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Works and Days

Rumsfeld, Webb—and Being careful about what you wish for

November 8th, 2006 - 9:07 pm

Vaya Con Dios, Rummy!

Here is the record of Donald Rumsfeld. (1) Tried to take a top-heavy Pentagon and prepare it for the wars of the postmodern world, in which on a minute’s notice thousands of American soldiers, with air and sea support, would have to be sent to some god-awful place to fight some savagery—and then be trashed live on CNN for doing it; (2) less than a month after 9/11 he organized the retaliation against al Qaeda in the heart of primordial Afghanistan that removed the Taliban in 7 weeks, when we were all warned that the U.S., like the British and Russians of old, would fail; (3) oversaw the removal of Saddam in 3 weeks—after the 1991 Gulf War and the 12-years of 350,000 sorties in the no-fly-zones, and various bombing strikes, had failed. (4) Ah, you say, then there is the disastrous 3-year insurgency—too few troops, Iraqi army let go, underestimated “dead-enders” etc.?

But Rumsfeld knew that in a counterinsurgency (cf. Vietnam 1965-71) massive deployments only ensure complacency, breed dependency, and create resentment, and that, in contrast, training indigenous forces, ensuring political autonomy, and providing air and commando support (e.g., Vietnam circa 1972-4) is the only answer—although that is a long process that can work only if political support at home allows the military to finish the job (cf. the turn-of-the-century Philippines, and the British in Malaysia). He was a good man, and we were lucky to have him in our hour of need.

James Webb

I received a lot of angry private email objecting to a pre-election syndicated column I wrote for Tribune Media Services, in which I criticized the Allen campaign’s attack on Webb’s shocking passages in some of his novels, along with the lamentable trend to confuse fiction with reality (http://victorhanson.com/articles/hanson110606.html.) I thought the Allen tact was both silly and wrong to equate a novelist with his literary characters, especially in wartime landscapes where realism is essential to a chronicle of battle and its effects on men.

I also wrote that Webb had led an exemplary life, and it might be a good change to have a novelist as a Senator. I know the campaign was cruel on both sides, but it was both an ethical and practical mistake to go after the veteran Webb on his literary characterizations, especially when his record of public service had long ago proved that he was a principled person. If the Democrats are to recapture any stature as a serious party, it will be because of moderates like Webb, whom I have always respected and admired. So no apologies here.

Be careful of what you wish for

Liberals used to deplore realists—a James Baker (“F*** the Jews” or “Jobs, jobs, jobs”), a Brent Scowcroft (letting the Shiites and Kurds get mowed down by helicopter gunships in late February/early March 1991), or George Bush Senior shaking down the Japanese et al. to pay for the first Gulf War and then leaving Saddam in power to “balance” Iran. But now with Baker and Gates sort of back, and apparent greater reliance on the first Bush’s realism, it will be interesting to see what the Democrats in the House will do—especially if there is a realist-Right and anti-war Left convergence that gives up on Iraq and comes home.

Weird Politics

Since 9/11 I have been fascinated by the Nation/American Conservative affinities—and especially how the “Don’t Support Dictators” abroad protests of the 1960s morphed into a sort of ‘See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya’ about Iraq (cf. Sen. Rockefeller’s statement that the world was better off with Saddam or liberal Dan Rather’s postwar lamentation that it was quieter driving in Baghdad when he used to interview Saddam). Equally interesting is the smash up when multiculturalism (e.g., no culture can be any worse than the West) hits the right-wing, fascistic agenda of Islamic fundamentalism. What an “Other” or “People of Color” Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood are!

I thought something was haywire in the late 1990s when I spoke on California campuses and would see the Hamas booths in the free-speech plazas—right next to the usual 1960s-style teach-ins where Chicanos, blacks, Native Americans, women, etc. handed out pamphlets and megaphoned on American sins. So how did anti-Semitism, gender apartheid, religious intolerance, homophobia, and suppression of free expression synchronize with these groups’ complaints against supposed American fascism?

But it is not just Leftists who are getting what they wished for, but a lot of the neoconservatives as well. It may be that true, as one pundit wrote, that Mark Steyn and myself are about the only two left that both support the war—despite the mistakes—and Rumsfeld in general. But after reading for three years from almost every neoconservative pundit that Rumsfeld should go, they now will get their wish. The only problem is that Gates is more a Baker-realist than a neo-Wilsonian. I suggest they go back and read The Generals’ War or Crusade and review the discussions about not going to Baghdad. That decision, whether right or wrong, was based entirely on realpolitik, not thousands of Iraqis who rose up on our call to overthrow Saddam. Now it might have been defensible not to go to Baghdad in 1991(I would disagree: it was a terrible mistake), but was abjectly amoral to call for insurrection, and then when Kurds and Shiites took us at our word, to have abandoned them.

Oh California, I Barely Knew You!

A frequently asked question: “How can you live in California with the political insanity?” And my usual answer, “I couldn’t live anywhere else.” This last week I stayed in the mountains at Huntington Lake (ca. 7,000 feet). It was bright blue, about 70 degrees, and the lake and forest absolutely deserted. I have traveled in the mountains of Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and the highlands of Greece and Turkey, and nothing is more beautiful than the Sierra corridor from Yosemite to Sequoia. It is almost a freak of nature—that in an hour you can drive straight up from the Valley floor and be in another world. Or on a clear day from up at Kaiser Pass see the Coast Range 100 miles away—and be in San Francisco or Santa Cruz after a four-hour drive.

One of the last things my 86-year-old grandfather told me—he lived in this house from 1890-1976 and had inherited it from his grandmother who built it in 1871—was “to thank God every day that we live in such a beautiful place.” He meant the vineyards between Fresno and Visalia, and the Central Coast where he had a tiny cabin at Morro Bay that he co-owned with 10 other farmers (he sold his share in the 1970s for $2,000). At 23 I thought that his adulation for his native state was parochial (In my conceit I was puffed up for having left the farm and lived a year in Greece and seen much of the Mediterranean), and also blinkered, since Rees Davis had only been to New Mexico once. But now I realize, as in most other things, he was right all along: the natural environment of California is an aberration, especially the 100-mile proximity of a long-coastline, Mediterranean hills, enormous interior valley, and high Andes-like mountains. Our state’s tragedy, of course, is that so often we have not lived up to what nature gave us, or at least what generations past bequeathed.

It is dangerous to be a laudator temporis acti I grant, but California between 1955 and 1970 was a magical place, full of can-do idealism about the UC system, and its new campuses at Irvine and Santa Cruz, the freeway systems like the new I-5 north-to-south route, and modern airports at LA and SF, the dams and hydoelectric grid, the part-time state Legislature, and the commitment to the melting pot.These days we can hardly add a third lane to a highway someone else built, and talk about blowing up dams not building them. LAX is a disaster; so is UC Merced. And what we used to invest in infrastructure, we now pay out in entitlements and then borrow for minimum maintenance on what our grandfathers created.

And the most disturbing fact? That such a lapse is no accident, but simply a collective reflection on my own generation. After all, when I compare my parents and grandparents–their hard work, self-sacrifice, courage, suffering, and investment for others-to the record of their own progeny (i.e., my generation of this 6th-generation California family), then sadly it all becomes clear. And I am sure other Californians can do the same: ponder their grandparents’ lives versus their own, and then, presto!, comprehend the fate of their state the last fifty years.

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