Saturday, September 09, 2006

Big Lies

Wretchard at Belmont Club has some fascinating thoughts on how mightily the media and certain pundits are trying to declare defeat in Iraq, in order to make it so, in spite of actual facts on the ground:
Commitment and adaptability
Global Guerrillas argues that Washington is now flogging itself over it's inability to mimic Babe Ruth, who famously pointed to the stands to indicate where he was going to hit a homer:

We are now at the start of a long process of rationalization over the US defeat in Iraq.

A world which has just declared the IDF defeated by Iran and Syria simply by acting at a distance through Hezbollah, might want to spare a thought at how these same countries have been unable to prevent the fall of Saddam -- a regime greater than Syria's -- the establishment of an internationally recognized government of Iraq and the creation of a multdivisional indigenous security force right on their borders.

But whatever the situation the field, Global Guerillas is surely right in highlighting the disappointment among some policymakers in the failure to carry out the prescribed plan from 2003. The possibility that one might have to adapt or persist in war may not have occurred to people whose management paradigm is meeting budgets and tracking milestones.
But that is little to the point. A new Iraqi government, it's fledgling army and the thousands of Iraqis who've bet their life on working for the Americans are things to be thrown away like a toy on Christmas that has failed to meet a child's lofty expectations.
He adds some further thoughts in the comment section as well:
wretchard said...
When Vietnam was being declared a defeat, various neighboring countries, like Thailand and Singapore, realized that they had been saved by US action. For them it was an unmistakeable victory.

When Douglas McArthur strode away in disgust from Congress after delivering his valedictory, he little realized he had secured the existence of South Korea into virtual perpetuity and condemned the North to a future of misery.
Objectively speaking even the worst defeat is alloyed with victory. And the most talented commanders are capable of noticing where they are winning even when they are "losing" and leveraging those elements to the eventual advantage. Mao was one; Nasrallah possibly another. Unfortunately the modern West cannot even distinguish victory from defeat, perhaps because they've never really felt its sting over the last 60 years.

What we call defeat is one we arbitrate ourselves. But a civilization that has the luxury to "decide" whether it has been defeated is really judging various shades of victory. Defeat becomes the process of rejecting the less than awesome in the way a gourmet refuses the imperfect strawberry.

Any civilization that can deliver a judgment on itself in calm university meetings complete with coffee and cake; on television talk shows with hairstyled participants and daily newspapers on first-rate newsprint is by definition a civilization which has the safety in which to concern itself with whether it should declare defeat or victory today.

Real defeat is an unmistakeable experience.

When actually present there is as much need to recognize it as there is to acknowledge a shark which is detaching your leg. It will be too obvious for words.

Real defeat is felt by the beaten even when every newspaper, broadcast program and pamphlet is declaring victory; and not as so often happens today, the opposite.

A defeat which has to be announced in paid ads, predicted by movies, announced on roadshows and recited like a mantra in print must be a very weak sort of devil, one we might not notice had our betters not had the kindness to point it out.
A reader adds:
allen said...
Not since 1865 has America tasted its own blood and ashes. Not since then have Americans had to consider the real possibility of societal extinction. Yes, we had our terrible arithmetic in WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam; however, in no case was the enemy at our door or was eventual victory in doubt.

In this war, whatever it is, and the enemy, who ever he may be, is one weapon system away from doing irreparable systemic damage. Our good fortune has blinded us to the possibility of crippling harm.

Indeed, the barbarians may well enter Rome to find the Senate in session, oblivious to reality.
Responding to a pessimistic left-wing dove, wretchard continues with this scathing rebuke:
Yet subtly, without anyone noticing, in the years between World War 2 and today the Press has acquired the power to be the arbiter of any great public enterprise and in particular to declare defeat or victory in war. Vietnam was the first clear exercise of that power. It is jealously guarded to this day.

To effect this all the old metrics first had to be declared invalid.

No longer could the destruction of the enemy's armies, the capture of his capital, the occupation of his territory, the fugitive life of the opposition, the absence of meaningful retaliation be entered as evidence of victory.

Today these count for nothing.

Organizations like Hezbollah were the first to realize that a sea change had taken place. What took place on the battlefield ran a poor second to what was shown on TV screens. In fact, the battlefield could be ignored altogether if suitably doctored images could be procured for exhibition.

The press set the rules of evidence within their tribunal.

Did you establish an elected government? It's not a liberal, secular multicultural government! Did you say losses are lower than any war in history? They should be zero! Did you say America has not been attacked in five years? That would have happened any way and especially if you had left it all to the UN!

Coalition losses are counted and recounted. No one even bothers to tally the enemy's. Not that it can't be known. It's that it has no relevance.

Has the plan been changed from the original? Then it will be described as "the Pentagon has been forced to admit" ... "in the face of mounting evidence" ... "despite assurances by the President" ... "in contrast to overoptimistic planning". Adaptability a vice in us, a virtue in the enemy.

Because only by choosing a moment in time can things be compared to a perfect instant; can we find for guilt against a bill of impossible particulars and like Gatsby, object to the kiss if unaccompanied by the tuning fork upon a star.
Embracing the Big Lie is seductive because humans are social animals with a desire to conform.

Don't fall for it.


Anonymous Bob.Pgh said...

I take your fundamental point to have the following parts:
A. A people unmistakeably realize when they truly have lost a war.
B. A people have won a war when the other side unmistakeably realizes they have lost.
C. We are not losing in Iraq.

[Note: In the following discussion, I go beyond the situation with Iraq.]

The problem right now is that our leaders are taking inadequate steps to convince the other side that THEY are losing and ultimately realize unmistakeably that THEY have lost.

In the good war, WWII, the entire country was dedicated to defeating the enemy.

We had rationing, we bought war bonds, we held scrap metal drives, we had victory gardens and probably more that I can't recall. Maybe taxes were raised.

We have no call from President Bush for such dedication today. Rather, we put up with some additional inconvenience at airports (big deal) and are asked to give up some of our civil liberties (now that is a big deal and we should be very careful how we do that but that is a separate discussion).

More importantly, we sought unconditional surrender in the good war and defined our job as killing the enemy. Bringing democracy to them was not part of the goal -- we did that after we killed enough of them, civilians and military, that they did indeed surrender unconditionally.

In the cold war that followed the good war the Soviet Union was defeated by a completely different strategy, one of containment.

President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld are following neither a strategy of killing the enemy until he quits nor one of containment.

Now, I can well believe that a different, new strategy is necessary in the war on terror, but I am sure that it will not succeed without a call for dedication and sacrifice on the home front as well as on any battle front. And I am sure that it will require a lot of killing of the enemy where fighting is going on.

President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld, however, have put woefully inadequate resources into the fight in Afghanistan where a well-defined enemy is known to be. We have not not sought, found and killed enough al Qaeda and Taliban members there. We should find and kill them all and that takes more resources.

The major difficulty that I see in Iraq is that we are not fighting an actual war there because there is not a simply identifiable enemy. We have put ourselves in a position of not being able to kill someone just because he is an Iraqi. Instead we're trying to help the good Iraqis to democracy and we're trying to kill only the bad ones. In other words, we're trying to maintain civil order there, not fight a war. I think it would have been better not to start this effort when we did. Given that we did start it, we should have put in more resources and strongly occupied the country.

I have called for more resources. But where do they come from? They come from dedication and sacrifice on the home front such as we had in the good war.

As for Iran, a hot war may well not be necessary. I believe that enough Iranians would prefer a modern, secular government that containing the present government and helping the majority of Iranians to pull off a counter-revolution may do the trick.

So maybe we are not losing. However, "not losing" a war is different from winning a war, and we are making a bad attempt at winning.

11:15 PM, September 10, 2006  
Blogger RDS said...

Put that man in charge!

10:29 PM, September 11, 2006  
Blogger RDS said...

Absolutely. The first step on the path to victory is simpy to realize we haven't actually lost.

10:33 PM, September 11, 2006  
Anonymous Elvin Haspell said...

We are not at war.

When I can buy gas without a WAR TAX on the pump, or a SUV without a sticker on the windshield reminding me we are at war, we are not at war.

But that's the small reason we are not at war. The big reason is we are not fighting a war at all but a police action, and infantrymen make lousy cops. Especially when they don't speak the language and understand the culture. Very especially when the culture is based on extended family ties on a level incomprehensible to Westerners.

A Genghis Khan could deal with this. Soviet Russia, in fact, was doing okay in Afghanistan until we stuck our nose in. But not us.

Would you have been-answer quick, don't think-willing to Arc Light Fallujah? If YES took more than 100 milliseconds, you can't win this "war".

The fact is in Iraq, we aren't facing "an enemy" We are facing ten or more different enemies, many of which hate each other more than us. Our only hope of conventional victory is to make them all hate us more than each other, then terrorize them into a state of stasis. It worked for Saddam. The other alternative is to let Iraq break into several smaller states, which will make Turkey (among others) our blood enemy.

They don't call it Byzantine for nothing.

12:30 PM, September 14, 2006  

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