Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Nothing is Over! Nothing!

Courtesy of Matthew Yglesias, this bizarre op-ed from the Washington Post: Retreat is Not An Option. The title alone stirs us with reminders of The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel. Early in the movie, Rommel has just received a direct order not to abandon an untenable post at El Alamein.
Rommel: It's an order, Bayerlein, a military order from General Headquarters. A clear, straight, stupid, criminal military order, from General Headquarters.

Bayerlein: And what are you going to do, double the insanity by obeying it? We've got the best soldiers in the German Army here. They may be just hanging on now, but they're still a force, they're still fighting. If we take them out now, they can fight again tomorrow. But this! This is sheer madness! It's out of the Middle Ages. Nobody had said "Victory or Death" since people fought with bows and arrows. Why, this is an order to throw away an entire army.
Victory or death. Retreat is not an option. Asking people like Lizzie Cheney what it would take to falsify her hypothesis - at what point she would accept that the U.S. cannot "win" Iraq - wastes everyone's time. She would never accept that the U.S. cannot win. She does not accept the U.S.'s military superiority as a matter of reason (better morale, better training, better arms, better intel) but as an article of faith.

So why dwell on her arguments, so-called, when the title alone gives away her madness? Because it's fun.
We are at war. America faces an existential threat. This is not, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi has claimed, a "situation to be solved." It would be nice if we could wake up tomorrow and say, as Sen. Barack Obama suggested at a Jan. 11 hearing, "Enough is enough." Wishing doesn't make it so. We will have to fight these terrorists to the death somewhere, sometime. We can't negotiate with them or "solve" their jihad. If we quit in Iraq now, we must get ready for a harder, longer, more deadly struggle later.
Note that this paragraph contains no facts, no statistics and not much of an argument. Though we prefer not to flatter bald assertion with pure reason, we'll try.

Thus: to call the cultural clash between watered-down Western Protestantism (i.e., the U.S. and Europe) and radical Islamic theocracy (i.e., the factions of whom al-Qaeda is currently the most prominent) a "war" strains the bounds of metaphor. A "war" has a formal and technical definition (we've always liked Clausewitz's); the tidal shifts of religion do not meet that definition. While we do not believe Islam is a "religion of peace" - any more than Christianity is - we don't believe that calling something a war which isn't a war helps.
· Quitting helps the terrorists. Few politicians want to be known as spokesmen for retreat. Instead we hear such words as "redeployment," "drawdown" or "troop cap." Let's be clear: If we restrict the ability of our troops to fight and win this war, we help the terrorists. Don't take my word for it. Read the plans of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Ayman Zawahiri to drive America from Iraq, establish a base for al-Qaeda and spread jihad across the Middle East. The terrorists are counting on us to lose our will and retreat under pressure. We're in danger of proving them right.
Of course, the United States stepped in a bear trap. Of course, gangrene is setting in. But removing the injured foot now would hurt! A lot! What are you, some kind of pussy?

Note also the fascination with "losing our will", already suitably mocked by Matthew Yglesias' Green Lantern theory of diplomacy.
· Beware the polls. In November the American people expressed serious concerns about Iraq (and about Republican corruption and scandals). They did not say that they want us to lose this war. They did not say that they want us to allow Iraq to become a base for al-Qaeda to conduct global terrorist operations. They did not say that they would rather we fight the terrorists here at home. Until you see a poll that asks those questions, don't use election results as an excuse to retreat.
This is a comical failure of rhetoric, something we might clip and show to students as an exercise. "Now class - at what point does Libby smuggle in a false dichotomy, between maintaining troop levels in Iraq or between an increase of terror attacks in the U.S., in her essay?"
· Our soldiers will win if we let them. Read their blogs. Talk to them. They know that free people must fight to defend their freedom. No force on Earth -- especially not an army of terrorists and insurgents -- can defeat our soldiers militarily. American troops will win if we show even one-tenth the courage here at home that they show every day on the battlefield. And by the way, you cannot wish failure on our soldiers' mission and claim, at the same time, to be supporting the troops. It just doesn't compute.
If webjournals count as evidence of the U.S.'s prospects in Iraq, we can think of several that bolster the argument for withdrawal. Note as well Lizabet laying the ground for a First Blood narrative eightteen months from now. "They wouldn't LET us win!"

To the hawks still holding out hope for Iraq, we must ask the following:

(1) What in your eyes would constitute "victory" in Iraq?

(2) If entering Iraq was a bad idea in 2003, why is it a good idea to stay? (And if it wasn't a bad idea, then where are the weapons of mass destruction?)

(3) What in your eyes would constitute "failure" in Iraq? If it's not bad enough now for the U.S. to withdraw, how bad would it have to be?


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