HEADS THEY WIN, TAILS WE LOSE
photo by Buck Sargent
Nothing is more dangerous in wartime than to live in the temperamental atmosphere of a Gallup poll, always feeling one’s pulse and taking one’s temperature.
Do you get the feeling sometimes that we just can’t win? You know the drill: no matter what we do, no matter what transpires, no matter what the eventual outcome, our efforts in the Middle East will be construed as a loss irrespective of the truth on the ground. Haven’t we played this game before?
Two Severed Thumbs Down
It’s been barely a month since When Abu Met Allah emerged as the top dramatic comedy title from Bunkerbuster Video, and already the critics are falling all over themselves to dismiss it as a bomb dreamt up at the Fox office. Their tastes must run more toward romantic tragedy, I suppose.
There They Go Again…
Shareholders, start your engines. The way it looks from here, America’s newspaper industry won’t be satisfied until the only one left on their subscription database is the al-Qaeda mailing list. Not content with subverting the ability of the NSA to monitor the phone calls Middle Eastern sheiks are placing to their "brokers" in Dearborn, the NY and LA Times have now swiftboated the SWIFT program that our government has been clandestinely utilizing to track terrorist financial networks. The only way the double-crossing double-Times can now top themselves would be to publish the transponder code to Air Force One. Dare I smell a scoop? "Secrets… Git yer national secrets, here… Read all about ‘em…"
Texas Hold ‘em While I Shoot ‘em
It does appear the Collateral Damage Control Freaks finally have the Long War on Terrorism right where they want it -- on the ropes, blindfolded, with one hand tied behind its back. I must admit there are times when wearing the uniform during this war feels about as rewarding as working as a body double for the Weekend at Bernie’s trilogy. It’s not being in Iraq that scares me, it’s coming home to a country I’m not entirely sure I can stomach anymore. The throngs of insatiable Iraqi children have given me an up close and personal sample of unbridled celebrity that I now know I could just as soon live without. But that first American military-age male with the pot-smoker’s cough and NO WAR FOR OIL tee shirt that sidles up to me at the bar and asks me how many innocent civilians I killed "over there," I’m probably going to have to punch in the throat. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Looking Out For a Few Hundred Bad Men
I noticed on the chow hall TV the other day that the Supreme Beings have also gotten into the act, applying their usual fuzzy math to Hamdan v. Rumsfeld -- aka Al Q. Aida versus the Honorable Donald H. "I Browbeat More Generals Before 6am Than Most Senators Do All Year." You know, that prickly septuagenarian SecDef that engineered the obliteration of the Taliban and Baathist tyrannies in less combined time than it took for all the WWII troopships to cross the Atlantic? Apparently SCROTUS deems him not even fit to hold Osama bin Laden’s camel jockeys.
The ACLU and Amnesty (for terrorists) International and all the sorry rest refuse to shut up about Gitmo, spelling the inevitability of having to close it all down. Fine, we’ll let them out, provided they all attend a mandatory behavioral seminar first: "Don’t Go Away Bad, Just Go Away." Although, I do believe there still may be time for them to register for the fall semester. Ladies and gentlemen, I offer to you the Yale freshmen class for 2006!
Because you see, everyone knows the Air Force only flew them halfway around the world to incarcerate them on a tropical island and force them to pray five times daily and eat nothing but culturally sensitive meals for no other reason than because they’re Muslim. You don’t see too many Irish Republican Army types turning pink in the blazing Cuba sun, do you? Besides, like the Stupid White Man says, you have a "better chance of being struck by lightning than being a victim of a terrorist attack." (But that’s little consolation to those poor souls who’ve been struck more than once.)
I have only one condition: that those like Mr. Hamdan first be remanded to the personal custody and "eminent domain" of one John Paul Stevens. As a lifelong bachelor, surely Justice Stevens must have a spare bedroom or two he could convert into a halfwit house, or at least a space above his garage for a few natural born cabbies. The Odd Couple meets Driving Miss Daisy meets The Occidental Terrorist? I’ll bring the popcorn.
Scratch that, I have a better idea. It would only be proper to drop them back off precisely where we captured them in the first place -- you know, the battlefield? I’m sure Mr. Karzai’s new government will amply provide them all the proper accommodations befitting foreigners of such high standing. Do you suppose those soccer stadiums in Kabul are still taking appointments?
'Strategic Redeployment,' Hell!
"Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress," quipped Mark Twain, as less the acclaimed novelist than the politically acerbic Mark Steyn of his day. "But I repeat myself."
Congressman John Murtha -- the token liberal "war hawk" who fought in Vietnam before it was cool -- has an all-new new plan to end the war. He’s advocating that all U.S. forces in Iraq be repositioned "over the horizon" to the tactically advantageous twosome of Okinawa and the Kuwaiti desert. (It would bequest a staffer to point out to Professor Murtha that the islands of Nippon are actually closer to "below the equator" than "over the rainbow.") Geographically-challenged or not, you’ve got to hand it to Old Mirthless. He’s so old school, not only does he think we should reliberate Kuwait City -- we need to reconquer the Japs! "Didn’t you get the memo, Yamamoto? No Blood for Embargoed Oil, Mister!"
I find it instructive that Murtha finds it instructive that President Reagan found it instructive to "change courses in Beirut," just as "Clinton changed courses in Somalia." Our "strategic redeployment" from a scary late-seventies Iran notwithstanding ("m-m-m-my, shari’ah"), it was precisely our own Black Hawk Down’s Syndrome in response to militant Islamist aggression in Lebanon and the Mog that bin Laden quite specifically cited as his raison de Neuf-Onze. Ultimately, those who forget their Osama quotes are doomed to have me repeat them.
But come now, Okinawa? Has the Viagra finally gone to Murtha’s brain? I have never met a single solitary soldier who, if he must be away from home and family, would rather be sweating his sack off in the Sandbox or cooling his heels in the Orient than doing his job and taking his chances on the battlefield. (There’s a reason why we didn’t join the Navy, you know.) Either way, the risk of boredom-induced suicide would easily make up for the reduced threat of roadside attack. Perhaps such sunshine soldiers do still exist, but if so, I don’t have the foggiest who or where they are. Perhaps I am just naïve or simply too gung-ho for my own good. But please, stand up and be counted. Yes, all five of you.
Overcoming Postbellum Depression
So let’s take stock of where we find ourselves at this point: Saddam’s regime has been toppled, his prodigal sons killed, himself pulled out of a hole in the ground, a new constitution approved by the people, a consensual government installed, an army and police force reconstituted from scratch that has quietly assumed responsibility for most of the country, a new prime minister who has been all but Churchillian in his tenacity to reclaim the high ground against the insurgents who’ve threatened his homeland with perpetual ruin, a people who’ve courageously refused to be goaded into civil war despite the encouragement of every pundit in the world to just go ahead and do so, U.S. losses after three years still less than were vaporized in three hours on Blackened Tuesday…
I should have known we couldn’t possibly win this fight.
Freedom: Now 99% Sacrifice Free!
At some point during this past July 4th weekend as you were poolside sucking down a few cold ones, stoking up the grill and wondering which would start first: the city fireworks or your hangover, I hoped you at least contemplated for a moment or two precisely what it took for our society to progress to the point where the biggest worries many Americans have is whether or not their Tivo caught the season finale of Lost. Our own Independence was bought on credit and spread across a number of not-so-easy payments over several decades and considerable blood and treasure. Two centuries later we’re finally starting to pay down the principal on the loan, but we’re still not debt-free. Not when so many cosignatories are in default on their share of the mortgage.
De Oppresso Liber
Much is made over the enormous civilian cost of the Iraq War, as if Saddam could have been removed by a simple vote of no confidence at the UN. The Arab world concedes that it is a good thing to be rid of the Butcher of Baghdad, yet lectures us that it is something that Iraqis should have done for themselves. But what do you suppose the toll of a true Iraqi revolution would have been? Assuming they could even have pulled it off in this lifetime -- a stretch by any imagination -- would not a bona fide civil war have been the result? And not simply a low-intensity cycle of revenge killings and random violence as we’re seeing now, but a Lebanese-style wholesale shelling of neighborhoods and annihilation of cities? Is there any doubt that out of the ashes would have arisen yet another monstrous power-mad tyrant? That the hard decision we declined to put off was between a bad choice and a worse alternative?
The U.S. military could have about-faced and got the heck out of Dodge after the statues came down and returned home en masse to another Gulf War parade with less than 150 flag-draped caskets. And then we could have flipped on the tube and watched the genocidal bloodletting from the comfort of our couches just like most of our countrymen do today. It’s not like we haven’t done it before.
But that was then, this is now.
"War," according to Thomas Paine, "involves in its progress such a train of unforeseen and unsupposed circumstances…that no human wisdom can calculate the end." (Unless, of course, you’re Nostradumbass.)
Bet On Iraq
Still, I find it mildly disconcerting to be pinning our hopes solely on the rope-a-dope strategy, wagering that the disloyal opposition will wear themselves out with their relentless pummeling while conditions on the ground quietly meet up with long overdue expectations to little or no fanfare. But that is the predicament we now find ourselves in. We’ve placed our bets and rolled the dice. It would be a shame at this late stage to only now discover they’ve been loaded from the start.
But for the record, my money’s still on Iraq.
Suppose you’re publicly against the war, and suppose you’re privately hoping it ends in failure. But I repeat myself.
COPYRIGHT 2006 BUCK SARGENT