The Crumbling Has Begun

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The
crumbling has begun, methinks. Congressmen, a few only now, speak of withdrawal
from Iraq. A small thing, but for the White House a worrisome step toward vertebracy
in that body of polyps. The numbers of the dissenting will grow as they see that
they do not get hurt. Military recruiting is way down, and will stay down: The
gullibility of the young cannot forever be relied upon. The House has summoned
the courage to vote against parts of the Patriot Act. The president’s polls
drop and drop.

The
crumbling has begun, methinks.

Is
this surprising? If I may risk repeating myself tiresomely, the way to defeat
the American military is to avoid giving it clear targets, keep the body bags
flowing into Dover or Travis, and wait. It is that simple. The insurgents know
this. They are doing it, and it is working. Five Marines today, three tomorrow,
twelve GIs one week, nine another. On and on. So far we have killed 1700 of our
soldiers, closing in on 2000. Sooner or later, even Middle America will notice.

Is
victory still possible, if it ever was? The military can’t stop the bleeding,
or it would have. Short of a miracle, of perhaps a serious attack within the United
States, actually or apparently by terrorists, the casualties will continue. The
public will weary of the war, and it will all be over. No?

Wars
are marketed as involving moral principles or geo-strategic necessity, but they
can become grudge matches, contests of vanity grown stubborn. A president who
has led his country into a war has his ego on the line. He cannot easily say,
“In the light of events, the adventure appears to have failed, and so we
will return home.” The world would regard him as a fool and a knave. Further,
humble men do not become presidents. Such a man will struggle on desperately,
unwisely, with no real purpose any longer than to avoid the personal ignominy
of defeat. When his pride has been engaged he can’t stop. For this men die.

One
sees a similar approach in the gambler who, having lost his car, bets his house
in hopes of redeeming himself.

As
the news worsens the lying, begun long ago, increases. Democracies of course have
to be lied into aggressive wars, since no one really cares about the form of government
in an obscure and remote nation. Thus as losses mount, the enemy’s successes
are described as defeats, as the last throes of a failing force. (I would not
be surprised to find that Tokyo described the bombing of Hiroshima as a sign of
American desperation.) The government forbids reporters to photograph the coffins,
punishes soldiers who talk to the press. The horribly wounded are discreetly hidden.
Generals who are not upbeat are fired. Dissidents become labeled as traitors.
War crimes become isolated incidents: Only those which are discovered have occurred.
Etc.

Historians
tend to see wars as consequent to abstract currents of history. They speak of
the balance of power, the clash of civilizations, of economic rivalry, and it
all sounds dispassionate, reasoned, and occasionally majestic. It might be more
accurate to say that wars are the hobbies of half-informed children who have somehow
come into possession of the levers of power. Can anyone possible believe that
Mr. Bush knew anything about the Arab world when he set out to conquer it? That
Hitler understood the Russians, or the Japanese Army, America?

Getting
into wars is so often easier than getting out. In terms of national and presidential
vanity, the prospects of Iraq, short always of a miracle, vary between bad and
ghastly. If the United States pulls out, in a sort of exploitus reservatus, the
One Remaining Superpower will be seen not to be. No one will be afraid of us any
longer. In particular, countries like Iran will not be afraid. One wonders whether
this may not be what Mr. bin Laden had in mind.

Of
course in material terms the United States will not be weaker. If driven out of
Iraq, America will still be superior in remarkable aircraft and fast carriers
and extraordinary submarines. But submarines are of use only in certain kinds
of wars, which the enemy will avoid. The good ship USS Thundertrinket can destroy
Japan, yes. It cannot defeat a few thousand determined men with rifles. Militaries
seem never to learn this.

It
is curious. The French, having underestimated both the enemy and the potential
of guerilla warfare, got thrashed at Dien Bien Phu. The Americans, equally full
of themselves, then went into the same country and got similarly thrashed. The
French, having learned nothing, tried again in Algeria, with the same result.
The Israelis tried to hold down southern Lebanon, encountering the same problems
and equally losing. The Russians, having seen all of this, invaded Afghanistan
and got thrashed. Now the United States is in Iraq. For militaries, the learning
curve seems to be flat.

The
problem is not that soldiers are stupid. They are not. Rather it is (I think)
that they become excessively taken with the technology and power of their weapons,
with the computers and precision and speed, with themselves, and just do not stop
to ponder the difficulty of killing hornets with a howitzer.

The
future? Having restored the Vietnam complex, presumably the US will be very hesitant
for a decade or so to throw its weight around. Then, having forgotten again, it
will invade another country defended by only a few contemptible men with rifles
who, in any case, will be expected to throw flowers.

If
America loses the White House war — what? I suppose that Mr. Bin Laden will
come out of his hole a hero in the Moslem world, laughing pointedly at Mr. Bush.
I do not know what part he actually had in the events in New York, but he gets
credit for them, which is enough. He would be able to say that he had goaded the
Great Satan into a losing war in Arabia that left America defanged and no longer
able to give orders to Moslem nations. Isn’t that what he set out to do?

What
price nothing? A couple of thousand dead kids, countless cripples who will remain
crippled when the current administration has been forgotten, a country wrecked,
God knows how many dead Iraqis (I know, they don’t count), thousands of sisters
and mothers remembering Bobby every Christmas and looking at his last year book
from high school, a tremendous diminution in America’s influence and prestige
as China rises, unforeseeable consequences in the Middle East. For what, Mr. Bush?
For what?

June
20, 2005

Fred
Reed is author of Nekkid
in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well
.

Fred
Reed Archives

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