04 May 2006

Grima Wormtongue Defeatism Award

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New Yorker staff writer George Packer, author of the Iraq War-bashing book The Assassin’s Gate, nostalgically recalls the scene in March of 1968, when Lyndon Johnson met with the elder statesmen of his party’s foreign policy establishment, a group known (ironically, I think) as “the Wise Men.”

Grimly, they “told Johnson that the war could not be won in the time that American opinion would permit him, and that the United States should begin to disengage from Vietnam. Five days later, Johnson announced a restriction on bombing in North Vietnam and his own withdrawal from the Presidential race.”

“If there are any Wise Men available in the spring of 2006, what should they tell President Bush to do in Iraq? And, if they told him, would he listen?” wonders Packer aloud.

Since the end of the Cold War, the role of the foreign-policy establishment has been killed off by the nasty partisanship that now infects every aspect of Washington politics. In mid-March, Congress announced the formation of an Iraq Study Group to analyze the state of the war and advise the President about the way forward. Perhaps because the very idea of a bipartisan foreign policy no longer exists, the group seems to have been chosen for its political constituencies rather than for its informed and independent judgment. It’s hard to imagine the likes of Rudolph Giuliani, Chuck Robb, Vernon Jordan, and Sandra Day O’Connor marching into the Cabinet Room to tell the President that his Iraq policy has failed and that he needs a new one, along with new people to implement it.

But what if they do? This is not a President who places his faith in the wisdom of men.

Well, when the wisdom of men (or, at least, the wisdom of the liberal establishment and New Yorker pundits) tells the president and us “the war, in which almost twenty-four hundred Americans have died, and whose cumulative cost will reach $320 billion this year, is going badly and shows no prospect of a quick turnaround,” George W. Bush is entirely right to ignore it, and trust in the might of American arms and the justice of our cause.

Mr. Packer cites 2400 American deaths as if that were a figure so costly as to break the country’s will. In 1864, when the population of the United States was 31 million, the Union Army lost 10,000 casualties at the battle of Cold Harbor in twenty minutes, but the North did not abandon the war. Today the US population is in the neighborhood of 300 million.

Mr. Packer seems to have managed to forget to compare the deaths of over 3000 non-combatant civilians in under two hours on September 11, 2001 with the casualty figures he notes accumulated over three years in Iraq. The US lost 2400 (overwhelmingly military casualties) killed at Pearl Harbor, and more than 400,000 American lives were lost in the course of the war resuting from that attack.

Not only are American combat losses in Iraq minor by historical standards, defeatist liberal pundits like Packer carefully overlook the fact that we are winning the war.

Fareed Zakaria observes in Newsweek:

Al Qaeda Central, by which I mean the dwindling band of brothers on the Afghan-Pakistani border, appears to have turned into a communications company. It’s capable of producing the occasional jihadist cassette, but not actual jihad. I know it’s risky to say this, as Qaeda leaders may be quietly planning some brilliant, large-scale attack. But the fact that they have not been able to do one of their trademark blasts for five years is significant in itself….

The danger from global Islamic terrorism is real. But it is the product of small and scattered groups, spewing hate. It has much less support in the Muslim world than people think. There is much to be distressed about in that world-oppressive regimes, reactionary social views, illiberal political parties, mindless and virulent anti-Americanism. But these trends are not the same as support for jihad or for a Taliban-like Islamic state. And it is the latter-terror and theocracy-that are Al Qaeda’s basic goals. The evidence suggests that they are not gaining adherents.

The West, and the United States in particular, has a long history of seeing the enemy as 10 feet tall-think of Soviet Russia and Saddam Hussein. But as we paint Al Qaeda in those lofty terms, let’s please remember last week, when Osama bin Laden appealed on a crackling audiotape for a little money to build a few huts in Waziristan.

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