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Tumblers in the Lock of Time, Part Five

War is a beast to be kept on a tight leash.

There are those who think they can unleash it, and not have it turn on them. Wrong. Wars are ravenous beasts that rarely stay under control. The only good reason to let loose such a monster is to turn it on another like it, to let it tear that brother of his to shreds. Those who fail to exhaust the monster and force its rest at the end will find themselves staring down the muzzle into the red eyes of the demon they’ve freed.

What does Bush see now? A war still going on, two years after it's liberation. I don't think he ever expected a drug out conflict like this. I think he believed that the best would happen, and the beast could be put to rest. But war is a wild creature, never tamed, and must be dealt with as such. It will take advantage of any weakness in a policy to turn on those who have ventured too close to it.

The Europeans underestimated it, thinking they could contain it and talk it to death. They were confronting the war Osama Bin Laden had started, though, channeled through another generation's wish to settle the score, and bring the first Gulf War to its natural conclusion. They could not turn aside the frustrations of a nation that handily won the last war, and yet could not make the leader of the beaten nation submit, or the grief powered belligerence of a nation looking to unleash its military on a solid target.

Democrats underestimated it. I think we have been spoiled by a generation of limited scale wars into thinking that this too could be managed. We also underestimated the willingness of an administration to manipulate the public towards the war and about it, and forgot that people would rather be proud of making a mistake than ashamed of it, and that given a chance, a less scrupulous leader will play on that desire.

I think many people know now that this wasn't the war we should have fought, but rationalization can overcome judgment, and we can be left justifying the war by every cause except that which was it's original purpose. This was supposed to be a blow to the terrorists and a removal of WMDs from their grasps. At least that was the reason many Americans allowed this war to take place.

But we were deceived, and at the worst time possible. War is not kind on illusions or deceptions. If you're not honest with yourself and others on what you might face, and why you're going to face it, you go in half-crippled. If Saddam had WMDs, then there never would have been complaints about the nearly 1600 hundred American soldiers dead. We would have known their lives were given having saved so many other lives back home and abroad. If terrorists had been found there in great numbers from the beginning, it would have been truly cathartic to wipe them off the face of the earth there. But that's not what happened. There are those who said ousting Saddam justified this war, but I would differ on that point, and not because I find his removal a bad thing. There were ways to do it that would leave us in a position of strength, and ways to do it what would leave us weakened. Bush chose a path that left us weakened on several fronts.

He deliberately alienated allies. Nobody uses the kind of language they used regarding Europe without wanting to give offense. They wanted to drive wedges between American citizens and those of the world. The tactics they used, including the infamous "freedom fries" episode reminded me of what was done during the First World War, where Sauerkraut became liberty cabbage and hamburgers became Salisbury Steak (Hamburgers derive their name from the German city). Only this time we didn't stir up this kind of ethnic antipathy for an enemy, but for an ally, albeit an occasionally frustrating one.

He didn't start the drive for war with observation of a real threat. Remember that months passed before the drive for war met the case for war. It should have been the other way around. In times where the accuracy of our information is a matter of life and death, people are dying because somebody put together a case that was neatly compelling in its narrative, but misleading and messy in the facts. It is not merely the problem of being wrong, but having neglected being right in the course of seeking to be so persuasive.

He planned for the great beast to do what it was told, planned that it wouldn't turn on them when they turned their back. But it got the better of them, and they cannot bear to have anybody know, though everybody does. Their war got away from, unfolded in ways that defeated their expectations. Moving past those expectations would have been admitting a political defeat after all the revilement of the other side for being insufficient protectors of the realm, so instead of reining in the damnable war, they let things stay in their dysfunctional statement, raising the domestic tensions they had created using the war's build-up as a political issue further by accusing critics of the war's execution and justification of wanting to see America lose.

What struck me most bitterly about the 2002 elections was how the president was willing to divide a country in a time of crisis for the sake of political gain, and for the sake of a war that did not make much sense at the time. Iraq's neighbors seemed more natural targets. Even Gen. Tommy Franks was suggesting Yemen and Somalia, with Iraq as distant, not so attractive possibility. But as early as December or November of 2001, while we still fought the Taliban, this president wanted options on Iraq.

Now, with hindsight, I know things were worse than I imagined. Worse, it seems quite like that my president, or at least his immediate staff knew then what I know now. They sacrificed post 9/11 unity, the lives of thousands of American Soldiers, our good standing in the world, and our ability to fight other, more useful battles in the war against terrorism, and for what? To solidify control of the Senate and House? Are not the peace and security of this country more important than that? Are not the responsibilities of office deserving of deeper thought and consideration than as an excuse to settle old scores?

This creature war should never be confronted with such carelessness and recklessness. Boldness, courage, and optimism are not sins in the midst of a war. We've never said they are. We just don't think it's optimism to ignore problems, boldness to get us into a counterproductive mess like Iraq, or courage to to be too chick to own up to mistakes and correct them. Sure, the president wants us to believe that the previously mentioned virtues are his. But has he demonstrated them, or just claimed them?

Can he call it leadership when he doesn't know or doesn't care what he's taking us into? When he tells us our purpose for doing this is one thing, then changes his mind when events don't support his original contention, that's not leadership. That's political maneuvering meant to evade a need for leadership that this president does not have the strength of character to meet.

This war is about a series of weaknesses that gave way in our government, weakness that have everything to do with it's authority and the checks and balances that tell us that this authority is reliable. Worse, these were not just lines we drifted over, but lines our executive branch willfully crossed. Add to that the fact they've taken a political stand on not going back on those lines, and you've got one massive headache on your hands. And out there lurks the consequences of an ill-considered war. Something's got to give. Hopefully it will be the politics, because I don't want to consider the alternative.

Look at history, and you will find that war is never a simple affair. The mustering of armies has always been an expensive proposition. Even Sun Tzu talks about it. Modern technology has only enabled us to extend ranges, bring about greater destruction with fewer weapons, and solve some logistical problems that our forebears had far less easier times with.

But the cost of maintaining an occupation, of maintaining fuel and supplies, and a real rebuilding of the country we just smashed will not go away. We can't just call for a mulligan on this invasion. We've done it. We're stuck with the consequences whether we like it or not. I would prefer that we bravely face those consequences so we can revise our strategy towards one that's in our country's best interests. I would prefer that our leaders realize that they can't force the resolution they want here or abroad, and finally realize that our strategies need to work smarter, not harder. At the beginning, I knew one thing about the war on terrorism: the winners would be the ones who endured the conflict best. Short Term political wish fulfillment will lose us this war.

We have an agile enemy that works mostly on a civilian level, only occasion presenting broad targets. The inclusion of law enforcement as part of the War on Terrorism is no copout to pieces of paper, but an appropriate opposition of our enemies forces with our own at the right scale of engagement. We may think that it's all wonderful to "fight them over there so we don't fight them here", but the trouble is, they are already here, and we must take care of them here, or this is all in vain. We must set our defenses well and attack the enemy where it counts, or we will see a second tragedy on our shores, one we had more than enough warning for. Make no mistake, though we unleashed the monster in Iraq, al Qaeda let it slip in New York, and we have yet to hear that they have reconsidered their war on us.

They still stalk us. They still want Americans dead. They still want our power broken, and our influence removed from the Middle East. War has come to us in this century, as it must, as it would have anyways. I am convinced there is no permanent peace for any society. I doubt we will ever see a generation that will not have to serve. The question is, when the matters of war come upon us, will we take a mature, open-minded approach to our situations, or will we end up letting the beast devour our hopes and our dreams in the foolishness of short-sighted leaders?

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at May 8, 2005 9:21 AM