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October 25, 2004

Willpower (Push-Posting)

Pardon me for pushing this up in the queue so it posts today, but it's been a while since I've posted anything close to substantive. It's not the greatest essay, but I think it's worth reading, and I'm annoyed I printed it on my least-read day (Saturday).

If the United States chooses to cut and run in Iraq, then we are all but finished as a military power in the world. We have the best trained, best equipped, and highest-spirited troops in the entire world. But the soft underbelly of the military has always been the public's willingness to actually fight and prevail in a difficult struggle.

It must be pointed out that, despite all the bad headlines and gnashing of teeth from Henny Penny's like Andrew Sullivan, the Iraqi insurgents are offering our troops a token resistance. By that I do not mean they do not kill our troops. Of course the do. And to a family who has lost a beloved son or daughter, there is no such thing as a token resistance. I cannot grieve like the families of the lost grieve for their loved ones, but I do feel the pain of war, at least as much as a stranger can.

But nevertheless the Iraqi terrorists are not actually fighting a war that can be won in military terms. They dare not attack our troops in force; they have no conceivable plan to attrit our forces or our supplies anywhere near close to our capacity to replace them. The "war" they fight is not one of winning ground, or winning battles. It's of winning hearts and minds, as it were, or at least capturing them-- and by killing a thousand of our brave soldiers in a year, they have succeeded beyond my expectations.

Certainly they have captured the heart and mind of Andrew Sullivan (the most influential man in America, bar none). And they have captured the hearts and minds of John Kerry, John Edwards, and nearly the entirety of the Democratic Party, both leadership and membership.


I've known, as so many others of course did, that the key to this fight would not be our military's ability to execute effectively, and often brilliantly, but to prevent, or at least delay, the American public's quasi-Spanish impulse to cut and run and "declare victory" if confronted with anything more difficult than, say, the first Gulf War. Of course the first Gulf War was not easy; our troops fought the fourth-largest army in the world then. But that war was quick and decisive and -- especially given the number of troops involved -- involved very few casualites at all.

But what would happen if we had to face an enemy that could not be defeated in 100 hours? What then?

I had hoped that this country would rise to the challenge, and perhaps it still will. Certainly there are those who understand the stakes in this battle, and the catastrophe that would flow from a defeat. But it does seem that 40% of the population -- and perhaps 50-55% -- have no stomach whatsoever for any war that involves more than 100 hours and/or 100 American war dead.

One question I've posed to Andrew Sullivan -- although he's avoided answering it, or even acknowledging it -- is this: If you were only a supporter of this war given the assumption that it would be very brief and almost casualty-free, what the hell were you doing supporting the war in the first place? That is an extraodinarily irresponsible and naive position to take. If a war is not very important -- so unimportant that it only should be fought if we can secure a decisive victory within 100 hours and with only 100 men dead -- then that, Mr. Sullivan, is a war that should not be fought, and you had no business -- none -- adding whatever rhetorical fire you could muster to the debate.

What on earth did you think you were doing urging the nation into a war that you would only continue supporting under the most blithely-optimistic of conditions?

Sullivan is not a warhawk. He's a bird of paradise. And that's far worse.

There is no question that this war is tougher than I imagined, or than most imagined. But the truth of the matter is that I -- and many other less frivolous hawks than Sullivan -- expected to suffer a high number of casualties in this war. Of course I hoped against hope that we would not. I prayed for a Gulf War success, but I also knew that Saddam's soldiers would fight harder to keep Baghdad than Kuwait City.

The casualties did not come in the schedule I imagined. I expected to suffer at least 500 casualties for the Siege of Baghdad alone, perhaps a 1000 if chemical or biological weapons were used, which I thought they probably would be. Many military commentators predicted similarly dire casualty numbers -- numbers like 2500-3000 were tossed out, and comparisons were made to the legendarily ferocious Leningrad campaign (which, of course, lasted three bitter, bloody years).

The quick fall of Baghdad allowed me to adjust my expectations and hope for a relatively lightly-fought mopping up period. That, of course, did not happen. While we avoided the high casualties in the major-force conventional battle, we have suffered an unexpectedly high number of casualties in the small-unit guerilla insurgency. That fact fills me with sadness, for all the American soldiers and innocent Iraqis butchered. Nevertheless: We have still suffered fewer casualties at this point than I expected.

I would like the number to be zero. I would have been thrilled if it had merely been 100. I would like the number to stop increasing right now, so that not another American son or daughter is killed or maimed in fighting.

But I never expected fewer than 1000-2000 casualties in the entire campaign.

What number, praytell, did Mr. Sullivan expect? When he was so passionately, and so emotionally, making his case for all the wond'rous benefits that would flow from an American invasion, what number of American dead was he envisioning? What number of American dead did he have in his mind as the break-point between a war that was virtuous and necessary and a war that was too painful and not worth fighting at all?

He never told us when he was so stridently urging this nation into war. He can correct this oversight by telling us now-- and telling us, too, why he never informed us of how very conditional his passionate support for war was.

I do not like talk of "exit strategies." If the country is willing to accept something short of actual military and political victory in a war in favor of a face-saving "exit strategy" in which we pretend we've won, then that is simply not a war we should be fighting. Either a war is so important that it must be won, or else a war is simply not necessary. Half-measures and pretend-victories can be had through diplomacy and sanctions; we do not need to feed our boys into the meatgrinder to acheive what Kofi Annan and Jimmy Carter could work out for us without war.

I was serious about this war when I agitated for it, and I remain serious about it. I thought it was so important that we had to kill our beloved sons and daughters -- and that's of course what one does in war; when one urges for war, one is, implicitly, urging for American battle deaths as an unavoidable conseqence -- in order to win victory of Saddam, and try to set the Middle East on a path that will not result in an exchange of nuclear fire. The loss of one or two American cities-- one almost certainly my own, New York. And then, soon after, a nearly genocidal nuclear strike on much of the Muslim world.

I was serious. I remain serious.

It now appears that many of the people who argued along with me for war were not so serious at all.

Since Mr. Sullivan is so big on demanding apologies, I will demand one in return: I demand your apology for exhorting this nation into a war about which you were never morally serious nor intellectually thorough.

I think that those who advocate war for legitimate self-defense have a defensible position. I think that those who are dedicated pacifists are at least morally and logically consistent, even if I disagree with them strongly.

But I cannot recognize the position of Andrew Sullivan, and John Kerry, as legimiate or honorable. Their shared position is unserious, highly partisan, and morally obscene. Those who would urge the nation into a war, or vote the nation into war, without contemplating the possible difficulties and pain of the struggle are cowards-- and worse than cowards. A man who would send another man to his death for a cause he does not think is important is a villain. What else can one call it?

Sullivan routinely accuses Bush of living in a fantasy world. What world was Sullivan living in when he was urging war on Iraq, I wonder? A world, apparently, in which enemy soldiers do not fight back, and in which there are no (fairly trivial) crimes committed by US troops. A world in which wars are fought according to "plans" and in which such "plans" are executed smoothly; a world in which war is not simply the managing of one crisis until the next, and in which the term "FUBAR" has no meaning.

A world in which we storm into Baghdad, pull down a statue, and then Saddam's goons and Zarqawi's terrorists say, "You know, in retrospect, the Americans really did have a point." And then lay down their arms.

The war was never to be fought in that fantasy world of Sullivan's construction. It was never to be as pretty as he made it all sound in his glowing predictions of easy victory and seamless transition to democracy. I hope that in the future Sullivan confines his war-mongering to the fantasy worlds that exist only in his mind and on his blog, and urges dovishness and peace at any cost in the real world in which the rest of us live.

Update: Dave at Garfield Ridge offers:

A side note: you know how creepy this war is? I've worked for nearly a decade at the Pentagon. I don't think I've ever seen an amputee in uniform before.

This year alone, the count must be up to a dozen.

*But they're still in uniform.*

As horrific as war is, these men understand why we're fighting. So much so, that despite their suffering, they've found a way to stay in and continue their service. I couldn't be half as brave if I were drunk.

And some people just want to give up, and go home.

digg this
posted by Ace at 12:22 PM

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