Victor Davis Hanson: Triangulating the War

R.A. Hettinga rah at
Fri Jan 14 12:04:33 PST 2005

The best book I read this year was Hanson's "Carnage and Culture".
Recommend it highly.



Victor Davis Hanson

The National Review
 January 14, 2005, 7:30 a.m.
Triangulating the War
Yesterday's genius, today's fool, tomorrow's what?

Victor Davis Hanson

Reading the pages of foreign-policy journals, between the long tracts on
Bush's "failures" and neoconservative "arrogance," one encounters mostly
predictions of defeat and calls for phased withdrawal - always with
resounding criticism of the American "botched" occupation.

 Platitudes follow: "We can't just leave now," followed by no real advice
on how a fascist society can be jumpstarted into a modern liberal republic.
After all, there is no government handbook entitled, "Operation 1A: How to
remove a Middle East fascist regime in three weeks, reconstruct the
countryside, and hold the first elections in the nation's history - all
within two years." Almost all who supported the war now are bailing on the
pretext that their version of the reconstruction was not followed: While a
three-week war was their idea, a 20-month messy reconstruction was surely
someone else's. Yesterday genius is today's fool - and who knows next month
if the elections work? Witness Afghanistan where all those who recently
said the victory was "lost" to warlords are now suddenly quiet.

Heads You Lose, Tails We Win
 Indeed, from the oscillating analyses of Iraq, the following impossible
picture often emerges from our intelligentsia. It was a fatal error to
disband the Iraqi army. That led to lawlessness and a loss of confidence in
the American ability to restore immediate order after Saddam's fall. Yet it
was also a fatal error to keep some Baathists in the newly constituted
army. They were corrupt and wished reform to fail - witness the Fallujah
Brigade that either betrayed us or aided the enemy. So we turned off the
Sunnis by disbanding the army - and yet somehow turned off the Shiites by
keeping some parts of it.

Massive construction projects were hogged by gargantuan American firms,
ensconced in the Green Zone that did not engage either local Iraqi workers
or small companies and thus squandered precious good will. Or, indigenous
contractors proved irresponsible and unreliable, evidence for why Iraq was
in such bad shape to begin with. And when we did put exclusive reliance on
them, it ensured only lackadaisical and half-hearted reconstruction.

 We also lost hearts and minds by using GPS bombs to obliterate houses full
of killers and take out blocks of insurgents. And yet we lost hearts and
minds by failing to act decisively and de facto turning over large enclaves
to terrorists and Saddamites whom we were afraid to root out. Elections
should have been held earlier; no, they must be delayed since they come too
soon when the country is still unsecured.

Our helmeted soldiers with sunglasses are holed up in enclaves, don't
mingle, and perpetuated the heavy-handed image of snooty occupiers. But
leaving the Green Zone is an open invitation to kidnapping and worse. So we
are both too well hidden and yet not hidden enough. Embedded media gave us
a real-time picture of the fighting. But (if one is conservative) it left
open the opportunity for sensationalism on the part of wannabe crusaders,
and (if one is liberal) it created too close a psychological bond with the
soldiers that impaired objectivity.

It was a mistake to postpone Iraqi sovereignty for so long; but it is an
equal mistake to rush into elections while the country is so insecure. The
CIA is impotent, out-of-touch, and clownish; somehow it mind-controlled
Allawi, Chalabi, and a host of other Iraqi "puppets."

 The litany from the mercurial Beltway always goes on: There were enough
troops to take out Saddam in three weeks, but not enough to restore order
to the countryside - but still too many that resulted in too high an
American profile on the streets of Baghdad. The transformations of Donald
Rumsfeld (this week's genius, last week's fool) have left us stripped down
and bereft of the muscle needed. Yet new, more mobile brigades in strikers
and special forces with laptops are preferable to old armored divisions on
the streets of Iraqi.

We cannot flee, but must not stay. Iraqis publicly say we should leave, but
privately beg us to remain. We were after cheap oil, but gas prices somehow
climbed almost immediately after we went in. Democracy won't work with
these people, but somehow we are seeing three elections in the wake of the
Taliban, Arafat, and Saddam.

There are many constants in all this pessimistic confusion - beside the
fact that we are becoming a near hysterical society. First, our miraculous
efforts in toppling the Taliban and Saddam have apparently made us forget
war is always a litany of mistakes. No conflict is conducted according to
either antebellum planning or can proceed with the benefit of hindsight.
Iraq was not Yemen or Qatar, but rather the most wicked regime in the
world, in the heart of the Arab world, full of oil, terrorists, and mass
graves. There were no helpful neighbors to keep a lid on their own
infiltrating jihadists. Instead we had to go into the heart of the
caliphate, take out a mass murderer, restore civil society after 30 years
of brutality, and ward off Sunni and Baathist fomenters in Saudi Arabia,
Jordan, and Syria - all the while keeping out Iranian-Shiite agents bent on
stopping democracy. The wonder is not that there is violence and gloom in
Iraq, but that less than two years after Saddam was removed, elections are
still on track.

The Follies of World War II
 Second, our very success creates ever increasing expectations of
perfection for a postmodern America used to instant gratification. We now
look back in awe at World War II, the model of military success, in which
within four years an unprepared United States won two global wars, at sea,
on the ground, and in the air, in three continents against Japan, Italy,
and Germany, and supplied both England and the Soviet Union. But our
forefathers experienced disaster after disaster in a tale of heartbreak,
almost as inglorious as the Korean mess or Vietnam tragedy. And they did
things to win we perhaps claim we would now not: Shoot German prisoners in
the Bulge, firebomb Axis cities, drop the bomb - almost anything to stop
fascists from slaughtering even more millions of innocents.

Our armored vehicles were deathtraps and only improved days before the
surrender. American torpedoes were often duds. Unescorted daylight bombing
proved a disaster, but continued. Amphibious assaults like Anzio and Tarawa
were bloodbaths and emblematic of terrible planning and command. The
recapture of Manila was clumsy and far too costly. Okinawa was the worst of
all operations, and yet was begun just over fourth months before the
surrender - without any planning for Kamikazes who were shortly to kill
5,000 American sailors. Patton, the one general that could have ended the
western war in 1944, was relieved and then subordinated to an auxiliary
position with near fatal results for the drive from Normandy; mediocrities
like Mark Clark flourished and were promoted. Admiral King resisted the
life-saving convoy system and unnecessarily sacrificed merchant ships;
while Bull Halsey almost lost his unprepared fleet to a storm.

The war's aftermath seemed worse, to be overseen by an untried president
who was considered an abject lightweight. Not-so-quite collateral damage
had ruined entire cities. Europe nearly starved in winter 1945-6. Millions
were on the road in mass exoduses. After spending billions to destroy Nazi
Germany we had to spend billions more to rebuild it - and repair the
devastation it had wrought on its neighbors. Our so-called partisan friends
in Yugoslavia and Greece turned out to be hard-core Communist killers. Soon
enough we learned that the guerrillas in the mountains of Europe whom we
had idolized, in fact, fought as much for Communism as against fascism -
but never for democracy.

But at least there was clear-cut strategic success? Oh? The war started to
keep Eastern Europe free of Nazis and ended up ensuring that it was
enslaved by Stalinists. Poland was neither free in 1940 nor in 1946. By
early 1946 we were already considering putting former Luftwaffe pilots in
American jets - improved with ample borrowing from Nazi technology - to
protect Europe from the Red Army carried westward on GM trucks. We put
Nazis on trials for war crimes even as we invited their scientists to our
shores to match their counterparts in the Soviet Union who were building
even more lethal weapons to destroy us. Our utopian idea of a global U.N.
immediately deteriorated into a mess - decades of vetoes in the Security
Council by Stalinists and Maoists, even as former colonial states turned
thugocracies in the General Assembly ganged up on Israel and the survivors
of the Holocaust.

 After Americans had liberated France and restored his country, General de
Gaulle created the myth of the French resistance and immediately
triangulated with our enemies to reforge some pathetic sort of French
grandeur. An exhausted England turned over to us a collapsing empire, with
the warning that it might all turn Communist. Tired of the war and
postbellum costs, Americans suddenly were asked to wage a new Cold War to
keep a shrinking West and its allies free. The Department of War turned
into the Department of Defense, along with weird new things like the U.S.
Air Force, Strategic Air Command, Food for Peace, Alliance for Progress,
Voice of America, and thousands of other costly entities never dreamed of
just a few years earlier.

 And yet our greatest generation thought by and large they had done pretty
well. We in contrast would have given up in despair in 1942, New York Times
columnists and NPR pundits pontificating "I told you so" as if we were
better off sitting out the war all along.

Iraqi options
Finally, the United States has a number of options in Iraq. In fact, the
paradoxes are ever more confronting our enemies. There is a glaring problem
for the terrorists in Iraq: 75 percent of the country wants elections. The
Sunni clerics wish to delay them on the strange logic that they either
cannot or will not stop their brethren who are trying to derail the voting
through which their cause will lose. But such appeals appear increasingly
empty - almost like the Secessionists complaining about Northern voters in
1860 might imperil the Union. And no one is all that sure that there really
is a purist Sunni block of millions of obstructionists, rather than just
ordinary Iraqis who want to vote and are in fear of extremists who claim
their allegiance. Saudi Arabia unleashed terrorists to stop democracy in
Iraq, and is now worried their young Frankensteins hate their creators just
as much.

 So we are inching ahead as global television soon will air an elected and
autonomous government fighting fascists for the chance of democracy. If the
Kurds and the Shiite majorities vote for us to leave, then we must - but to
do so would be to ensure the return of the Baathists, the domination of
Wahhabi fundamentalism, or the Lebanonization of the country. And so they
probably won't. There is much talk of an Iranian takeover, but no evidence
that an Iraqi Shiite sees himself as more an Iranian than an Arab.

 All this we cannot see at the present as we in our weariness lament the
losses of almost 1,100 combat dead and billions committed to people who
appear from 30-second media streams to be singularly ungracious and not our
sort of folk. We dwell on unmistakable lapses, never on amazing successes -
just as we were consumed with Afghanistan in its dark moments, but now
ignore its road to success. But never mind all this: The long-term
prospects are still as bright as things seem gloomy in the short-term - but
only if we emulate our grandfathers and press on with the third Middle East
election in the last six months.

 - Victor Davis Hanson is a military historian and a senior fellow at the
Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His website is

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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