Work and Days

Don't Give Up

On Losing

Sometimes no comment is needed. So it was of Vietnam when victorious Col. Bui Tin later remarked that that the American Left was “essential to our strategy.” He elaborated to the Wall Street Journal: “Every day our leadership would listen to world news over the radio at 9AM to follow the growth of the antiwar movement.”

And Tin added that anti-war activists, “Gave us confidence that we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses. We were elated when Jane Fonda, wearing a red Vietnamese dress, said at a press conference that she was ashamed of American actions in the war.”*

So now read the official al Qaida response to Sen. Harry Reid’s declaration that the war is lost:

“This comes on the heels of an important statement by House Majority Leader Harry Reid who previously said, “The Iraqi war is hopeless and the situation in Iraq is same as it was in Vietnam.”

Then came Bush’s stupid statement where he emphasized that his strategic goal in Iraq is more than a military victory but also to prevent the Mujahideen from benefiting from the fruits of the Jihad to ultimately achieve victory.

This is how the cross worshipping occupiers and their henchmen live. Their morale continues to collapse as the result of the increasing strikes of the Mujahideen, carried out by the grace of Allah. From downing their aircraft to penetrating their fortified Green Zone and targeting the heads of apostasy and agents, all this has pushed the American army to repeat what it did in Vietnam.”

Vietnam Redux

How odd that the ongoing evocation of Vietnam by the Left in connection with Iraq has proven silly in every aspect—we’ve lost 5% of the fatalities of the Vietnam War, have been in Iraq as third as long, have witnessed a popularly-elected government in place, are fighting primordial reactionary religious fundamentalists—except one: the reoccurring liberal effort to cut-off funds and end American support for a consensual government. If this succeeds, so will follow the Vietnam-era sequelae: mass exodus, mass killing, American humiliation, and regional realignment with the winners. Who would want that—and why?

What Mistakes?

Everyone talks about key mistakes in the war—the disbanding of the Iraqi army, Abu Ghraib, the proconsulship of Paul Bremmer, the sending of too few troops, etc. I don’t want to concentrate on these old questions and old debates, and have already written about most of them. But there seems to me to have been five critical and pivotal crises that were turning-points of sorts, and have been left relatively unmentioned, both in and beyond our power.

1. The decision of Turkey on March 5th-6th 2003, just days before the invasion, to deny some 60,000 American troops, including the 4th ID Mechanized Division, passage into northern Iraq. Such a simultaneous north and south approach would have brought thousands of Americans in the very first few days of the war right down into Anbar Province, the heart of the later insurrection.

2. The resignation of Tommy Franks as Centcom Commander in July 2003, just as the insurrection was starting. I think his successor Gen. Abizaid was by far the more gifted commander, but the departure of the most senior theater commander a little more than 60 days after the fall of Saddam’s statue, to seek a lucrative post-Army speaking and writing career, gave the wrong impression: he was to be praised for winning Iraq and then retired just as the supposed achievement was increasingly in question. Again, it gave the demoralizing impression that Franks was getting out of town before the proverbial something hit the fan, a sense reiterated when newly appointed Gen. Abizaid almost immediately announced for the first time that we were facing a classic insurgency.

3. The April 18, 2004 decision by the new Zapatero government in Madrid to withdraw Spanish troops. It wasn’t the number or capability of such an ally that mattered. Rather the Madrid train bombing toppled the Aznar government, and then proved that such terrorism could not only end a Prime Ministership, but, worse, force a nation to flee Iraq in fear—which only gave the jihadists more credibility and set the stage for more efforts to fracture the coalition.

4. The April 2004 assault on Fallujah, abrupt cessation, and then turning security over to the so-called Fallujah Brigade. That initially successful assault, and then subsequent withdrawal, gave the impression of American weakness, and worse, that our military efficacy could be nullified by over concern for pre-election public relations. When Fallujah later became a “no-go” zone sanctuary for bomb-making and terrorists rearmament, the stage was set for another, more costly siege, and a permanent impression that we talked toughed but carried a little stick.

5. The reprieve in August-September 2004 given to Moqtadar Al-Sadr when his Mahdi army was surrounded and nearly crushed. By letting him go, we took all the criticism for confronting him, and yet ensured that he would come back emboldened for years to come, reassured that even in extremis he would always have a pardon.

I don’t know whether at present our effort in Iraq would be far easier had we barreled down from Turkey in the very beginning, or had Franks at least stayed on through the insurgency and apprised his staff of its significance, or Spain defiantly stayed on and set an example of an imperviousness to blackmail, or had we crushed those in Fallujah the first time, or eliminated Sadr, but all that couldn’t have hurt.

The Candidates

On the one-hand the Republican candidates are in large part older, with a history of illness (Giuliani, McCain, and Thompson have all had some sort of cancer), and at times appear less hale, but are talking tough (cf. Giuliani’s comments about the Democrats’ acceptance of defeat, and McCain’s “get a life” retort to Murtha).

But the younger and more robust Democrats reveal how inexperience is equally problematic. Fresh-faced John Edwards (of “two-nations” fame), we learn, lives in a 30,000 sq. ft home with a special (“John’s room”) yuppie sanctuary for the candidate’s relaxation, while he worries about the poor (between getting $400 haircuts). Hillary Clinton, now for the third time, adopts a strange imitation Black southern slang in front of African-Americans, a patois between a Wellesley nasal preppie and someone who prepped twang-talking in Arkansas for a few years, while Mr. Obama worries that the slaughter at Virginia Tech has something to do with outsourcing and Imus. It should be an interesting campaign.

Outtake # 13—No Man A Slave

The end of the novel. Melon walks to Thebes to witness the trial of Epaminondas. But the general is summarily acquitted, and he now heads northward—but spies Melon on the road

Melon walked Xiphos off the road. He sat under an old oak with new spring leaf to let the band pass by. He had come without a spear, much less his heavy breastplate. Indeed, for all his brag to the hooded Pelopidas he lacked even a knife. Melon certainly had no desire to try the lame Xiphos against this new horde of horsemen.

The riders halted right where Melon had left the road.

But this time there were no hoods and Melon saw Epaminondas at the head of the throng, proud and sitting erect on his pony. He yelled at them as he sat beneath his shade tree.

“You are not even back a month. Once more your riders dash up to Helikon, to tear folks from their farms and fill their heads with talk of three-day-rations and campfires. But I hear that jurymen of Boiotia have decided not to cut your throat or crush your head with the sharp stones, Theban. Instead you will end your days by the fire. With wine and your dog as you sing to the Thebans of freedom and the helots.”

“No,no, lazy man, sitting here behind these trees. I leave today to Thessaly in the north. You know the story of wasps and their nests and the head of the snake better now than I. I will put those folk down up there that would have us fight them even as we plan to battle others again to the south.”

He may have been on his horse and in a hurry, but the general kept smiling not at his reprieve but at the cure of the once lost Melon. “They still talk up north of our sinister plots of Pythagoras, and of their sadness at the end of Sparta. They threaten us with nemesis. Yes, they cry that their own serfs, the penestai, have been stirred up by the evil Epaminondas. And they say up north that I favor the sheep and dogs and other unfree folk to walk with heads higher than the freemen of Hellas. And they say, they say we have left a democracy for children and worse that loot and kill with their freedom that their wayward parents left them. Yes, yes, they charge we opened the playpen and then went home as toddlers destroyed what we gave. So no, I will not sit by the fire in Thebes and spin the tall tales about our past glory. Why would I when I have unfinished affairs as well the next harvest back down in the Peloponnese? Or have you forgotten that Agesilaos and the son of Lichas, that Antikrates have lived too long, and that oily ingrate Lykomedes bears us a grudge for too many good turns”

Melon laughed, “Folk like you always have unfinished affairs some where—you won’t let yourself or anyone else relax and enjoy the leisure of peace.”

Then quite unexpectedly Epaminondas reined around his horse, and turned it to ride on past Helikon to the pass at Chaironeia. He paused as he passed by, “So we will see you Melon, after all, next time? Yes, on our next march to the south to set things right again in Messenê. And we will deal with Mantineia, yes, when we muster in the pines over Kithairon next spring?”

Even more to his own surprise, Melon did not pause but even louder shouted back, as the cured patient to his doctor, “When the wheat is in ear, then I come down to meet you. Or maybe even earlier on the marching yard of Thebes. We will have a far better descent than the first, my general,. In the spring rather than the dead of winter. Always I follow you,. To Hades and back if need be. You’re my Orpheus.”

Melon laughed at his own words. But he would march and more than once. Finally the Thespian knew, said this now out loud to all, that Epaminondas had brought him back into the world of men, and given him a soul worth saving that he could not afford to lose twice.”We will march again.”

His general was not surprised at all by that final outburst from the quiet Thespian, but finished, “That we will, Melon, first citizen of Hellas, that we will.” Then Epaminondas bent over a little from his horse, two men clasped arms, and the riders were gone through the orchard shadows.


* Corrected: I orignally used a source for this quote that wrongly identified Gen. Giap as the speaker, when in fact it was a subordinate, Col. Tin who worked on the North Vietnamese Army general staff, and spoke in 1995 to Stephen Young in a Wall Street Journal interview. Gen. Giap is quoted often, but not always accurately, and his various memoirs have surprisingly little to say about the Americans during the Vietnam War, though he saw that Tet was a success not in military terms (it was in fact a terrible defeat), but in the ensuing political demoralization back in the United States: “And [after Tet] the Americans had to back down and come to the negotiating table, because the war was not only moving into the cities, to dozens of cities and towns in South Vietnam, but also to the living rooms of Americans back home for some time. And that’s why we could claim the achievement of the objective.” I owe thanks to a reader who pointed out that Giap was not the North Vietnamese officer who offered this assessment of the anti-war movement.