Democrats & Liberals Archives

False Comforts

When it comes to war, there are always two conditions for victory. The ones we set, and the ones we’ll actually have to fulfill. One’s opponents can present hidden challenges and unexpected hazards. But I think the point must be made, in the mode of the old proverb that to err in war is human, to admit your mistakes to yourself and others is divine. Fallujah might be a turning point, but we’d have to be lucky in a way we so far haven’t been. Many conditions were set for victory and attained, and still we fight. Could it be that our president and the Pentagon simply don’t understand the war like they should?

When my president started telling us to go out there and shop and spend as we did before, I sensed something was wrong. Here we are, in a time of crisis, and his solution is for us to go shopping? To conduct business as usual?

When he told us we no longer had to worry about Osama Bin Laden, that he is no longer consequential, Again I was struck by the sense that something was wrong.

Then we start heading for Iraq, again that queasy sense. Easy victories, America always successful.

Now, we quote how much percentage of Fallujah we have conquered, how many dead terrorists we have racked up. I wish I could be optimistic, but it's already been confirmed that many of the terrorists who took over the city escaped, and that the meager forces left behind to block the flight of those terrorists had to put down trouble makers in Mosul instead.

Low expectations are a comfort. We want to believe things are going well. We want to believe that we don't have to sacrifice too much, that we couldn't have done anything to prevent the disasters and the mishaps. We want to believe that the Good was earned and the bad was simply inevitable.

The Bush administration has continually insisted that 9/11 could not be predicted or prevented. They resisted the formation of the Homeland Security Department, a department whose sole role is to facilitate the sharing of information and the coordination of efforts. When The Senate Intelligence Committee investigated 9/11, they found an Administration willfully aiding the F.B.I. in covering for its mistakes, trying to sweep the whole mess, which included embarrassing details about Saudi royal family involvement, under the rug.

They continually fought with this investigation and the next one, the 9/11 commission, and made talking point about the partisan nature of this distinctly bipartisan body. They tried to impugn a policy that Ashcroft signed onto himself as the work of commissioner Jamie Gorelick, when that policy (the so-called wall of separation) was both more complex in its nature and built up over a far longer stretch of time.

When they made their case for war in Iraq, they did their best to hide the thinness of their case from the media. Information was useful to the extent it confirmed their expectations. It was suppressed to the extent that it did not, and those that leaked or revealed otherwise were punished. Ask Valerie Wilson.

When we invaded, the military victory ahead took the priority in planning, not the reconstruction and political stabilization of the country. And it's not as if Secretary of State Powell didn't tell them that the Pottery Barn rules applied to Iraq once we invaded. We went right ahead and broke it, now we own it.

Not once, but three times, Bush has said the end of the violence was just ahead. Before Saddam was captured, it was promised his capture would end the growing insurgency. Before we handed power over to the Iraqis (having not taken the insurgency out of the picture) Bush said that would defeat them. Now it's the elections. Surely it will be the elections. Maybe it could be. Maybe the third time is the charm.

Looking at Fallujah, we see a guerilla campaign that is pulling back in the face of a larger force. Cause for hope? We should wait and see on that, because we didn't get the big confrontation we were looking for, the kind we got in Najaf. The evidence supports a more ominous possibility: That they are pulling back in a strategic withdrawal. They are giving us the city, allowing us to occupy our troop strength with pacifying the city. In the meantime, they will either start attacking the other places we've neglected for Fallujah's sake, or they will take advantage of a force immobilized by the necessities of pacification, and start inflicting the real casualties of the Battle for Fallujah.

We are not facing the Nazis, with conventional forces arrayed to meet ours, with cities taken and retaken by direct force and conventional attack. We are facing guerillas. We are facing soldiers that don't shrink from our forces out of fear, but instead to reassert their strategic advantage. The gloriously simple ideas of military victory that occur between symmetrical forces are not only insufficient to deal with the war we now fight, they are dangerously out of sync with the realities of that kind of war.

The false comfort of large scale military victories will not shield our shores against a WMD attack from the reconstituted al-Qaeda, nor turn the tide as necessary against the insurgents in Iraq. We will not find our true peace by wishful thinking and deceptively easy goals, for the tests our country faces are much graver and more complex than that. We must sharpen our wits with our blades, and be as capable of battling these forces in backstreets as in broad fields of battle.

We should not arrogantly fool ourselves into believing that these deceptive, crafty and altogether brilliant enemies will simply throw themselves on our bayonets until they are all spent, having not done so before then. This is not The Four Feathers with the Mahdi army closing in on all sides in a human wave. These are people who are using their heads, not just their bullets and bombs, in order to kill us. We had better use our heads as well, or else pay the price in American blood.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at November 14, 2004 8:03 PM