How To Lose This War

by Victor Davis Hanson

Private Papers

As gas prices rise at home, scream that the war abroad was fought to steal Iraqi oil and get American hands on cheap petroleum. Talk about American imperialism and hegemony while the United States spends billions of dollars to implant democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq. Claim that the United States has destabilized the Middle East as its troops leave Saudi Arabia, Libya gives up its WMD arsenal, Iran suddenly worries about UN inspections, and Pakistan begins to reveal its former Islamic felonies.

Watch columnists and pundits who advocated war, who applauded the three-week toppling of Saddam Hussein, and were convinced that democracy appears with a snap of the fingers suddenly repent, do an about face, and now lament that “they” got us into a messy war.Insist that Iraq has nothing to do with the wider struggle against Islamic fundamentalists and their autocratic state supporters in the Middle East. Proclaim that there was little Islamic terrorism until our invasion of Iraq. Assume that beheadings are a result of Iraq and that Daniel Pearl was decapitated only after March 2003. Then pretend that the execution of a General Massoud in Afghanistan, the Chechen war, 9-11, the Pakistani murders and bombings, our African embassy bombings, the USS Cole, the first World Trade Center and the ongoing killing in Saudi Arabia simply did not happen until the invasion of Iraq.

Ignore, if not ridicule, any evidence that does not fit a preconceived view: Mohammed Atta could have never met with Iraqi intelligence officers; Abu Abbas and Abu Nidal were not really terrorists and not really in Baghdad; there is no chance that WMD have been transferred to Syria or evidence of its removal or destruction found in Iraq. Power, water, and sewage, as well as oil production, cannot be back at prewar levels.

Constantly demand more troops; but do not use to the fullest the soldiers that are in the field: do not move on Fallujah but then always call for more soldiers to guard more Fallujahs to come. Do not arrest al-Sadr in fear of Shiite reaction—then be told privately by Shiites to arrest al-Sadr.

 Ignore American soldiers in battle and turn the entire nation’s attention toward sexual abuse and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners by a few miscreant American soldiers.

Before trials and court-martials, pronounce the accused guilty. Do not inquire about the circumstances or context of the macabre photos; instead flash them around the world with the cheap editorializing of grandstanding congressmen. Denigrate a military that is investigating its own without prompting from the Congress. Scream that there must be no cover-up—even as there are almost no prominent Americans who have attempted to hide the transgressions or downplayed its severity. For good measure, use the incident as a pretext for wild accusations as part of national political fund-raising efforts in an election year.

In the middle of a war demand the resignation of both the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs who oversaw two successful wars that deposed the two worst regimes in the Middle East in less than an aggregate eleven weeks.

Pay as little attention as possible to horrific footage of American civilians burned alive and desecrated or to Jewish-American citizens beheaded on tape. Instead get up each morning damning the United States military in the field for the moral lapses and despicable, un-American behavior of a few untrained guards in an ex-charnel house that was occasionally shelled while they interrogated some of the worst criminals on the planet.

At all times demand without shame what is mutually contradictory: “Baathists must be cleansed from a new Iraq!—We disbanded the very people who could have provided security,” “Don’t rush into wild elections without constitutional frameworks in place—Get on with the voting right now.” “Be careful about antagonizing al Sadr and his volatile young firebrands—Why by laxity did we let a fanatic without broad support assume heroic proportions?”

In the midst of a war sensationalize a spate of books claiming the President of the United States is either sinister, amoral, or his family Nazi-like in its origins.

What is strange about this continuous hysteria is that we cannot even keep track of its endless cycles. Who knows where Paul O’Neil is now, and is Richard Clarke even on Comedy Central any more? Do we remember the 48-hour conundrum over the embalming of the Hussein boys? Is the 9-11 commission still really the key event of the year? Does anyone care about whom Teddy Kennedy is screaming this week?

In short, all these various fits of madness break out, claim some unique status of timelessness and transcendence, and then simply end up on the scrap heap of American amnesia alongside the so-called ‘unreliable’ Northern Alliance, the ‘near-criminal absence of troops’ in Afghanistan, the worries over fighting during Ramadan, Jenin, Jenin!, and the yellow cluster bombs purportedly made to look like food packages in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, for all the cannibalism here at home, Iraq is inching ahead as certain historical forces—an autonomous government, elections, increased petroleum income, an influx of foreign aid, and military defeat of militias—continue to play out. Seventy percent of the American people do not want Donald Rumsfeld to resign, and a majority does not wish to cut and run from Iraq.

Yet the chief danger to the success of seeing Iraq evolve into a consensual society at home is simply twofold—as it has always been since the first day of the war: the larger cultural and political war at home in which rabid critics of the present policy have decided to equate success in Iraq with their own failure and vice versa; and a general weariness of Americans with the Arab Middle East in general, whose fist-shaking Arab Street, passive-aggressive policies, warped gender apartheid, and tribalism finally have driven the American public nearly nuts. Our elite claims the Iraqis are tiring of us; the greater worry is that Americans are tiring of Iraqis and most of their neighbors as well.

It turns out the secret weapon of al Sadr and the Fallujah Baathists is the same as that of the Hamas killers and the hooded Hezbollah murderers—we don’t like these folks. Most Americans simply do not wish to have anything to do with them, for good or bad, here or there, now or in the future. And that is a powerful weapon when you are trying to leave elections and schools, not a Dresden-like heap of rubble, in the wake of your victory and departure.

Before this peace is fully won we are going to see some more horrific scenes emanating out of Iraq—charred bodies, tortured American prisoners, West-Bank-style lynching and shootings. Such is the nature of war and peace in that part of the world. But what is different about this present war, what makes it so at odds with the effort to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan, the Lebanon peacekeeping and mass murder of Marines with attendant flight, the first Gulf War, the no-fly zones and various mini-scrapes like Operation Desert Fox or the cruise-missiles sent into Afghanistan and North Africa, is that the United States has repeatedly shown it is not simply interested in bombing and leaving, but wants this time to create the conditions under which a GPS bomb or cruise missile is no longer a necessary response—and that is a very difficult proposition indeed, especially when most regimes in the Middle East would prefer us to bomb and run rather than to build and stay.

Suggestions? We must press on, of course. Use the troops that we have to put down the insurrectionists immediately and without mercy—and we will not need perpetually to call for ever more soldiers. One subdued Fallujah is worth two additional armored divisions in terms of deterrence. Give the Iraqis a higher public profile, and do not waver from the long scheduled dates of transfer of power. And finally, keep reminding the American people how much has been accomplished and how rare is our effort to defeat fascism and leave consensual government in its wake—and do that every day.

© 2004 Victor Davis Hanson

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