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Works and Days

What Do They Want in Iraq?

August 1st, 2007 - 4:07 pm

Gen. Obama

The problem with opposition senators like Obama running for President calling for tough military action—in this case going into Pakistan—is twofold: he has no fides after wanting to get out asap from Iraq and opposing much of the post 9/11 legislation that has helped to keep us safe. And two, and far more importantly, he is a US Senator after all, and has had plenty of time to introduce legislation authorizing the invasion of a sovereign country. Anything less and it is just theatrical politics.

What the Left is Thinking?

A frequently asked question recently has been something like the following: do you think the Democratic Left really wishes us to lose in Iraq? Or how can you explain the overwhelming emphasis by the liberal media and politicians on Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo and the relative neglect of medal-winners in Iraq?

I think the answers are something like the following. The liberal Democratic leadership believes that Iraq can fail, thereby repudiating the Bush doctrine and the current war on terror, discrediting conservative candidates at large, teaching the American people about the limits of empire and foreign adventurism, restoring humility to foreign policy, ushering in a Democratic renaissance under which higher taxes, more entitlements, and greater government intervention promote egalitarianism and ‘correct’ the past mistakes of the unenlightened electorate—and do so without serious or lasting harm to their nation’s security.

Indeed, in this defeatist view, the take-over of liberal government following flight might well be salutary in showing the world that the US has learned its lessons from Iraq, now elected the right people, and promises never again to commit such mistakes. The cost in blood and treasure was never worth the supposed goal of a constitutional Iraq, and the money would have been better spent on social programs at home that promote the general welfare of poorer Americans.

So in that sense, yes, I believe a great number of liberal politicians, journalists, and academicians think it would not be so bad if the US failed, pulled out of Iraq, repealed the anti-terror legislation that followed 9/11, and accepted their own liberal critique for such failure. As far as the recognition that thousands of Americans have died in Afghanistan and Iraq for the idea of offering an alternative other than jihadism and dictatorship that would enhance the security of the region and of the United States, I think it just doesn’t register against the “higher good” brought on by withdrawal and admission of defeat.


A Recommended Book

I’m currently reading the galley proofs of Robert Kaplan’s latest installment about his multiyear visits with the US military across the globe—Hog Pilots, and Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Ground (available this September).

It is by far his best volume of the series (Kaplan did everything from fly a B-2 to ride Humvees to desolate posts in the arid interior of Africa), and offers an encouraging assessment of how well we have done in the last three years in the war against terror, from Africa to the Philippines.

Kaplan once more strikes again a populist chord, namely that our NCOs and junior officers in the field are the best America has to offer—bright, educated, and pragmatic without the pretensions of our blue-chip graduates. His persuasive argument is that a relatively small investment in such a cadre of highly educated troops brings untold dividends in global good will—and damage to al Qaeda. We owe him a great deal of gratitude: at risk to his person he has managed to travel the world in search of obscure US military outposts, this time including naval and air stations, and demolishes the canard of an imperialistic America backing up dictators and thugs for narrow material interests.


Surging

Should Gen. Petraeus be given a full year he may well give enough confidence to the Iraqis that they themselves finally can begin to protect their constitutional achievement. In the manner of a broken record, for over a year now, I have been warning that the Democrats should be wary about their Pavlovian opposition to our efforts in Iraq—after a majority of their own legislators authorized the war—since the rhetoric might come back to haunt them.

And it may be beginning to, since they have boxed themselves into a position in which any good news is de facto bad news to their announced anti-war policies and candidacies—regardless of the national security interests of their country. The last time this occurred—1974-5—Democrats later suffered for their rhetoric and cut-offs, and for a quarter-century. To this day it is no accident that no Democratic President has been elected without a Southern accent since JFK—the rest (McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, Kerry) all appearing incapable of projecting a sense of US confidence and strength. The successfully elected Carter and Clinton relied heavily on their Southern-sounding fides, and (purported) support for the military.

Note in this regard the careful Clintonian triangulation: damn the Patriot Act, renditions, wire-tapping, Iraq, etc. but never to the extent of cutting off funds for such efforts (that just may have succeeded in keeping us safe from another 9/11). She is the proverbial pied piper, whose song of woe helps to lead the other Democratic lemmings to the abyss at which point she steps aside and lets them tumble over.

Sierra Redux

Last week I was hiking again in the Kaiser National Wilderness in an ongoing effort to visit most of the peaks and trails of the area, this time taking a ferry across Florence Lake and walking along the banks of the upper fork of the San Joaquin River for about seven or so miles, past the John Muir Ranch.

Once again I noticed the complete absence of vacationers in lakes and areas that were once commonly visited (I spent a week with my parents camping out at Florence in 1961 when there were more visitors than now). The roads are worse than they were 45 years ago, the camping facilities no better, and the government attitude far less welcoming. The result is an insidious public withdrawal from our wilderness heritage, and a sort of deliberate rusting of our facilities to discourage use.

But one is struck how vast the wild is and how beneficial it might be to contemporary youth to drop the video console and, for at least a weekend, hike, fish, and camp in the outdoors—if for no other reason than physical fitness and to develop a reverence for America’s forests and outdoors.

The few types I met in the High Sierra this summer were mostly the elite from the California coast, many of them Sierra Club members and other self-appointed and well-intended custodians of the wild. But from talking with many of them, I gathered their idea of a national treasure was a rather remote untouched preserve, visited by educated and affluent magnificos such as themselves, who visited no more than once or twice a year, but championed its sanctuary status daily from a distance. Anwar is the ultimate expression of that attitude, in which it is far better apparently that a Russia despoil the Siberian wilderness to put its petrol on the world market than for us to reduce our need by, if only in part symbolically, developing our own oil carefully and sensibly.

There hikers had not much interest in making trails more accessible to the millions who live nearer the mountains, who do not have the capital or education or expertise to navigate easily our present national parks and wilderness. Nor did they care much about the store owners, pack companies, and guides who make a living making the wilderness accessible.

In this regard, I was fascinated by a four-wheel drive “road” of sorts from the backside of Florence to the Muir Ranch, about five miles of absolutely inaccessible granite, woods, and streams. And yet almost daily a small used military four-wheel drive transport truck (with several crawler gears and locked wheels) brings out trash from a few campers, packers, and guests, and then trucks back in supplies, at no more than one or two miles an hour and on unbelievable inclines.

I finally paused on the trail, resolved to meet the sort of person who could drive such a contraption, and was rewarded by seeing the driver. We talked for a bit, and he seemed the sort of ideal custodian of the forests, who was brave enough to tackle the road, wanted others to enjoy the environs, but was absolutely committed to its preservation.

Likewise, if one visits the coast of Alaska, as I did this week, the overwhelming sense is one of vast size, solitude and natural forces that dwarf man—not environmental desecration. The point of all this is that we have a created a sort of natural religion for those who treat our wildernesses as churches rather than classrooms that can impart a much needed wisdom to an increasingly clueless generation.

The final irony? The best way for the Sierra Club to avoid becoming something like an esoteric cloister is to promote greater use of our parks: with public contact, comes reverence; while civic disdain is the companion of ignorance of and inexperience with nature.

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