The war and the pragmatists

William Murchison's picture

We’re a pragmatic lot, we Americans. Or would cautious be the word? Those who prefer clarity in public policy often seem doomed — with blessed exceptions like the Reagan tax cuts of 1981 — to witness no end of philosophical hemming, hawing, stammering and foot-dragging.

Now and then, as it happens, some of this stuff works to general advantage. Iraq comes to mind.

A New York Times/CBS News poll published as Gen. David Petraeus sat down to give Congress his considered viewpoint on the war shows just 22 percent saying the U.S. “should withdraw all of its troops within the next year regardless of what happens in Iraq after the troops leave.” An almost equivalent number — 20 percent — want us to fight on to victory.

What about adherents of the, shall we say, middle view? These — 56 percent strong — say the U.S. should “withdraw some troops but leave some to train Iraqi forces, conduct raids against terrorist groups, and protect American diplomats.”

Now the way I add that up is, 78 percent of Americans reject calls by the “netroots” and, mostly, the left wing of the Democratic Party to skedaddle from Iraq with our tail between our legs, letting the devil take the hindmost.

“Politically speaking,” the Times summed up, “the poll indicated that Americans favored a flexible approach to Iraq as opposed to unbending positions.” I might strengthen that point: For politicians to choose defeat instead of victory or honorable disengagement wouldn’t make the great majority of voters precisely happy. Defeatist politicians, take note.

The politicians who can’t wait to hand Iraq over to suicide bombers, militias and the Iranians are hard to understand save in ideological terms. They hate the war. Ending the war is all they want. Period.

That the out-now-ers mobilize even as many sympathizers as they do underlines the extraordinary nature of the Iraq war, a conflict whose like is unknown in all of world history, including the history of the Vietnam ‘60s.

Even to have imagined what we know now about the capabilities of homicidal maniacs acting in the name of a world religion might have slowed down, or even deflected, the march to war. Alas, we learned the hard and bloody way — like those Confederates who found out eventually that a single Southerner couldn’t lick 10 Yankees. Similarly, in 1914, the German General Staff thought that through executing the so-called Schlieffen plan German troops could roll up the French army in a matter of weeks. Nein.

In war (as sometimes in life generally), the problem seems to be that what you wish you had known at the outset turns out to be the very thing you didn’t, and perhaps couldn’t, know.

What does that mean — that you get a pass on finishing the job you come to wish you hadn’t undertaken to begin with? A large majority of Americans seem to see matters otherwise.

If total victory, World War II-style, seems unlikely to most, nearly 60 percent nevertheless see a continuing need and obligation to bring about as advantageous a U.S. exit as possible. Not that victory is a prospect wholly out of sight for the world’s most powerful nation. Still, what matters is to make the best of an episode likely to leave Americans divided for decades. Eminently, in Iraq’s case, that means not running shrieking from the battlefield in response to calls all too easily interpreted as designed for political advantage.

That at least a few defeatists — say, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul? — feel authentically defeated is a possibility no one can deny. That other politicians wear the mantle of defeatism at least partly to make their opponents look bad, here’s the question maybe: Why?

So-and-so (fill in the blank) hopes voters will reward him for helping his, and their, country to a military drubbing? I know — don’t give politicians undue credit for sanity. Are they, nonetheless, this far gone in unreality? Heaven help us, if so.

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JeffC's picture
Submitted by JeffC on Fri, 09/14/2007 - 2:32pm.

Here are the results of the FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll and the CBS News/New York Times Poll from September 2007.

You can decide if Murchison can accurately interpret a poll.

62% of those polled said the United States made a mistake getting involved in Iraq

70% say the Iraqi government is not doing all that it can. Among military families 77 percent say the Iraqis are not doing all they can

71% disapprove of Bush’s handling of the war.

65% want to decrease or remove all troops.

60% think the Bush administration intentionally misled the public about the war (an all time high).

33% think Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11th, 58% do not. These numbers are heavily skewed by Republicans who are continually deluded about the question.

28% believe the surge made things better.

65% are not confident Iraqi government will meet its commitments.

64% oppose the war.

63% believe the US is not winning.

78% believe Bush is not willing to change his administration's policies in Iraq (another all time high).

Submitted by TxRedneck on Thu, 09/13/2007 - 8:18pm.

The United States IS victorious is Iraq, ALREADY! We went in and completely destroyed Hussien's military, in a matter of a several weeks. They're gone, ka-put, no more, NADA.

What we are now fighting is "We The People" (ring any bells?) If we want to promote Democracy worldwide, we have to realize and honor that "We The People" do not only exist in the USA. We must fight FOR the people, we're fighting agianst them. We're killing them, just as the British killed the Colonist 230 years ago. And they are killing us just as we did the British.

I've recently read that Osama Bin Laden (after his recent tape voicing his opinion) and his al Queda should have NO voice as to our policy. Isn't this why "We The People" revolted against Great Britian? Taxation without representation, Great Britian refused to hear our greavances, just as the USA government refuses to hear OBL's greavances. The avarage US citizen loves to ridicule Bin Laden, but how many have ever listened (objectively) to his greavance against us? We fought a revolution on those grounds. Ditto Osama Bin Laden, imagine that...

We should be supporting "WE THE PEOPLE" worldwide, and fighting GOVERNMENT intrusions worldwide, including at home. If "winning" means defeating "We The People", we will never win. We will continue to infuriate the masses and the numbers we fight against will swell. Government never wins against the masses, in time the masses always destroy Empires. History has proven this time and again, we WON'T be an exception. A vote to continue this war is a vote in favor of an inevitiable distruction of our county.


"The Pottery Barn"
We picked it up, we broke it. And then in our panick of having broken it, we spun around and broke something else. And if we don't make haste OUT of the store, EVERYTHING will be broken, including our bank account.


maximus's picture
Submitted by maximus on Fri, 09/14/2007 - 8:38am.

"I've recently read that Osama Bin Laden (after his recent tape voicing his opinion) and his al Queda should have NO voice as to our policy."

You read that? Just recently? You got to be kidding. I can’t believe Bush hasn’t invited him to Washington to discuss his grievances. Are you actually suggesting that we include osama’s opinions in our foreign policy decisions? I doubt that you’ve ever read much of anything, except maybe parts of Howard Zinn’s anti-American novel.

"We're killing them, just as the British killed the Colonist 230 years ago. And they are killing us just as we did the British."

Are you really trying to make a comparison between the American patriots led by George Washington and the murdering jihadists led by bin laden? They want to kill everyone in the world who doesn’t conform to their ideals. You’re going to have to remind me how many death squads Washington sent to Great Britain and elsewhere to murder innocent civilians. And post those quotes by Washington and the Continental Congress calling for the death of all infidels.

I hope you’re not really from the great state of Texas. And if you are why would you admit it after the Texans murdered all those Mexicans at the Alamo?


AF A-10's picture
Submitted by AF A-10 on Thu, 09/13/2007 - 10:30pm.

that I rarely can understand him and usually don't read him. But it is interesting that he uses the "defeatests" term loved by GOP neocons without giving us the road map to victory from "victoryists." HOWEVER, after Osama oversaw the mass murder of 3000+ Americans, I stopped giving a flying flip what he had to say. I'm just ticked that we haven't committed our resources to ending his movie career. You do have a valid point on "we the people" on two fronts: If the American people want our envolvement in Iraq's civil war reduced (which I believe they do) and a certain group of politicians ignore these wishes, I believe you will see those politicians systematically removed with the power of the vote. If Iraqi citizens want our military roll to end in their country, I believe you will continue to see pushes toward that end in Iraq as well.
And hopefully someone will email this "brilliant" columnist and tell him that we've already guaranteed that Iran will have greater influence in Shiite Iraq than we ever will. And this fact has nothing to do with democrats calling for troop reductions and withdrawls. It has to do with us giving the Shiites the keys to Iraq's government.

Kevin "Hack" King

Cyclist's picture
Submitted by Cyclist on Thu, 09/13/2007 - 8:35pm.

Oh yeah, Osama was aligned with the Taliban who were a kind and gentle group who shot and brutalized their women. Yeah, a real progressive and a "we the people" regime. Let me ask you a question, who should prevail Shite or Sunni? Which one of those are a "we the people regime"? Which one will kill the other first? Yeah, "we the people".
Caution - The Surgeon General has determined that constant blogging is an addiction that can cause a sedentary life style.

Submitted by Davids mom on Sat, 09/15/2007 - 9:08am.

I am always impressed with the common sense that our citizens express about our current situation in the Middle East. Our success in Europe after WWII was because of the plans that were implemented by involving those who were supposed to benefit from our involvement in the reconstruction of their countries. (The Marshall Plan) We did not have a ‘resistance/insurgency’ that fought the effort of reconstruction in Europe as we have in Iraq. The chaos that has ‘blossomed’ after the downfall of Hussein has caused tens of thousands of Iraqis to leave their country. . . leaving those who cannot leave or do not want to be ‘occupied by a foreign power. The power base of the elected government in Iraq is no longer there. Those who are actually in power now – appear to represent a populace that wants the US and other foreigners out of their country. (These 'insurgents are reigning havoc on the population of Iraq through the use of terrorism.) This time I feel that Bush may be listening – and beginning to immediately reduce our troops in Iraq is wise. We have sacrificed 3000 + lives and have not been able to stop the unknown life loss of thousands of Iraqi citizens because of the lack of the political will to use the necessary force to end this madness. No matter what Patreas says – he is bound by duty to follow the direction of his Commander In Chief – the President. We must be vigilant to take our responsibilities as citizens of a Republic – and vote for the person/persons who are sincerely committed to the ideals of our country and the protection of our citizens. We must look beyond political party promises – and scrutinize the record and motivation of the candidates for leadership in our country. I have listened to the plans from the candidates from both parties for the 2008 election. Sometimes I wish that we could drop the labels of conservative/liberal; republican/democrat; blue/red – and just follow the dictates of COMMON SENSE! AND WHY CAN'T WE GET OSAMA??????

Submitted by bowser on Sat, 09/15/2007 - 7:06am.

Here's the ugly truth, folks: Osama is a creation of foreign interventionism. First the Russians in Afghanistan (he was a "freedom fighter" back then, remember?) and now us. Without foreign armies tromping around, he doesn't exist.

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