I haven’t had time to write it up (and with Winter Quarter coming like a freight train can’t imagine I’ll ever find the time), but for weeks now I’ve been mentally composing a long, discursive post on the Bush administration’s dogged assertion — and apparently sincere belief — that it can still win big in Iraq. In this it is supported by a number of gifted military historians, most notably Eliot Cohen and Fred Kagan.
Since I have great respect for Eliot and Fred, I’ve tried hard to see things their way. But they don’t even begin to persuade. Their arguments strike me as basically elaborate, occasionally eloquent embroideries of the old platitude, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
And their urge to surge strikes me as particularly untenable. It’s what the United States did in Vietnam from 1964 through 1968. It’s what the Italians did in 1915-1917, the result being no fewer than twelve Battles of the Isonzo River before the Germans cleaned their clocks at Caporetto. The Germans, for their part, got the urge to surge in March 1918, and the result was complete defeat within eight months.
But those are just three historical examples. Eliot and Fred could dispute each one of them and come up with three counterexamples in a New York minute. We’re all smart guys who know a lot about military history and strategic studies.
My three examples essentially buttress a gut level conviction, which I’ve held ever since July 2002 — when the Bush administration began laying the domestic groundwork for the Iraq war — that this adventure was needless and would/will end badly. Eliot and Fred had and have the equal but opposite gut level conviction. Unfortunately, they also have the ear of the president, whose own gut level convictions have for six years had him bounding from disaster to disaster with a kind of animal joy.