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Works and Days

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.

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