Work and Days

The Will of the President

When Winston Churchill was ushered in as Prime Minister after the invasion of France in May 1940, the consensus was that he alone had correctly seen the real Hitler, and that he alone would stand fast in the face of calls for negotiations for a peace offering the status quo, and that he would rally the nation for the horrors ahead–and they were plenty from Dunkirk and Tobruk to the fall of the Singapore and catastrophe in the Asia.

So too it was with Lincoln earlier–who alone withstood the calls for either armistice or surrender after Antietam and the terrible summer of 1864–and Truman later in Korea who left office with about 25% approval rating. And from 1938-1941 only the will of Franklin Roosevelt withstood the isolationists and worse (remember the pressures for neutrality between August 1939 to June 1941 from the opportunistic American Left after the Hitler-Stalin non-aggression Pact.), and supplied England with Lend-Lease, rebuilt the US Navy, began conscription, and tried to restore defense spending.

In all these cases, it is hard to see without a Lincoln, Churchill, FDR, or Truman, how civilization would have withstood the forces of chattel slavery, fascism, or communism. So too in our own time. Whatever one says about George W. Bush, it is not at all clear that an Al Gore would have gone to Afghanistan after 9/11. And despite the acrimony over Iraq (a war sanctioned in October 2002 by a majority of Democratic Senators, and supported by 75% of the populace when Saddam’s statue fell), almost any other politician would long ago have bailed on the enterprise—given the unprecedented level of slurs. Each day another low point is reached–to kill George Bush by now has been the subject of a Broadway Play, late-night comedy, an Alfred Knopf Novel, and recently a new British docu-drama.

And yet here we are, 5 years after 9/11 without another attack, and struggling democracies fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I have no confidence that Mr. Bush’s approval ratings will return to 50%, but a great deal that history will look kindly on his resolve. And while I can fathom the hysterical Left’s hatred of him, and perhaps even the crazy attacks from the paleo-right, what is inexplicable and unpardonable is the venom from the neocon erstwhile supporters of Iraq.

Truly shameful are those who have abandoned the President, and yet who once called, as early as 1998, for the removal of Saddam Hussein. No other President would have granted their wishes, and yet, once casualties climbed, we were told there were too few troops, or that Mr. Rumsfeld must go, or that we should go on to Iran or Syria, or that the army was wrongly disbanded, or some such pretext that justified their disdain at Iraq, either overtly or implicitly–all while some 130,000 troops fought in the field. The point is not whether errors were committed, and needed to be addressed, but only whether they were of such an unprecedented magnitude, or were so willfully ignored, as to justify renunciation of previous support in the midst of a shooting war.

Total all the mistakes in Iraq–and they are legion– and they do not match a month’s folly in WWII (cf. the daylight B-17 missions of 1943, the early torpedo scandal of US submarines, the shortcomings of the Sherman Tank, the Kasserine Pass, the lit-up cities along the Eastern seaboard that facilitated U-boat carnage, the surprise at the Bulge, the intelligence failures about the hedgerows, and on and on) or Korea (the surprise at the Yalu, the lack of winter gear in the retreat, the surprise at the efficacy of the Mig-15, the Korean- prisoner fiasco, or the ossification at the 38th parallel when momentum was once again with us, etc.). Who made such blunders and more? Men like Arnold, Bradley, Eisenhower, Halsey, MacArthur, Marshall, and more in the pantheon of now deified generals.

The truth is that war is a constant ying and yang, of challenge and response, the side winning that reacts the more quickly to change and commits the fewer mistakes–and keeps its head. So far, by any historical standard of casualties lost, the ambition of the mission (Iraq is 7,000 miles and the home of the ancient caliphate), and success gained, this war is hardly a debacle and surely can be won. But it would have been lost years ago, had George Bush once, just once, listened to his litany of critics (pull out, postpone the elections, post a timetable, go to the UN, more troops still, invade Iran or Syria, trisect the country) watched the polls, or in depression at the venom, given in. We need to take a breath and remember that.