Work and Days

Everything Upside Down

Basra wasn’t Tet because Tet wasn’t “Tet”

Just a month ago, pundits (cf. Frank Rich’s mid-April New York Times article) were writing off the violence in Basra—especially rocket and mortar attacks on the Green Zone—as Tet, 1968. But of course it wasn’t. And not just because Americans, in a spike of violence, lost 52 in April—not the some 1500 during Tet (depending on how one defines the length of the campaign).

That said, Tet was an impressive American victory, not a defeat—in Saigon, Hue, and Khe Sanh—in which the North Vietnamese broke the armistice, attacked with thousands of troops and lost nearly 50,000, surrendering control of the South Vietnamese countryside for over a year. The North Vietnamese after the war admitted the extent of the disaster they suffered—and the propaganda victory they achieved.

The chief problem in Iraq has been the fragility of the Anbar awakening, and concern that the tribal chiefs will revert in anger at the fact that the Iranian-back militias have either taken control of, or are immune from, the Maliki Shiite-dominated government. For Iraq to survive, the Sunnis to participate, and Iran to lose influence, there had to be some sort of Shiite government cleaning up of Basra and turning on Sadr and his thugs. That has happened, and while we might not have liked the timing, its resolution is necessary for Iraq to stabilize.

Basra, then, was hardly a Tet, but then Tet wasn’t a “Tet” either.

The War about the War

With the publication of Gen. Sanchez’s memoirs we are now fighting the book war over the real war, remembering that Gen. Franks, Doug Feith (by far the best documented), Paul Bremmer, and a host of others have already weighed in. Of course, “not me, him” is the theme, but there is nothing new here either. From 1865 to 1890 Union and Confederate generals refought Shiloh (cf. poor Gen. Lew Wallace), Gettysburg (poor Longstreet), and almost every campaign of the war. The same was true of WWII, as the memoirs of Eisenhower, Bradley (two versions no less!), Montgomery, and the notes and letters of Patton, were all mutually contradictory—as Falaise, the halt at the Rhine, Arnhem, and the Bulge were all blamed on someone else. And the position and status of postbellum writers always matter. (Nothing is sadder than Gen. Wallace’s entreaties to ex-President Grant to give him the benefit of the doubt about the mix-up at Shiloh). The Eisenhower Presidency and the longevity of Bradley meant that the mainstream narrative of a reckless, uncouth Patton was pretty much standard—not the truer account of a sophisticated, widely-read, sober and judicious thinker, who was right on his views of Falaise, Arnhem, and the Bulge.

What happened in Iraq won’t be known for years—and the judgment will hinge on whether we insure the continuance of the democratic government there, or abandon it and the country sinks into chaos.


Think of all the weird changes we have witnessed the last few months:

The liberal media suddenly flipped and now apparently hate the Clintons far more than the ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’ ever did. In fact, they seem to be trumping all the arguments of duplicity and disingenuousness made between 1997-2000. One wonders whether, if they now acknowledge that they were wrong about Clinton then, some day in the future they will likely turn on Obama?

Race: the Clintons went from the “first black” co-Presidency to openly talking about catering to the “white” vote; likewise, the first “transracial” candidate went from “bring us together” to “typical white person” and white working classes clinging to guns and religion—and garnering 95% of the African-American vote. No one can think that defining oneself in racial terms first is not a dangerous and reprehensible trend, and can never be liberal, no matter how many liberals subscribe to it. The proverbial chickens came home to roost this election, and it is eerie to see liberal Democrats on both sides of the issues split along racial lines, implictly encouraged to do so by two “liberal” candidates.

John McCain went from the darling bipartisan moderate of the press to being portrayed as a foaming right-wing nut, supposedly too old and too tempermental.

Hillary went from the hard-left, elitist half of the Clinton team to a blue-collar, pant-suited, beer-drinking everywoman—and after she loses back to what?

Bill Clinton lost any gravitas he had so carefully sought to reclaim after the pardons, Monica, the asleep-at-the-wheel reactions to terrorism, etc., going from the star of the jet-setters at Davos to speaking to tiny unconvinced audiences in North Carolina.

Meanwhile gas hits $4 a gallon and there is no chance of a grand compromise in which conservatives further increase mileage standards and solar/wind subsidies in exchange for the far more important concession from liberals to drill in ANWR, our coasts, build refineries, as well as clean-burning coal and nuclear power plants.

A Final Note: Flying, Take #5

After doing more flying this week, I realize that 99% of the problems are caused by 1% of the passengers. And yet, given the squeeze of seats, lack of storage space, and long lines, just one or two persons can do a lot of damage.

While boarding, on yesterday’s flight, a 30-something woman, with a 4-5 year old in tow (along with two enormous carry-ons) in Zone 5, suddenly cut in (“My daughter must go to the bathroom, right now!”). Most murmured that she should go off down the hallway before boarding, but nevertheless she and her bags cut in and went onto the gangway.

Then once on board, she blocked the aisle for 2-3 minutes with her cell-phoning. Then she went against the aisle boarding traffic to get to the first class on-plane bathroom, again delaying boarding for some 150 people. Then once in the air, she gets up and pulls out an oversize carry-on to find her book (rummaging through the bag on the aisle floor). Then she asks the stewardess for various snack boxes and pulls out a $50 bill.

I won’t go on, but you get the picture that planes and their use are fragile, and a single miscreant can put them all out of kilter, ruin the mood of dozens, and delay even more appointments.

I never understood why the supposedly lax government has all sort of rules you dare not break at the security check-in; while the supposedly tough private sector enforces none of its own.