Friday, April 7, 2006

The Lion Falters

William F. Buckley is a man I would never want to argue with. First, I would hope we agree. Second, even if he’s wrong, he’s more knowledgeable than I. Third, golly, he’s smart. But from this great and secure distance, I feel safe in pointing out how very flawed his reasoning is, in one particular. He writes, “I have myself concluded that our Iraqi mission has failed. Missions have to be judged successes or failures with some reference to a time scale. If that scale is stretched forever, it is not authentically tested."

Buckley doesn’t define here what he supposes the mission is -- this is a lapse not unique to him -- but his argument rests on the fact that American casualties are falling while Iraqi civilians continue to die in large numbers. Not as large as the pre-Mission Accomplished numbers generated by Saddam, but still many. From this fact he supposes that American forces are “voting with their feet to begin withdrawal from an enterprise that has proved costly beyond the successes achieved.”

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Another might be that we pick our battles based not on the expedient of pleasing public opinion or of meeting the expectations of revered pundits, but rather on the strategeric consideration of picking our battles. Expressed less tautologically, we can’t fight Fallugah every day. The enemy, to be fought conventionally, needs to be amassed. While there are strongholds, which are known to those whose job it is to know such things, we cannot reasonably imagine that the enemy does not know its weakness -– which has been demonstrated to them with the utmost of violence. Thus, weak as they are, they do not congregate in strongholds as once they did. This fact is not evidence that we have lost the war, that “the mission has failed.” It is evidence that the enemy understands the nature of American power –- overwhelming in terms of raw might, a wind sock when it comes to public opinion. Queerly, only America can decide when it loses a war -- the enemy has no say on the battlefield, only in the media.

Again, why have we failed? Because, thinks Buckley, some time scale has been met insufficiently. The three years since Mission Accomplished in Baghdad has been too long. Here are two reasons why that is a woefully misguided analysis: Germany, and Korea. For decades after Mission Accomplished in Berlin, and unto this very day, the US military maintains a massive presence in Germany -- as I have personal reasons for knowing. Are we to presume that WW II was a failure, for this fact? Other goals were achieved -- de-Nazifying the Germans ... containing the Soviets. Again, we have, as I recall, nearly 40,000 troops on the DMZ between South and North Korea. Was the Korean War a failure, for this fact? The goal of that war was not to conquer Red China, but to preserve South Korea. That goal has been achieved -- only because of our continuing presence there. Our presence is not a sign of failure, but the cause of success.

Any who doubt this need only consider Vietnam -- I do not say South Vietnam, since there is no such entity. It ceased to exist, overrun by the enemy after it became clear that America, which had achieved its Peace With Honor, would not return. Had we remained in South Vietnam, there would still be a South Vietnam, and no Cambodian killing fields, and no millions of fugitive boat people, and only half of the Vietnamese race living in utter oppression, rather than all.

Buckley winds down thus: “Given our mission's failure in Iraq, the job in hand becomes to retreat with care, certainly with more care than we exercised in our retreat from Vietnam.” How odd, a man of his intellectual caliber, making such an obvious error. Our failure in Vietnam was not due to any carelessness in retreat. It was in the retreat itself. Perhaps he conflates the withdrawal of the military, with the calamitous evacuation of the Embassy two years later? In any case, there is only one way to lose Iraq, and that’s by, well, retreating.

We should maintain troops in Iraq indefinitely. Not because the war will never end, but because even in the months ahead, when the Iraqis themselves take on the lion’s share of the burden of self-defense, an American presence will act as the guarantor of Iraqi stability and independence, and of its continued existence, as it does in South Korea. It will be a stabilizing force in the region against Syria and Iran, as it was against the Soviets. It will be a civilizing force against the Baathists, as it was in Germany’s de-Nazification.

This is a burden, but it will be a decreasing one. Iraq will take on the costs of its own governing, and Europe is civilized enough, by now, finally, so that our bases in Germany can be, um, evacuated. There is a new enemy, you see. The Soviets are on the ash heap. The hammer and sickle of the Communists have been replaced by the sword and crescent of the Islamists. The Cold War -- the Third World War -- has been replaced now by the War on Terror -- the Fourth World War. The cost will be no less, but the threat is in no way smaller. Just different.

America only loses in retreat. Where we advance, we bring freedom. Mr. Buckley, you love freedom. Reconsider then, on what ground you stand. It is the same place that those shameful cowards of the ’60s and ’70s stood. Against a war for freedom.


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