lincoln would not be renominated, much less reelected. Apparently the outrage comes from even the hint that a George Bush’s perseverance in the face of declining support is anything comparable to a deified Lincoln.

But there are two other less remarked on parallels. First, the empowerment of the Iraqi Shiites, the perennially despised of the Arab world, through one-man/one vote, is as radical in the context of the contemporary Arab world as was emancipation to our own past. To receive an idea of the magnitude of the US-induced change, just image Britain, about 1855, landing in New Orleans, racing up the Mississippi and liberating slaves, and then staying on to jump start democratic suffrage in the South—all to be accomplished while Northerners, Southerners, and Westerners seethed at the foreign interloper, and turned on each other, as particular sectarians sought to ally with or oppose the British.

Another Reconstruction

We are in our fourth year of Reconstruction, and it is eerily similar to the Union efforts from 1865 to 1877. Militias like the Kuklux Klan proliferated. Marshal Law was declared in Tennessee. Judges were shot. Northern troops were too few and far between to protect Republican and black reformers. The public was exasperated that armies like Sherman’s that by late 1864 and 1865 had once sliced through the Confederacy in mere months could not even keep order in a conquered South, despite five military districts initially run by tough veteran Union generals.

Assassinations, kidnappings, and terrorism were committed against supposed “collaborators” such as Republican politicians and black elected officials. Reconstruction administrators were often themselves thoroughly corrupt. And after the scandalous deal of 1876, over a century later books are still being written, as they are of Vietnam and will be of Iraq, about how Reconstruction would have finally worked—despite its legion of terrible mistakes—had only a weary public not given up on it.

Irony and Iraq

I’m currently writing a long essay about irony and Iraq. And there are several paradoxes. Democrats and Republicans who voted for the war, are now bailing as loudly as they once called for Saddam’s head.

Some neocons who demanded in 1998 that Clinton take out Saddam, now castigate Bush for doing so. Recent exposés detailing too few troops, too much naiveté, too much democratic idealism, too little worry about Iran—are written by the same authors who warned in 1991 about too much realism, too little support for idealistic reformers, too much worry about Iran, too many troops, etc.

In the 1980s James Baker was demonized by liberals as a high-priced, petrodollar lawyer masquerading as a realist diplomat; now he is canonized as a sober pragmatist. George Bush was attacked in 2000 for deriding nation-building—now after 9/11 he is attacked as the most daring nation-builder since Harry Truman. Joe Biden and Chris Dodd were aping John McCain through most of 2004-6 about Bush’s fatal decision to send too few peacekeepers; now they are furious that he is sending in more. And on and on, the only constant being that the New York/Washington elite scramble hourly to adjust their views to the perceived pulse of the battlefield—perceived being the operative word.

The Great California Freeze

No global warming here. At Huntington Lake at 7200 feet last night it was about 5 degrees and had been below zero earlier. Here in rural California, it was around 22 this week and below. So I’ve been spending most of the day fixing frozen water pipes that have cracked or trying to unclear those up in the mountains. Most of the surrounding citrus orchards look ruined. There is not all that much sugar yet in the fruit, and the ground has been really dry—just the conditions to ruin the crop when the cold hits. Otherwise grape and deciduous tree-growers like the hard cold, since it gives good dormancy by ensuring sufficient collective hours (500 or so) below 50.

When driving through California each week from the Sierra to the Coast, what is most apparent is declining farm acreage. It is not just urbanization, but cumulative low prices that put growers out of business—that and high wages, insurance, workers’ compensation, and taxes. Grape, cotton, tree-fruit, wheat acreages are all down. And with current fights to restore 19th-century conditions to the Kings and San Joaquin Rivers there will only be less irrigation water, as a time when more people are moving to the interior. We forget that the Great Central Valley of California is by nature, except for a few miles near its rivers, a desert wasteland, and without irrigation would revert to that pre-20th century status rather quickly.

Anyone who has seen the wonderful work of the San Joaquin River Conservancy agrees that restoring these rivers is a noble–and necessary–undertaking; but the rub is how to do so and still supply enough water to fuel agriculture, an art that for nearly two decades has produced more food with less water but is now running out of ways to economize. Raising or building more damns would store more water in Sierra lakes, and allow more runoff for both farming and rivers, but purists oppose that as well, even as millions of acre feet run out to the delta in wet years while none at all flows in dry.

The message is unmistakable: we want more land for houses, more water for suburbanites, recreation, and nature— and our current standard of living maintained. At some point, someone should remember the multi-billion-dollar California agricultural industry functions in a hostile business and government climate only due to the skill and perseverance of farmers—and the near perfect soil, water, and weather conditions of California for agriculture.

Much of the standard of living of central California is based on those invisible in our midst who can figure a way out to convince Japanese, Chinese, Europeans, and Asians in general to import top-quality California almonds, beef, dried and fresh fruits, cheeses, wine, fibers, and juice. The San Joaquin Valley does not have numerous top universities, sophisticated high-tech industries, a defense or film or tourist sector to speak of, timber, minerals, or sports teams; but it is blessed with the best farmland and most skilled farmers in the world. We would be idiotic to forget that. In short, I used to lament the end of small farmers who were the cultural bedrock of our communities, but now I fear for farms of any sort disappearing altogether.

<stronLaudator Temporis Acti

My friend and former collegue Bruce Thornton argued today over the perceived decline of masculine actors. True or imagined? We agreed that a Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, or Richard Gere was no Bill Holden, John Wayne, or Gary Cooper et al. The closest to the Old Breed seemed to be something like a Bruce Willis, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro or Jack Nicholson.

But more interesting, where are today’s character actors, whether the Western geniuses like a Slim Pickens, Ben Johnson, Warren Oates, LQ jones, or Struther Martin, or the brilliant unpredictable types such as Richard Boone or Jack Palance? Our favorites that might qualify were Robert Duvall, Christopher Walken, John Malkovich, and Dennis Hopper, who all managed to exude a sense of fatalism, a little craziness, and a certain disdain for the sensitive male.


War?—What War?

January 12th, 2007 - 9:55 pm

Reader Responses

I have learned a great deal reading the responses to these essays, and often try to predicate the next entry on the concerns of the readers.

So one reoccurring topic is the controversy over just how serious is the threat of radical Islam. I get a great deal of furious mail, suggesting that Bush & Co. for a variety of reasons (fill in the blanks: oil, Halliburton, etc.) have created a bogeyman out of a few ragtag terrorists, and dangerously and gratuitously set us on a path of war in the Middle East.

Such critics are emboldened by the luxuries of relative world peace. Remember, we enter into year six without an attack on the United States homeland comparable to September 11. That fact, taken together with the absence of a clearly-identified enemy nation state, has suggested to many that there is hardly a present threat comparable to dangers posed by Nazis, fascists, Japanese imperialists, or Soviet and Chinese communists of the past.

But how true is that really?

I. -Isms and –Ologies Are More Deadly

Global ideologies pose greater threats than particular bellicose states. Nazism, for example, was more dangerous than Prussian militarism because it much more easily appealed across national boundaries.

The same was true of communism versus, say, Japanese militarism that was predicated on unique thoughts about racial superiority rather than Pan-Asian communitarian solidarity. Bushido appealed to few non-Japanese.

Jihadism, however, resonates with Muslims in Pakistan, the Arab World, the Philippines, or Indonesia. Race, language, landscape, or nationality are not always predictable in our enemies, only a certain shared derangement guided by the idea that the West and its modernization have eclipsed Islam and are in some way responsible for radical Muslims’ current sense of inferiority and lost entitlement.

II. A Dirty Bomb Versus a Salvo or Air strike?

Second, the global wherewithal of any enemy is predicated as well on technology and conditions of the age. Just as the Kaiser was NOT the avatar of a global revolutionary ideology, he also lacked the technology to harm the continental United States. While it is true that al Qaedists don’t posses (yet) Soviet-style nuclear missiles; still, equipped with miniaturized weapons, stealthy terrorists can now hit almost anywhere. And there is no logical reason why in the next act of escalation, they will not evolve from planes and bombs to more deadly chemicals or germs—or a nuclear Iran or a Pakistan run by jihadists.

III. “We Didn’t Do It—They Did”

There is also a third force-multiplier that might explain why the pathetic cave-dwelling Dr. Zawahiri and his clowns could hurt the United States far more than Hitler or even the Soviets ever could. True, the absence, after the fall of the Taliban, of a state apparatus has hurt the terrorists, but their umbilical cords to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran offer them the nourishment of a parent state, but without national culpability. Thus it is hard for us to target patrons who by design deny culpability, and nullify classical deterrence between nation states.

That is, killer teams that poison the water supply of Los Angeles or blow themselves up in the Mall of America, defy an easy response. Do we hit the Saudis whose charities funded them? The Syrians who gave them the weapons? The Iranians who trained them? Or the Pakistanis who offered them space? All such governments would immediately “deplore” such attacks, offer their condolences, and claim they had no influence over their cheering crowds (in the manner Arafat gave blood after the West Bank street high-fived 9/11).

IV. The Fragility of the Good Life

Fourth, in our sophistication arises more of our vulnerability. Tojo or Mussolini could not ruin the world’s banking system. The globe is even more interconnected than during the Cold War. So a dirty bomb set off in the New York Stock Exchange—remember the panic set off by the Maryland/Virginia snipers—or anthrax spread in the Capitol would have ripple effects, psychological implications that we saw after 9/11 when there was a trillion dollar hit to the hotel, airline, and travel industries.

The more modern man evolves from his physical world, the more vulnerable he becomes. In a world where few know how to raise food, where cash is disappearing as the normal currency, where our debits and assets are mere numbers on a computer, we can become paralyzed by centrally-planned but rather narrowly-focused attacks on computer systems, government, and corporations that ripple out with life-or-death consequences.

V. Too Sophisticated

Fifth, this is a different America from 1941, 1946, 1950, or even 1973-4. A quarter-century of multiculturalism, utopian pacifism, and cultural relativism have convinced many that there are no real cultural differences in the world, much less Western or American exceptionalism. Resistance is outdated and a poor remedy for aggression that is not prompted by evil, but rather follows only from ignorance, poverty, and misunderstanding—much of it induced by a grasping and immoral Western civilization.

The Locus Classicus of Iran

When such thinking is confronted by the primordial world of the 7th century, then a sort of dangerous naiveté follows, perhaps best epitomized by our confusion over Iran.

A jihadist of the first order swears that he hears religious voices and through his mesmerizing speech prevents his audiences from blinking. He promises a world without the United States and swears he will wipe Israel off the map. As relish he brags about shutting down the Straits of Hormuz and choking off global petroleum commerce. And these are not impossible threats, since Ahmadinejad has at his disposal billions in petrol-dollars, soulless commercial partners in Russia, North Korea, and China who will sell him anything, and a certain apocalyptic vision that, Jim-Jones like, convinces him that he can achieve eternal fame in this world—the downtrodden Shiite Persians at last trump the Sunni Arabs as the true warriors of Islam—and Paradise in the next.

And all this is reified by an ongoing nuclear program. Set against all that, our own wise men and women demonize those who will not “talk” with the Iranian theocracy, so convinced are they either of their own moral superiority and beguiling rhetoric, or of the rational sense of the Iranians. In other words, suggest modestly that Iran is creepy enough to keep distant from—and suddenly that wariness is slurred as a neocon plot to wage war with Teheran.

So, yes, I have no apologies for labeling radical Islam as a danger comparable to Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo, Stalin, or Mao.That admission does not make any of us who share these worries fond of war, far from it. Rather we fear that radical Islam has much in store for us ahead, and the more America prepares for it, the less our citizens and others less strong will suffer.

So What Do We Do?

By the same token only a comprehensive strategy that addresses the ideological basis of radical Islam will ultimately work. Regional solutions—talking with Syria about Lebanon, pressuring Israel to give back more of the West Bank, continuing the now $50 billion subsidy for Egypt, etc.—are palliative without offering hopes of an eventual solution.

Our Current Approach

Instead only a four-pronged fundamental approach, much of which we are presently engaged in, will ultimately work: kill jihadists whether in Somalia or Anbar or the Hindu Kush; promote consensual government and market economies that so drive the jihadists crazy and offer a chance that some day the Middle East will achieve parity with other regions—and thus cease blaming the West for its self-induced failures; work with regional governments, whether the newly established Afghans or Iraqis, or the Ethiopians or the Jordanians or the Israelis to fight the jihadists; and collapse the world oil market though conservation, more exploration, alternative fuels, and nuclear power. 20 -dollar-a-barrel oil will take immediately nearly $500 billion a year out of the coffers of Middle East exporters—and with that loss, floating petrodollars for weapons and terrorists.

The Surge

I wrote at National Review Online about the surge, and did some radio interviews about the controversy over it. I have been skeptical about the ‘more troops’ arguments, since the real problem centered on the rules of engagement, especially the arrest/release of terrorists, the open borders with Syria and Iran, the pass given the militias, and the ambiguity of a sort of, not sort of autonomous Iraqi government. But now, the President has decided on the increase as part of a reassessment of tactics.

A brilliant general is confident of its efficacy. Troop morale is still high. And the arguments against it from the Democrats (why would they select Sen. Durban as the public responder, he of “Nazi” and “Pol Pot” slander infamy?) offer neither improvement nor honesty in confessing their desire to leave and call it quits. So as a Jacksonian, I will support the surge in confidence it will work, and hope my reservations about pouring more troops without a change of tactics have been answered by the President’s promises that there is indeed a new way of operations accompanying the addition of 20,000 more soldiers.

What was the old strategy?

In the typical American fashion of ‘out with the old, in with the new’ or ‘the King is Dead, Long Live the King’ suddenly the once praised Gens. Abizaid and Casey are considered goats and their strategies failed. But is that fair? And what was their thinking? Namely, that in a global war against jihadism, American ground troops are stretched too thin at precisely the time there are more dangers arising in Syria, Iran, and the Horn of Africa. Thus, we wanted to stabilize Iraq with what we had, keep an ample reserve for future problems, and force the Iraqis to understand our troop presence was shrinking and only they could stabilize their own country. I think the Generals would have changed the parameters of their operations, and still have secured the country with what we had—in time. But after the 2006 elections, there was no longer any political window, and things have now come to a head where either we win quickly or the politics turn ugly circa 1974..

Grant Was Saved By Sherman

Something similar was occurring from Summer 1864 to Spring 1865 with Grant. We forget that his strategy of attrition was pilloried and most of his fervent admirers from 1863 had turned on him. Only Sherman’s capture of Atlanta saved Lincoln the ensuing election that was formerly said to have been lost due to Grant’s quagmire in Virginia. And while he wore down Lee’s forces, their collapse was more likely brought on by the realization that Sherman’s huge confident Army of the West was approaching at the Confederate rear from the Carolinas. So rightly or wrongly the era of static operations are over, and we are gong to have to go after our enemies, risk increased casualties, deal with a perfidious government that may at times side with the militias, and Sherman-like risk all to win.

The Bathos of Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter apparently did not realize that his Carter Center—both its funding and reputation—was predicated on a certain liberal thinking that, at its best, was supposed to be disinterested and appealed to the better angels of our nature. But his crass apartheid slurs, his intellectual dishonesty about the Middle East, and his almost inexplicable disdain for Israel, all that is eating away at his liberal base, as witnessed by the recent resignation of 14 members of his board of counselors. In short Jimmy was revealed at last not as Gandhi but more a Stanley Baldwin, nit-picking his way into infamy. His two worst prior feats? Sending Ramsey Clark to Teheran to beg for the hostages, and actively campaigning among Europeans for the Nobel Prize by undermining a sitting US President at a time of war.

What will follow will be either be the implosion of the Center, or, to survive, some sort of transparently Middle Eastern-funded, highly partisan, pro-Saudi think-tank that alone ensures further money. There is something tragic about all this. After a failed Presidency, Carter for a quarter-century religiously tried to reconstruct his legacy by his visible public works and missionary zeal, if punctuated by the occasional crass outburst. But now that once characteristic meanness has resurfaced in his dotage, and in a manner of weeks destroyed his decades of artful reconstruction.

In short, his post-presidency will now be considered as failed as his notorious administration. Note the role of the Greek god Nemesis. As the retired Gerald Ford, who liberals once snickered at as a Golf Course apolitical functionary, went off into the night with grace, his own dignified emeritus career only highlighted Carter’s foolery.

All this is very sad.

PS Tractoriana

Some readers wrote in asking about tractor preferences not long ago. I once wrote an essay about the topic ten years ago or so in The Land Was Everything. I grew up driving old ones, like Italian Olivers or a British-built 3-cylinder Ford 4000, and earlier a Ford Jubilee and tiny 8ns and even 9ns, and over the years some real lemons like an old clunking Allis-Chalmers. But in the early 1980s, we bought two Massey-Ferguson 265s, and they were the most dependable, best machines we ever owned, with Perkins engines and wonderful hydraulics. They didn’t burn diesel like the bigger 285s and yet had enough power to pull either a tandem 9-foot disc or a 500 gallon PTO sprayer, and rarely heated up even over 100 in July or August. With hydraulic cane-cutters chopping in front, and a big disk with coil in back, and only a few inches of vine clearance on either side, they nevertheless pulled steady down the vine row, a real American achievement that tractor.

From the Classroom to the War

January 8th, 2007 - 10:53 pm

Cry the Once Beloved University

What are we to make of this increasingly corrupt institution, whose health is so necessary to the welfare and competitiveness of the United States? It brags that American higher education is the strongest on the globe, but that is largely true only because of the non-political and still untainted hard sciences, engineering, and informational and computer sciences—and despite the humanities, particularly literature, philosophy, and history that have become increasingly ideological and theoretical.

I was thinking of all this the other day, remembering the Larry Summers fiasco, eighty-eight of the Duke faculty weighing in through a public letter against their own students unjustly accused, the Ward Churchill mess, and the assorted outbursts of professors since 9/11.

We should at least insist on a little accountability from this increasingly medieval institution. After teaching some twenty years in the university and writing about its endemic problems, I keep asking myself the same questions.

Why? Why? Why?

Why does tuition continue to rise beyond the rate of inflation?

Why does the faculty castigate the free enterprise system that its own development officers court to ensure competitive faculty compensation? After all, their much praised socialism ensures under-funded universities, as we see in Europe where the once great institutions of higher learning have slipped badly and lack the resources of a Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Texas, or Berkeley.

Why do such vocal egalitarians stay mum, when part-time faculty and graduate students often teach classes for a fraction of professors’ pay, in a hierarchical system of exploitation that even the much maligned Wal-Mart would never get away with?

Why do professors insist after six years on life-long tenure—when everyone from garbage collectors to lawyers and doctors do not enjoy such insulation from both the market and accountability about job performance? If it is for the promise of “academic freedom” and “intellectual diversity” then the resulting institutionalized uniformity and mediocrity were not worth the cost. Compare the lopsided Academic Senate votes about issues extraneous to the operation of the university from gay marriage to the war in Iraq. There are usually reminiscent of plebiscites in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or Castro’s Cuba with majorities of 90-100%.

Why when academia is so critical of other American institutions, from the Republican party and corporations to churches and the military, does it ignore its own colossal failures? The level of knowledge of the today’s graduate is the stuff of jokes, exactly what one would expect once a common shared instruction in science, history, literature, languages, and mathematics largely disappeared, replaced by a General Education potpourri of specialized classes in gender, race, class, and politics masquerading as knowledge-based?

All these thoughts I think explain the tragic-comic position of today’s university presidents who Janus-like must talk like normal humans when courting alumni donors only to assume alien characteristics when dealing with their often lunatic faculty. I noticed once that UC Berkeley administrators always talked about a beloved “Cal” to their alumni constituents, but always “Berkeley” to their grim-faced faculty, as if there were two different campuses. And, of course, there were—the real tragic one of the present, and the idealized lost one of the past.

Criminals more than combatants

In World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, most Americans died either from small arms in firefights, grenades, or artillery, but in Iraq almost every combat-related death is due to two causes: either suicide bombers/IEDs or sniper/RPG fire. Both have one thing in common: the enemy is not often immediately to be seen, much less uniformed. So what do we call such a war in which the jihadist will never confront American troops in the manner of Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, or Vietnamese, but resembles more a sniper or bomber from the bad part of town? For all the tragedy of losing 3000, their tactics explain why we have lost 60-70 a month in over three years in Iraq and not 8,000 every thirty days as was true in 1941-5.

Don’t Cry For Saddam?

What a weird sick world. The more globalized we become, the more we make the fallacy that the resulting world village is Carmel rather than Tombstone. The latest absurdity is the daughter of the mass-murdering Saddam Hussein complaining to the British Daily Mail that she couldn’t call daddy one last time. Not much worry about how she got her millions or where she was when Pop was gassing the Kurds.

Indeed, the entire Western hysteria over the uncouth hanging of Saddam revealed more about pious intellectuals than it did abstract notions of justice. All executions are messy. Prisoners and guards banter all the time. That an Iraqi hanging was far cruder than our own lethal injections is to be regretted—but expected. In the end, one’s qualms about how exactly Saddam went into Hell depends to some degree on which end of his wood-chipper you were likely to end up on.

The Premodern versus Postmodern

We are careful to avoid talking about a “clash of civilizations,” perhaps in fear of alienating moderate Muslims. Our enemies welcome the identification in confidence they will thereby win over bystanders. So bin Laden bragged:

In a war of civilizations, our goal is for our nation to unite in the face of the Christian crusade…This is a recurring war. The original crusade brought Richard (Lion heart) from Britain, Louis from France and Barbarossa from Germany. Today the crusading countries rushed as soon as Bush raised the cross. They accepted the rule of the cross.

Recently Dr. Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s most frequent megaphone, warned that he would fight to free those poor terrorists in Guantanamo. We in turn worry that his brethren there get their Korans, Islamic-correct diets, and thus we can preempt Sen. Durban from more libeling of our troops there as Nazis and worse.

Go to the Internet and there are dozens of jihadist terrorist videos that broadcast IED explosions showing American torn apart to triumphalist jihadist music. Yet we recoiled when Marine Gen. Mattis remarked “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil,” Mattis said. “You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.” Whatever one thinks of the General’s candor, his realism and audacity and spirit are precisely what is needed now, and we owe him a great deal of thanks for past, present, and future service in the most horrific of landscapes.

Iran’s Ahmadinejad is cheering crowds by promising a world without the United States, of wiping Israel off the map, or becoming a nuclear player in the Middle East. We respond by fighting among each other about our impolite snubbing of Iran, as if our mannered discourse with Mr. Ahmadinejad could have led him to see the errors of his fanatical ways.

And now we in the West worry whether Sunni dominated governments in the Middle East will blame us for allowing the elected government in Iraq unceremoniously to execute the savage thug Saddam Hussein. But these same moralists did not mind when these same governments said little when Saddam once butchered thousands—or even applauded his bounties to suicide murderers.

Lowering the Bar

So the great disconnect in this present war continues, one that tests whether a sophisticated affluent West that eschews violence and nobly professes its wish to evolve beyond war, capital punishment, and unilateral preemption can defeat an ideology that is openly reactionary and seeks to return to the primordial world of the 8th century when beheading, limb-lopping, sharia law, and half the population in burqas were normal.

This is now a boring topic since 9/11—our postmodern refinement and their premodern savagery. One final thought though. I used to hear people say “It will take another 9/11” to come to our senses about our real peril. Now in several gloomy conversations I hear instead, “It will take three or four 9/11s to …”

The Old Slur of Impotence

During our own Civil War the Confederate propagandists proclaimed that Yankee industrials and city dwellers were no match for Southern martial courage. They erred since there were more yeomen farmers in the North than in the old South—as William Tecumseh Sherman’ s Army of the West demonstrated as it split apart Georgia and the Carolinas.

Hitler and the Nazis, along with the Japanese imperialists, laughed that American ‘cowboys” and “gangsters” were not up to fighting fascism’s ideological warriors. But they erred too—not realizing that a generation who came out of the Great Depression knew something about sacrifice and hardship.

The Soviet Union and Mao’s China made a similar complaint about the running-dog capitalists who would rather profit than sacrifice for their ideas. But the World War II generation that had endured Normandy Beach, the Bulge, and Okinawa proved them wrong in Berlin, Korea, and Cuba. So when the Cold War ended Russia and China both ended up trying to emulate our success rather than we aping their failures.

Now that the jihadists have taken up the tired age-old cry that America can’t fight, they become more barbaric as we seek to remain refined. Will bin Laden, like those in the past, find himself severely mistaken?

The verdict is out—not on our military that, as pointed out, crushes like a bug any jihadist who climbs out of his hole—but on our citizenry in general. So far, when we used overwhelming force in deposing the Taliban and Saddam, or retaking Fallujah or routing the Mahdists we were successful. In contrast, every time we have temporized—first Fallujah or pardoning Sadr—we have emboldened our enemies by perceptions of weakness, not won over their hearts and minds through magnanimity.

The American way of war has never been to be vicious or savage. Rather past success was always found opposing slavery, fascism, communism, or extremism by explaining to our enemies the choices before them, and then using overwhelming force to preserve our culture and values. Let’s hope that the surge follows that pattern, as President Bush warns that the gloves are coming off, and new rules of engagement are now geared solely toward victory.

Military Solutions?

January 3rd, 2007 - 9:39 pm

Myths About the US Military

There is often voiced pessimism about our current military, to such a degree that it is termed broken or exhausted. But how true is that?

The traveler to Iraq is struck not by dearth, but opulence—everything imaginable from new SUVs to Eskimo Pies. Internet Service there was far faster than from my home in rural Fresno County.

So far recruitment levels are being met. No one in the military has warned that it is a bad idea to create more brigades of ground troops. Such a caveat about the current proposed expansion we would expect if we could not even meet our present manpower targets.

We have a tripartite military—air, sea, and ground. While the Marines and Army have rough going in Iraq, there have been very few Air Force and Navy material or human losses. Surely our air wings and ships are not “worn out” from patrolling in Iraq. There might be thousands of trashed humvees and worn out Bradleys, but not frigates, F-16s, or carriers. This is not 1943 when the US military was fighting in Sicily, as B-17s fell from the sky, as our merchant marine was under U-boat attack.

After Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Afghanistan, the mantra was that the Army and Marines were not getting their fair share of service in Rumsfeld’ revolution in military affairs that envisioned Special Forces on donkeys zeroing in GPS bombs from 20,000 feet onto clueless Taliban. But suddenly after a little more three years in Iraq, we are supposed to believe that a few thousand insurgents have “ruined” what until 2003 was an underused force? It would be interesting to trace the origins of this pessimism that now appears in the columns of op-ed pages: does it arise from tired and demoralized officers, or anti-war critics eager to see something again like the 1976 American military?

Does Experience Count for Anything?

But more importantly, few have asked more existential questions: are our ground forces better or worse prepared to fight jihadists than they were on September 11? At some point, the millions of hours of experience fighting Islamists from the Hindu Kush to Anbar Province must count for something. William Tecumseh Sherman’s frightening Army of the West that tramped through Washington DC in April 1865 made any Union force of 1861 seem pathetic by comparison—despite he tragic losses of thousands during the war.

Ruined and Then There Is Ruined!

In the past, there have been modern divisions of the American army that have been nearly ruined, but nothing of the sort has transpired in Iraq. Here one thinks of the 6th Marine Division that did the most gruesome fighting on Okinawa and suffered over 8,000 killed or wounded in less than 90 days—nearly half its original combat strength attrited in a single battle.

After 24 hours of fighting in the first day of the Bulge, the US 28th and 106th infantry divisions ceased to exist as effective combat units, with nearly half their soldiers killed, wounded, or captured. The 7th and 2nd infantry divisions that retreated from the Yalu River under attack by hundreds of thousands of Chinese communists were nearly decimated. To say that the American military is ruined after fighting in Iraq is preposterous by both present and past standards of combat losses.

So What’s Wrong?

What then is the problem since we are still fighting in both Afghanistan and Iraq after brilliant victories over the Taliban and Saddam Hussein?

Most obvious is the inability of our conventional forces to translate amazing tactical success in Afghanistan and Iraq into rapid strategic victory, a transition of establishing a stable postbellum government that requires everything from winning hearts and minds to inspired counter-insurgency. These questions about the transition from conventional to asymmetrical warfare always have nagged—why did the armies of Sherman and Grant who crushed nearly half-a-million Confederate soldiers in a little over a year from summer 1864 to spring 1865, not secure Reconstruction in 12 miserable years of failure, in the face of a few thousands Klansmen, and assorted night riders?

In the case of Iraq, when the easier conventional war ceased in victory after a few days, our generals (cf. Tommy Franks) simply retired. Political restrictions (pulling back from first Fallujah or allowing Moqtadar Sadr to be freed from his encirclement) hampered military options and projected a sense of perceived weakness. Too often retired generals simply blamed the present problem in establishing security on “too few troops”, as if Donald Rumsfeld alone had drawn up the plans of the invasion, or that an army that defeated Saddam Hussein in three weeks was inherently unable to squash an insurgency of far fewer combatants. And it is always easier to shoot a uniformed Republican Guard marksman than to pick out a terrorist from his ten brothers and sisters after his bomb attack on a US squad stringing telephone wire or painting schools.

It is now a cliché that there “is no military solution” in Iraq. But, in fact, the political solution—three successful elections and a constitutional government in place—has outpaced the military effort. What we need is a massive clamp-down on militias and terrorists to give the government confidence and public support, and that can’t be accomplished when we do not crush the terrorists, whether inside Iraq or flowing in from Syria and Iran.

The Same Old, Same Old.

Nothing that we see in Iraq is unique by any historical standards. Generals always rue that they have too few combat troops. Go back and read about Dwight D. Eisenhower’s complaints in late 1944, and the controversy over a “broad” and “narrow” front in approaching the Rhine. Patton raged about political constraints that stopped the 3rd Army from taking Prague, and the 1st from targeting Berlin. MacArthur was relieved over his inability to widen the war to target Chinese troop build-ups in Manchuria. Secretary of War Stanton interfered with Sherman’s administration of Savannah, despite the culmination of a brilliant March to the Sea. No need to mention Vietnam and the micromanaging of campaigns from the White House.

In short, the history of American ground operations is that troops are often sent into battle complaining of too few numbers, too many political constraints, and too vague objectives. We know all that is the unfortunate price to be paid in a democracy that reluctantly musters its forces, and has too many would-be military geniuses behind the lines that hamper smooth operations at the front. It has never been an American tradition to say, “There is the enemy, go do what you wish to win,” but rather “There is the enemy, these are the parameters under which you must operate to win.”

So what we do not need now is any more furor over the should’ve/could’ve/would’ve troop levels in 2003. Even when we talk of a “surge” the present disagreement is really over only about 30,000 additional troops in a coalition of nearly 180,000, that, along with Iraq Security Forces, reaches a total force of almost 500,000.

An Existential Question.

Thus the better question is why haven’t a half-million Iraqi and coalition troops been able to defeat at most 20,000-30,000 insurgents, especially when over 11 million Iraqis voted for their own democratic representatives? The answer is that the restrictive rules of engagement, the open borders to Iran and Syria, and the perception of American impotence have all combined to suggest to most Iraqis that the radical beheading/IEDing/kidnapping/assassinating minority within their midst will be running things in their neighborhood once the far larger, more static, far nicer, and far more restrained coalition troops dissolve or leave. People in advance always make the necessary adjustments to popular perceptions.

Avoir de l’audacité, toujours l’audacité, encore une fois l’audacité?

At some point it would be stunning for a US military official to step forward, and assure victory. No more acrimony over what should have, could have or might have been. No more retired generals talking to reporters at midnight “off the record”, or appearing as “unnamed senior military official” in the footnotes of the latest journalistic expose about Iraq. No more complaints about had Paul Bremmer not, had Donald Rumsfeld not, had Tommy Franks not, but rather something instead like: “Here is how we are going to defeat the jihadists”.

Most Americans do not want to hear any more suggestions from the Iraqi Study Group, anymore meae culpae from John Kerry or Hillary Clinton about how they were brainwashed by faulty intelligence, or any more assessments of the war from moralists and geniuses like Donald Trump and Bill Maher.

Instead, we need to hear from the very top echelon of the American military, that despite all the roadblocks put in their way, and the difficulty of the present task (it isn’t easy to secure a democracy in the heart of the ancient caliphate surrounded by Khomeinist Iran, Wahhabist Saudi Arabia, and Baathist Syria), that they will defeat these insurgents—and here’s how they plan to do it.

Somewhere in the US military right now is a Grant, Sherman, Patton, Ridgeway, or Abrams, who has been shouting and we haven’t been listening. Now is the time to let them come forward—as they have always arisen from obscurity in past American wars when their nation’s hour of need has come.