It’s hard to know what to make of Bill Clinton going to the Middle East, taking to the podium in front of a large group of students and a press gaggle in the UAE, and telling the Middle East and the world that the U.S. knocking off Saddam was a big mistake.
Short of George Bush standing up and saying “had it with the war, gonna spend the next three years fishin’ in the Cigarette boat with Poppy,” I can’t imagine any politician doing more to help charge up the insurgency than that. Admittedly, Clinton knows how to win political fights, and maybe he senses blood in the water. But honest to God, this is a war, it’s a war we are in largely as a consequence of prior chickening-outs, and a further chickening out will only encourage future attacks of the state and non-state sponsored kind.
No, I’m not going to rant about Bill Clinton. I’m just putting this out there, and shaking my head. Why say that? Why say it there? What was he thinking?
Assymetrical wars aren’t fought on the battlefield. They are fought in the mind, the minds of the citizens of the conventional power, in the minds of the guerillas. The guerillas/insurgents/terrorists / thuggees need not ever win a battle. They need only to overcome the will of the conventional power to keep spending dribs and drabs of money and blood on the struggle, and they win.
For this reason, establishing a timetable for withdrawal is insane and defeatist. If you were beating the hell out of some guy in a footrace, the last thing you would do is say “at the top of this next hill, I’m going to ease off. I’m tired of this conflict.” The other guy then has an immediate boost in moral and intensity. He knows that he need only hang on until the top of that hill, at which point you will have quit. The same thing is true in war. Qualitative milestones are one thing – “we will stay until the Iraqi security forces are mature enough to defend against enemies foreign and domestic.” But a date, say “next January,” is not a good choice of milestone. If such a deadline is imposed, the insurgency should simply hunker down, keep its powder dry, and act like its finished. If it could hold out up to the announced withdrawal date, and do so quietly, it could muster strength, build a false sense of security in the new police & military (causing them to train less) and then attack when they least expect it and after U.S. forces are gone.
Moreover, an announcement like Clinton’s will be interpreted as an invitation to mount more attacks, to take better advantage of the media and to further try to break the U.S. will to follow through on this invasion. He is perceived as a moderate around the world, and was quite the hawk until this morning. “Hawkish moderate Bill Clinton thinks Iraq intervention is a mistake.” This move is significant to the likes of Zarqawi because it signals to them that the left, and moderate liberals (which our press paints as perhaps 70% of the U.S. population, rightly or wrongly) have deserted the cause. This would be a tremendous boost to the moral of the indigenous and foreign fighter/Islamist insurgent cadres.
Those are the technical military science problems I have with what Clinton said today. I have similar problems with the media coverage today, and most days. The Marines and Army are involved in a couple slam bang fights as we speak, reducing a couple large pockets of Al Qaida fighters that have festered for a long time without intervention. Yet day after day, we hear nothing about where the fighting is going on, what’s really happening, who is being apprehended or killed, why the fight is in a particular place, what the strategic significance is, or how our young men and women are making us proud with their dedication to the mission and the country and their workaday, exceptional-is-the-new-ordinary heroism. Instead the only headline I ever see is “two Americans killed.” Or “five Americans killed.” Or “seven Americans injured in bombing.” Really? The only impression I get from the MSM is that the U.S. troops are basically lined up like metal ducks in a shooting gallery, being picked off one at a time without actually doing anything positive, not carrying out missions, whatever. I guess they are just wandering around in the ‘Raq, wearing do rags, listening to the Stones, smokin’ dope and waiting for their hitch to end.
Now that’s facetious, and I know it’s borderline slander, but that’s all you can surmise from the press coverage – it’s Just Like VietNam USA Today tells us.
It’s not like I have to resort to a subtle argument like “this objectively helps the other side.” There’s nothing “objective” or otherwise qualified about it. This kind of behavior, the incessant focus on casualties rather than the reasons related to those sacrifices, is as incessant as a bombing campaign and just as damaging an attack on the real battlefield, the battlefield of wills, as anything Zarqawi can muster. When you combine the incessant MSM aerial campaign with Bill Clinton’s white flag waver speech, I think it’s fair to conclude that we are about to run from Iraq like a chickenshit nation with our tails between our legs. Here we are with a functioning Iraqi democracy, a nearly implemented constitution, and a parliament that appears to be in the middle of working through, in honest fashion, the first political scandal of the new government, the anti-Shiite bias of the Ministry of Justice. It looks like civil society may be emerging, with U.S. help, from the ashes of the Hussein tyranny. Never mind the modest but important and probably irrevocable steps toward self rule in Lebanon and Egypt.
Yet all we get about this is “five Marines killed” and our incredibly influential ex-president telling every swinging Richard in the middle east that the Iraq invasion was a terrible mistake.
I am incredibly disheartened by this. The two country comparison seems about right – one half of the U.S. or a little less seems to more or less get it, and really wants to win in Iraq. The other half insists that we’ll be safer if we can cut and run, and that inflicting a defeat on Bushwa is what really matters. The stakes are so much higher than some pissant little political dispute, yet this is playing out like a petulant little filibuster episode, as if all that was involved was a .5% benefit cut proposal, or some equally irrelevant congressional action.
The battlefield is here folks. It’s in our minds. The goal of terrorism is to change our minds, and the goal of AQ and its state sponsors is to get the U.S. to quit it with the cultural imperialism, the spreading of pluralistic democracy, the insistence that there can be peaceful co-existence, the spreading of our free wheeling western culture. If we lose here at home, and all the indicators are that the dam is about to burst, then there’s no way we are ever going to win abroad – and we’d better get ready for a conventional campaign here because an emboldened AQ isn’t going to be satisfied with getting the U.S. out of Iraq. The goal isn’t tactical, it’s the destruction of the U.S. and the western way of life. Again, it’s another battle and another battlefield that half the country doesn’t appear ready to acknowledge.