War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. A man who has nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance at being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.” -John Stuart Mill
Watching the Democrats in Congress – abetted by some ill-informed, poorly disciplined Republicans – engage in the politics of betrayal this week was grim. Seeing so many supposedly intelligent, dedicated, patriotic individuals engage in infantile defeatism was maddening. They are attempting to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and many of us are frustrated and upset.
Part of what drives these individuals – aside from Beltway poll watching, and unchecked ambition - also troubles many Americans: our obsession with achieving the impossible. We want to have a clean, crisp, sanitary war in which we suffer few casualties. We want our enemy’s pain to be minimal possible to achieve desired results. We want the unfortunate deaths of civilians – euphemistically called “collateral damage” – removed from the process completely. Additionally we wish that all deaths inflicted by internal errors – “friendly fire casualties” – be prevented. We want a Clean War Pill to cure our foreign policy ills and will accept no hangovers or unpleasant side effects. And, by the way, we want the entire thing from beginning to end wrapped up by next Thursday.
“Why is this taking so long? Are we in a quagmire?” These frantic questions were on commentators’ lips just days into the Iraq War when a sandstorm – not enemy action - temporarily slowed the blistering advance of American and Coalition force troops up the Tigris-Euphrates River valley. To all informed observers the attack was remarkable in its pace and intensity. Entire Iraqi Republican Guard divisions – considered elite by media types – were being overrun by 3rd Infantry Division and Marine Task Force units at a pace considered impossible prior to the war.
Even without immediate assistance from the 4th Infantry, which had been forbidden to cross Turkey to enter the war from the north, on-the-ground units were achieving impossible objectives. High tech weapons systems were knocking out targets at phenomenal rates. Iraqi soldiers fled into the desert, drifting back into cities and villages after jettisoning uniforms, helmets, and equipment. On Fox News Bill O’Reilly asked military analyst Colonel David Hunt if we “have killed a hundred thousand of these guys?” Hunt thought we had done so. It turned out that the enemy KIA numbers were far lower and Iraqi civilian casualties were minuscule given the magnitude of the fight.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi soldiers we left unscathed were also left unemployed by a misguided Coalition Provisional Authority. With much of the country’s infrastructure damaged, with rubble piled up, Saddam’s slum areas full of filth, and voluminous munitions storage sites unguarded, the CPA made a critical error: Ambassador Paul Bremmer refused to approve using former Iraqi soldiers as labor brigades. Out of work, broke, frustrated, and uncertain, many former grunts drifted into the Sunni insurgency. The smoke had barely cleared from major combat operations when the difficult days began.
Even though Iraq since July 2003 has been a frustrating experience it has been relatively positive. Regardless, American media conveys much the opposite impression. Compared to previous wars casualty levels are extremely low considering that 50 million people in Iraq and Afghanistan are free of brutal, mass murdering dictatorships. Elections, that took years to take place in liberated Japan and Germany, have been occurring with reassuring regularity and have included increasingly large numbers of the population. Disaffected Sunni citizens – who held all the cards during Saddam’s vicious reign – are accepting the reality of living with other Iraqi citizens as equals. The terrorist campaign has shifted focus from American troops to Iraqi civilians and first responders, particularly police. And the terrorists are now mostly foreign fighters imported from Saudi, Yemen, Jordan, Chechnya, and other Arab/Islamic states.
So why are Americans so disconsolate about the state of affairs? The obvious answer is that we receive precious little positive news from the battlefield. We are told that casualty rates are high, though they are not. We are told that the “insurgency” is gaining popularity among Iraqi people while the converse is true: insurgents have declared war on ordinary Iraqis and the civilians recognize the threat. Massive demonstrations in Jordan see the “Arab Street” - which up till now has been deafening silent – out chanting “Zarqawi, burn in hell!” Inside Iraq civilians who may have given tacit support to the terrorists are no longer intimidated and are informing to American and Iraqi forces on the hideouts of the al Qaeda thugs.
We are told that Iraqi infrastructure is irreparably harmed while there is more electricity generated now than any time during Saddam’s reign, more schools are open, more hospitals are functioning with better equipment, more news media sources – newspapers, radio, television, and Internet – are operating than at any time in Iraqi history, and the economy is booming to the point that large numbers of Iraqi expatriates are returning to join in the free market bonanza. Iraqis are indeed concerned about American presence – they fear that we will cut and run.
What can be the motivation for such disconsolate reporting – actually misreporting – from the battlefield? Part and parcel it is the Vietnam syndrome writ large. The reporters, commentators, and analysts who report the war are themselves fatally infected with the Vietnam disease even though most are far too young to have experienced it firsthand. They were inoculated with anti-war, anti-American ideology while in journalism school and receive frequent booster shots. They have been schooled that mere reporting of the news is for wimps and that real journalists are “participatory.” They believe their role is “interpreting” news for the unwashed public. So selective screening, cherry-picking facts, and slanting interpretations are all part of their beat.
Some of the Vietnam legend is that bad wars are ugly while good wars can be just, clean, and bright – evidence our mythologizing of World War II and the generation deemed “Greatest”. We rewrite the history of warfare to suit our flawed beliefs. We have forgotten the horrific mistakes in WWII leader’s judgment, the friendly fire casualties, the intentional targeting of civilians, the mass bombings, and the lingering insurgency in Germany for years following victory. We have sanitized what was in fact an extraordinarily brave group of men and women fighting a typically messy war. We ignore the past and paradoxically vilify what today’s military has done to develop a method of war-fighting that preserves civilian life and minimizes casualties.
But America in the post-Vietnam era – even decades past – seems incapable of discarding the revisionist slanders placed upon it by the hard left and its media accomplices. We are told by the “anti” crowd that Iraq is “another Vietnam,” and that American presence only “motivates the insurgents to greater violence.” That this is totally fatuous and historically incoherent does not penetrate. But where a genuine similarity exists between the Iraq War and the Vietnam War is that these same moral cowards forced a precipitate withdrawal of American support for our South Vietnamese ally. What followed were gruesome killing fields, concentration camps, and hundreds of thousand of hapless refugees.
Our shameful retreat left a dismal political and economic system that is still struggling to regain a modicum of the prosperity that South Vietnam enjoyed even during wartime. Flight from Iraq would trigger a civil war, give victory to the al Qaeda terrorists, and energize the Islamofascist killers. They would attack America and our allies from all sides with all imaginable weapons – and some that we cannot imagine. Is this really the outcome that serious American Democrat leaders wish? That itself is unimaginable.
By insisting on the impossible: ultra “clean” wars with no losses and quick, cheap victories and by continuing to heed the revisionists who “Vietnamize” every international move that America makes to protect itself and spread freedom to oppressed peoples we risk losing this fight. These internal dissidents are so obsessed with their anti-American, anti-Bush criticism that they are willing to run from a vicious enemy and betray the sacrifices of our soldiers. We must prevent them from doing that as the consequences would be extremely dire for Iraq, the region, and America.
That is the real lesson of war: war is sometimes necessary, always messy, and never quick, crisp, and clean. We must keep things in perspective. And we as a nation must steel ourselves to the necessity of enduring difficult circumstances and persevering in order to bring about safer, better times. Those are the real lessons of warfare, and of Vietnam.