|The Nossiter Net
The net that shall enmesh them all
Edited, Written, and Published by Josh Nossiter
Tuesday, December 19th, 2006
|The Nossiter Net is cast to snare some of the riper rascalities of the day. Comments? firstname.lastname@example.org|
|The fabulists of the Bush administration are about to sell the public another fantasy. The Iraq tar baby can be cleaned up and set to rights – but only if we send in another twenty or thirty thousand troops. That’s the consensus view of what the president will propose in his yet to be delivered “the way forward in Iraq” speech. Just a few more brigades, Mr. Bush will argue, and we’ll achieve that “victory” in Iraq so crucial to our nation’s future.
We’ve seen this movie before, and we didn’t like it. The sorry story is superbly recounted by Barbara Tuchman in The March of Folly, written twenty years ago and still brutally contemporary. Tuchman’s citation of General Jacques Leclerc’s 1946 assessment of Vietnam should be on every American’s lips today: “You’d need half a million men to subjugate the place, and even then it couldn’t be done.”
Leclerc had a dismal echo in 1967, when President Johnson declared a ceiling of 525,000 U.S. troops for Vietnam. Then came the Tet offensive at the beginning of ‘68, and a huge escalation of violence. We had nearly 500,000 troops on the ground; in the wake of Tet, Westmorland and the Joint Chiefs asked for another 200,000. They were supported by Johnson’s inner circle, characterized by George Kennan as “men in a dream.” Their dream, our nightmare. Principal architect of the Vietnam nightmare, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, by then a Rumsfeld-like fantasist of embarrassing dimensions, was packed off to head the World Bank. That job is of course now occupied by former Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, principal architect of the Iraq nightmare.
History repeats itself because we fall in with the mad dreams of those for whom history offers only justifications, not lessons. Ominously foreshadowing the recently completed work of Bush’s Iraq Study Group, Johnson directed McNamara’s replacement, Clark Clifford, to analyze what was already a three year morass. Tuchman quotes one of the reports he studied: “despite a massive influx of 500,000 U.S. troops, 1.5 million tons of bombs a year, 400,000 attack sorties a year, 200,000 enemy killed in action, etc., our control of the country-side and urban areas is now essentially at pre-August 1965 levels.”
Sound familiar? Today’s New York Times reports that despite last summer’s administration plan to pacify Baghdad by sending in more troops, insurgent attacks are now at a record high. The official count is nearly one thousand such attacks each week. From the Iraq Study Group, we know that the official count tends to underestimate reality by a factor of twelve (see Eightieth Time Lucky). Like the Vietcong, the Iraqi death squads simply adapt to new conditions, becoming deadlier with each mutation. Just as in Vietnam, we’re essentially running a giant training program for murderous insurgents, at the expense of our own lives and treasure.
Among the Pentagon findings that gave incoming Defense Secretary Clifford pause was the fifty percent casualty rate the North Vietnamese were willing to sustain in fighting U.S. troops. In Lebanon last summer, Hezbollah boasted of its eagerness to sacrifice ten of its own for every Israeli casualty. Their brethren in Iraq have followed suit. By that grim calculus, tossing twenty-thousand more troops into the Iraq maelstrom will inexorably result in a disproportionate increase in Iraqi casualties, with no gain, and further losses, for us. This is less calculus than the Mock Turtle’s divisions of arithmetic from Alice in Wonderland: “Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.” Folly marches on.
Unlike Alice, who innocently dreams her own mad Adventures under a tree on a warm summer day, we won’t wake up to find everything as it was before we shut our eyes. That’s the disadvantage of reality colliding with deranged imaginations, and of an entire people nodding off when they should be paying the strictest attention. But there are undoubted parallels. When Alice walks into the Duchess’s kitchen, the air is thick with pepper, a chaos of uncontrollable sneezing and howling babies. But even the lunatic cook doesn’t propose adding more pepper to the mix; she calmly hurls kitchenware about the room instead. That makes her a lot smarter than President Bush. More pepper for Iraq? If we aren’t awake in time to stop him, it will only end in tears.
©Joshua C. Nossiter, 2006
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