History or Hysteria?

Our vulture pundits regurgitate rumor and buzz

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

Instantly televised images are broadcast with no in-depth analysis. A national television audience sighs and cheers second-to-second — not unlike the mercurial Athenians lined up on the shore of the Great Harbor at Syracuse, who in dejection and euphoria watched their fleet lose, win, and lose in the sea battle against the Sicilians.

But rather than trying to digest and analyze the tempo of battle, our vulture pundits instead regurgitate rumor and buzz — which are usually refuted by the next minute’s events. The subtext throughout seems to be disappointment that the war so far has lasted seven rather than two days.

Reporters at the beginning of the week were hysterically railing that Basra — cut off and surrounded — was not yet taken. A voice on NPR told us that after three days there would be “no food or water” — as if we had not cut off the power, water, and bridges at Baghdad in 1991 for 44 days, as if Marines getting shot at had electricity in the field. Things happen in war. Surely a temporary interruption in service is not so high a price to pay for lasting freedom.

I flipped the channel. Another pundit was lamenting that we were outnumbered by the Republican Guard; 1,000 planes with the best pilots in the world apparently don’t compute in his strategic calculus. Yet another philosopher worried that we “were angering the Arab street” — as if anger does not naturally rise in war. He should have asked why a German public that hated us in 1941 did not do so in 1945. Not to be outdone, another expert — wrong in the past on everything in Afghanistan — smugly announced that in five days of war “everything has gone wrong!”

Have these people any intelligence or shame?

Casualties, POWs, and skyrocketing costs blanket the airwaves; rarely mentioned is the simple military fact that in a single week, a resolute American pincer column has driven across Iraq and is now systematically surrounding Baghdad — and with far fewer killed than were lost in a single day in Lebanon. When American soldiers move decisively against terrorists and killers in the Middle East, they have a far greater chance of surviving than they do sitting in their barracks as living targets under “rules of engagement.”

In disgust at the hysteria, I took a drive to Washington to the National Cathedral on Sunday. Big mistake. All except one of the entrances were closed due to security concerns. I walked in under the wonderful sculptures of Frederick Hart, an authentic American genius who almost single-handedly restored classical realism to American sculpture. A small statue of a kneeling Lincoln, who sent thousands into battle to eradicate slavery, was in the corner. A plaque of quotations from Churchill, about the need for sacrifice in war, was on the wall. So I was feeling somewhat good again — until I heard the pious sermon on “shock and awe.” In pompous tones the minister was deprecating the war effort, calling down calumnies upon the administration, and alleging the immoral nature of our nation at war.

Such a strange man at such a strange time, I thought. His entire congregation, by its own admission, is in danger from foreign terrorists (why else bar the gates?). His church is itself a monument to the utility of force for moral purposes. His own existence as a free-speaking, freely worshiping man of God is possible only thanks to the United States military — whose present mission he was openly deriding at the country’s national shrine.

All these people need to calm down, take a deep breath, and read their history — computing the logistics of fighting 7,000 miles away and considering the hurdles of vast space, unpredictable weather, and enemies without uniforms. And? In just a week, the United States military has surrounded one of history’s most sadistic and nasty regimes. It has overrun 80 percent of the countryside and has daily pulverized the Republican Guard, achieving more in five days than the Iranians did in eight years.

Twenty-four hours a day, thousands of tankers and supply trucks barrel down long, vulnerable supply lines, quickly and efficiently. There is no bridge too far for these long columns. One-hundred percent air superiority is ours. There is not a single Iraqi airplane in the sky. Enemy tanks either stay put or are bombed. Kurds and Shiites really will soon start to be heard. Seven oil wells are on fire (with firefighters on the scene) — no oil slicks, no attacks on Israel. Kuwait City is not aflame. “Millions” of refugees fleeing into Syria and Jordan have not materialized. Even Peter Arnett is no longer parroting the Iraqi government claims of ten million starving and has moved on to explain why the Iraqis were equipped with chemical suits — to protect Saddam’s killers from our WMDs!

Few, if any, major bridges in Iraq have been blown; there are no mass uprisings in Saddam’s favor. The Tikrit mafia fights as the SS did in the craters of Berlin, facing as it does — and within weeks — either a mob’s noose, a firing squad, or a dungeon. Through 20,000 air sorties, no jets have been shot down; there is nothing to stop them from flying another 100,000. They fly in sand, in lightning, high, low, day, night, anywhere, anytime. Supplies are pouring in. Saddam’s regime is cut off and its weapons will not be replenished. This is not North Vietnam, with Chinese and Russian ships with daily re-supply in the harbor of Haiphong. British and Americans, with courageous Australians as well, are fighting as a team without even the petty rivalry of a Montgomery and Bradley.

Our media talks of Saddam’s thugs and terrorists as if they were some sort of Iraqi SAS. Meanwhile, the real thing — scary American, British, and Australian Special Forces — is causing havoc to Saddam’s rear guard. In short, for all the tragedy of a fragging, Iraqi atrocities, misdirected cruise missiles, and the usual cowardly antics inherent to our enemy’s way of war, the real story is not being reported: A phenomenal march against overwhelming logistical, material, and geographical odds in under seven days has reached and surrounded Saddam Hussein’s capital.

At home there have been none of the promised terrorist attacks. A supportive public — stunned by initial losses, now angered by atrocities — is growing more, not less, fervent, determined not merely to defeat but to destroy utterly the Baathists. The Arab world snickers that we cannot take casualties; the American public is instead growing impatient to inflict more of them — and is probably already well to the right of the Bush administration. We are a calm and forgiving people, but executing prisoners, fighting in civilian clothes, and using human shields will soon draw a response too terrible to contemplate.

Just as unusual has been American ad hoc logistical flexibility. Saudi Arabia caved early on — and we moved to other Gulf states. Turkey caved late — and we went ahead with a single thrust. France connived both early and late — and they are quiet. Russia, as the Soviets of old, proved duplicitous in ways that we are just learning — and it made no difference. Indeed, their night-vision equipment and GPS jammers will help Saddam no more than did the German-built bunker he was bombed in.

We should recall that in the first Gulf War we bombed for over 44 days. Critics in 1991 by day 10 were complaining because after the first few nights’ pyrotechnics, Saddam’s army had not crumbled. In turn, earlier swaggering air-advocates had promised victory in three weeks — only to be unjustly slandered that they had failed to end the war in six. Gulf War I is considered a great victory; it required 48 days of air and ground attacks by an enormous coalition to expel the Iraqi army from Kuwait. Our present attempt, with half the force, seeks to end Saddam Hussein altogether — and on day 7 already had him cut off, trapped, and besieged.

In the campaign against Belgrade, the ebullience was gone by day 10 when Milosevic remained defiant. By the fifth week, criticism was fierce and calls for an end to the bombing widespread. On day 77, Milosevic capitulated — and no critics stepped forward to confess that their gloom and doom had been misplaced. Does anyone recall the term “quagmire,” used of Afghanistan after the third week — and how prophets of doom promised enervating stasis, only days later to see a chain of Afghan cities fall? Yet no armchair doom-and-gloom generals were to be found when the Taliban ran and utterly confounded their pessimism. Our talking heads remind me of the volatility of the Athenian assembly, ready to laud or execute at a moment’s notice.

The commentators need to listen to history. By any fair standard of even the most dazzling charges in military history — the German blast through the Ardennes in spring 1940, or Patton’s romp in July — the present race to Baghdad is unprecedented in its speed and daring, and in the lightness of its causalities. We can nit-pick about the need for another armored division, pockets of irregulars, a need to mop up here and there, plenty of hard fighting ahead, this and that. But the fact remains that, so far, the campaign has been historically unprecedented in getting so many tens of thousands of soldiers so quickly to Baghdad without losses — and its logistics will be studied for decades.

Indeed, the only wrinkle is that our present military faces cultural obstacles never envisioned by an Epaminondas, Caesar, Marlborough, Sherman — orany of the other great marchers. A globally televised and therapeutic culture puts an onus on American soldiers that could never have been envisioned by any of the early captains. We treat prisoners justly; our enemy executes them. We protect Iraqi bridges, oil, and dams — from Iraqi saboteurs. We must treat Iraqi civilians better than do their own men, who are trying to kill them. Our generals and leaders take questions; theirs give taped propaganda speeches. Shock and awe — designed not to kill but to stun, and therefore to save civilians — are slurred as Hamburg and Dresden. The force needed to crush Saddam’s killers is deemed too much for the fragile surrounding human landscape. Marines who raise the Stars and Stripes are reprimanded for being too chauvinistic. And on, and on, and on.

When this is all over — and I expect it will be soon — besides a great moral accounting, I hope that there will deep introspection and sober public discussion about the peculiar ignorance and deductive pessimism on the part of our elites. In the meantime, all we can insist on is absolute and unconditional surrender — no peace process, no exit strategy, no U.N. votes, no Arab League parley, no EU expressions of concern, no French, no anything but our absolute victory and Saddam’s utter ruin. Unlike in 1991, commanders in the field must be given explicit instructions from the White House about negotiations: There are to be absolutely none — other than the acceptance of unconditional surrender.


©2004 Victor Davis Hanson

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