The Nossiter Net
The net that shall enmesh them all
Edited, Written, and Published by Josh Nossiter
Pressing for Success
Thursday,  January 11th, 2007
The Nossiter Net is cast  to snare some of  the riper rascalities of the day.  Comments?
The think tank experts, the politicians, and even military leaders are all saying the same thing:  there are no good options for Iraq.  Neatly summarized as “Go long, go big, or go home” by a Pentagon study, of the three perceived choices Mr. Bush has selected going long.  The President yesterday announced the restoration of troop levels to their highs of a year ago, in hopes of returning conditions in Iraq to their former state of extremely dire.  This may make a change from the current condition of beyond dire, though at considerable additional cost in lives and treasure.  Of course there’s no guarantee that conditions won’t worsen to well beyond dire, even with the restored troop levels.  So the go long option is perhaps not so good, despite the president’s endorsement.  Calling it Staying the Course, his former sobriquet for option A., doesn’t mend matters.  The latest name, the New Way Forward, is even worse.   Going long, after all, is both old and backward looking.

What about the other two options?  In 2003, General Eric Shinseki, the highly decorated and well regarded Army Chief of Staff, told a Senate committee that “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required” to restore order in post-invasion Iraq.  He went on to say “we’re talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that’s fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes a significant ground-force presence to maintain a safe and secure environment, to ensure that people are fed, that water is distributed, all the normal responsibilities that go along with administering a situation like this.”*

Go big, in other words.  General Shinseki correctly anticipated the awful sectarian rivalries now killing one thousand Iraqis and over one hundred Americans each month.  Also the inherent difficulties of administering a broken nation of twenty-two million citizens spread over one hundred and sixty-seven thousand square miles.  But the administration didn’t care for the general’s analysis.  Instead of heeding him, Mr. Bush facilitated his early retirement.  We occupied Iraq with a mere one hundred and fifty thousand or so troops.  The resulting four years of chaos and carnage have proven the general right, and the administration’s strategy of going long quite wrong.  That’s why the president’s renewed endorsement last night is a little disheartening.

Apart from a few outliers in Congress, and a majority of the voters, nobody wants to go home.  So why not go big?  The principal difficulty is finding sufficient troops.  Our ground forces are stretched thin between Iraq and Afghanistan, and the additional hundreds of thousands recommended by General Shinseki simply don’t exist.

Or at least, not yet.  A new study reports that the United States has nearly three quarters of a million homeless people.  Suppose a third of them are able bodied.  Train them up, and we can put two hundred and fifty thousand new pairs of boots on the ground.  That we simultaneously reduce the homeless population by a third is icing on the cake.

Not all quarter of a million able-bodied homeless people are likely to volunteer for Iraq, of course, even if asked politely.  That’s why we must turn to history to encourage them.  In the early years of the nineteenth century, Great Britain was engaged in a death struggle with Napoleon Bonaparte, who headed the largest and most powerful army in the world.  Having conquered most of Europe, Napoleon set his sights on Britain, with only the British navy to stop him.

The British need for ships and men was urgent, a matter of national survival.  Shipyards worked round the clock.  The necessary men to crew them were obtained by the simple expedient of the press gang.  Roving bands of Royal Navy seaman and Royal Marines patrolled seaside villages armed with clubs, seizing any soul foolish enough to show himself.  With the waistband of his trousers cut to prevent him from running off, each pressed man was given the chance to be a naval hero, with or without his consent.  The system worked so well that Napoleon ended his days in distant exile rather than in central London.

No great respecter of individual rights or personal liberty, the Bush administration is already well-disposed to the press gang.  The same Attorney General who advocates torture and repudiates habeas corpus can vouch for its legality.  The same Supreme Court majority that handed Mr. Bush the presidency will confirm the administration’s position.  All that’s required is a new name for going big in Iraq through pressing the homeless here at home.  We suggest either The War on Homelessness, or better yet, The Involuntary Patriot Act.


©Joshua C. Nossiter, 2007
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