Ted Barlow extends the arguments I believe JC and Chris were making (guys, if I’m wrong, I apologize and would be very interested in where your argument branches from Ted’s) in their comments to this post criticizing Frank Rich.
Ted’s (long, worth reading the whole thing) post breaks down as follows:
1) There are 4 likely outcomes in Iraq, 3 of them bad and one unlikely.
2) Things in Iraq are not going well; they may be going horribly – the data isn’t great – but at core, the level of violence isn’t declining, public order isn’t increasing, the political process is moving in the wrong direction.
3) Declaring victory and coming home leads to a certain bad outcome. But that has to be balanced against the reality of our situation.
He sets out a metaphor:
Imagine a village living in the shadow of a live volcano. Serenity is not an appropriate response to the threat of an eruption, but neither is a program of virgin sacrifice. Neither steely-eyed resolve nor spine-stiffening prose poems about the nobility and admirable selflesness of the virgins will do much good.
(This metaphor breaks down quickly, of course. No amount of virgin sacrifice could possibly stop a volcano, whereas there’s still hope that we might be able to prevent catastrophe in Iraq. And I hope that I am not misinterpreted- I mean no criticism of the members of our military, who really do exhibit nobility and selflessness. My brother is a Captain in the Army, and I’m immensely proud of him. However, I’d guess that the themes of pro-sacrifice pundits would sound awfully familiar. “Would you tell the mother of one of our brave virgins that her child died in vain?” “If these anti-sacrifice elites have a plan, let’s hear it.” “This talk of pulling out does nothing but anger the volcano god.” “Anti-sacrifice activists, it saddens me to say, are objectively pro-eruption.”)
4) The only way out – given current troop levels – is a draft, which isn’t going to happen.
So he’s stuck looking for a positive outcome, which brings us back to “may as well pull out now since we’re going to lose anyway.”
I mean, who wants to be the last soldier to die in Iraq?
Somehow, I still see things very differently (what a surprise).
First, I have a somewhat different interpretation of the expectations going into the war.
I always expected – even before I decided that I supported this war – that it would be long and hard, and that the one significant risk we took wasn’t military, but political – that:
We don’t get to ‘declare victory and go home’ when the going gets tough, elections are near, or TV shows pictures of the inevitable suffering that war causes. The Marshall Plan is a bad example, because the Europe that had been devastated by war had the commercial and entrepreneurial culture that simply needed stuff and money to get restarted. And while we’re damn good with stuff and money, this is going to take much more, and we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves, work, and be willing to sweat with this for some time.
(January 17, 2003)
And I’m genuinely puzzled how educated, intelligent folks – folks like Ted – who have read and understand history look at the inevitable muddles committed by our troops, their officers, our political leadership, and the President and weigh them so heavily. Here’s Ted:
The folks I’m quoting above are very critical at Donald Rumsfeld, who has amply earned it. Rumsfeld should have lost his job much earlier for his role in prisoner abuse scandals, for his lack of planning, and for his unsuitable arrogance…
I’d be perfectly happy if Rumsfeld was kicked out and made the scapegoat that allowed the Administration to admit error. I’ll believe it when I see it.
The litany of error – bad planning, prisoner abuse, military arrogance, political timidity – wraps much of the opposition to the war. It is to say that “It’s not that I’m against the war; I’m just against this war, because it’s being so badly prosecuted.”
But as I’ve asked before, compared to what?
I’ve read moderately deeply in history, including the history of wars from the Peloponnesian through Vietnam.
Lincoln’s leading general (McClellan) wanted to settle the war, and undermined his strategic direction in the hope that he could make room for negotiation.
The first American battle with the German army in World War II (Kasserine Pass) was a rout – we were routed.
War is, above all, the providence of error. People seem to make a lot of mistakes in war, and because these mistakes are written in blood, they are more visible than the mistakes we inevitably make as city council members setting policies for side yard variances.
Let’s make it simple – we’ve all read Catch-22 with it’s deadly accurate descriptions of the lunacy, folly, and avarice that were part of the U.S. military in World War II. Most veterans of the war that I knew found a core of truth in that book.
Does that mean we were fated to lose? Obviously not.
Does that mean we shouldn’t have fought the war? Obviously not.
If, at the beginning of the war, you had said that it would take ten thousand casualties to take Baghdad, do you think the reaction of the American public would have been vastly different?
I have two sons over 18, one of whom continues to plan on a path through the military. I’m deeply aware of what those casualties mean.
Will we solve the problem of having enough troops? We have to. We should have started three years ago, and the failure to do that – the failure to make it clear to the American people that this was more than a war we’d watch on CNN (until the series comes out) while we went about our daily lives – remains the stupidest thing that the Bush Administration has done.
Can we solve it?
Here I’ll point out that Ted is disingenuous when he says that we supporters of the war blame the media overmuch. He calls it “flailing against a stab in the back from the press.” Well, you know, it’s funny.
There is such a thing as public sentiment, and it is both innate and actively shaped.
After two years of a media-driven picture of the war as immoral and hopeless, somehow we find that et lá! The public support for the war is declining! After two years of demonstrations at high schools and colleges against military recruitment, military recruitment is hard.
I’m not surprised that the media has shaped public sentiment, I’m surprised that it has been so ineffective at shaping it. I’m surprised that anyone is enlisting, and that every member of the House isn’t demanding immediate withdrawal lest they face the wrath of the voters in fifteen months.
Yes, this is going to go on being hard and unpleasant. But again, compared to what?
Compared to letting sanctions collapse? (And I’ll skip over the cheap but satisfying shot of pointing out how many of those who bitterly oppose the war also opposed sanctions – which they now point back to as a perfectly good way to keep Saddam from getting too belligerent)
Compared to watching as Saddam allied himself more deeply with fanatic Islamists who really do believe they can conquer the West?
There’s a simple difference between Ted’s position and mine; he sees this war as living on the slopes of a volcano – as facing a situation where we are helpless (he does acknowledge that sacrificing soldiers in wars sometimes wins them, while sacrificing virgins to volcanoes doesn’t guarantee protection from lava – but in writing, that’s called “having it both ways” – he makes his point, and then in an aside, sets it down and explains that he really didn’t mean it).
I’ll suggest that he Google Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland.
Sometimes even people living on the slopes of volcanoes fight hard enough to win.
We can too.
So when JC accuses me of ignoring the litany of bad news, no I’m not. And while I’m sometimes tempted to wade in and talk about what I think is being done wrong in Iraq (and there is a fair amount), I’d rather use the limited attention granted me to try and get us to do the one right thing. Stay.
Oh, forgot to mention this.
Ted points out (in his litany of disaster) that “The mayor of Baghdad was deposed by an armed Shiite militia, and we just shrugged.” Let’s go to Juan Cole (yes, I do read him, his analysis is usually silly, but he does present info that I don’t see elsewhere):
Meanwhile, Jaafari has thrown his support behind the ousting of Baghdad mayor Alaa al-Tamimi by SCIRI. SCIRI won the Baghdad provincial council elections last January and therefore has the right to appoint its own mayor. Often in contemporary Iraq, incumbents put there by the United States or its proxy interim government have refused to leave when ordered to do so by the winners at the ballot box, and Tamimi was one of those who had ensconced himself, apparently with a private guard. The change of mayor therefore had to be accomplished by the elected governing council through a kind of coup whereby Badr Corps (the paramilitary of SCIRI) occupied the mayor’s office.
Heh. As they say…