Same job, different uniform.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

History Lesson

One of the more curious things about history is that, despite the best efforts of a lot of stunningly perceptive people, we keep getting it wrong. We bollocks the lessons; we bilge the final exams.

George Santayana famously noted: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Not exactly, of course, but the point is that humans keep doing the same, stupid tricks and keep getting the same, stupid results. And we all know what you have when someone keeps doing the same thing, against common sense and general practice, somehow expecting different results; you have a textbook definition of insanity.

The war in Iraq is going badly, of course, partly because a whole lot of people think they have a whole lot of scores to settle, and partly because the coalition forces (read US Army) are not allowed to use sufficient force to counter force. They are not allowed to go into Sadr City, the hotbed of the Mahdi Army; they are not allowed to engage the insurgents in practical ways that sane soldiers who want to return home eventually would sort out for themselves if given the freedom to do so. No. US forces are largely handcuffed in their efforts to fix the problems they see, and when one of those problems is insurgency itself (solvable largely by violently killing the insurgents), you can easily observe the Donkeys sidling towards the door.

Iraq is not Vietnam, but we are making it into the same sort of trap. By and large, the people in Iraq want to live their lives with some certainty that their families stand a better than even chance of arriving home again at night safely. And that is not necessarily the case right now. But it could be. But the commitment we are going to need to make is less about ending up with the sort of government we wanted when we went in, than it is having a government capable of keeping its citizens alive and the Iranians and Syrians out.

The Bush Administration has squandered a pretty significant opportunity to remake the region; the gamble was profound and the payoff would have been astonishing, but the luck was bad and the individual moves were far worse. And yet, it is not unsalvageable at this point, either. The commitment has to be to the safety of the average Iraqi citizen, not to the government or the ally or the reporter holed up in the hotel. People want order and certainty, and they will accept pretty awful people in charge if they can get some semblance of that. Why not provide them with a good and resolute example of how to stop an insurgency in its tracks?

Again, Iraq is not Vietnam. This is a classic civil war scenario, not an invasion disguised as one. And while combatants hide among civilians in Iraq as happened in Vietnam, there are far fewer places outside of the cities to hide and use as bases; Iraq lacks Vietnam’s densely forested countryside. But a significant similarity is this: Ho Chi Minh understood that the US, like the French before them, would eventually tire of fighting in Vietnam because there was nothing, ultimately, in it for them. And the US has shown, time and time again, that it will cut its losses and leave when the going gets tricky. The insurgency and al-Qaeda are both counting on that happening again. And from the way a significant number of Democrats are talking, there will be an early move to do just that, as soon as they seat their new majorities in the House and Senate.

The only thing worse than not learning from history is learning the wrong lesson.

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Blogger girlfriday said...

Just heard on Conan O'Brien: "The Pentagon is asking Germany to send more troops to Iraq. This marks the first time anyone has asked Germany to send more troops."

Welcome back, Snarky.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Blogger RoseCovered Glasses said...

You make many good points in your article. I would like to supplement them with some information:

I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

If you are interested in a view of the inside of the Pentagon procurement process from Vietnam to Iraq please check the posting at my blog entitled, “Odyssey of Armements”

The Pentagon is a giant,incredibly complex establishment,budgeted in excess of $500B per year. The Rumsfelds, the Adminisitrations and the Congressmen come and go but the real machinery of policy and procurement keeps grinding away, presenting the politicos who arrive with detail and alternatives slanted to perpetuate itself.

How can any newcomer, be he a President, a Congressman or even the Sec. Def. to be - Mr. Gates- understand such complexity, particulary if heretofore he has not had the clearance to get the full details?

Answer- he can’t. Therefor he accepts the alternatives provided by the career establishment that never goes away and he hopes he makes the right choices. Or he is influenced by a lobbyist or two representing companies in his district or special interest groups.

From a practical standpoint, policy and war decisions are made far below the levels of the talking heads who take the heat or the credit for the results.

This situation is unfortunate but it is ablsolute fact. Take it from one who has been to war and worked in the establishment.

This giant policy making and war machine will eventually come apart and have to be put back together to operate smaller, leaner and on less fuel. But that won’t happen unitil it hits a brick wall at high speed.

We will then have to run a Volkswagon instead of a Caddy and get along somehow. We better start practicing now and get off our high horse. Our golden aura in the world is beginning to dull from arrogance.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


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