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Preechr Oct 31st, 2006 10:19 PM

Looking back is a sure way to stumble
 
October 24, 2006
The Wonders of Hindsight
Looking back is a sure way to stumble.

by Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online

Most of the blame game being played over the Iraqi occupation — and always with the wisdom of hindsight — is now irrelevant.

Should more or fewer soldiers be in Iraq?

That’s basically settled: There will be no sizable increases in our troop presence, but gradual downsizing, as more provinces must come under Iraqi control and we seek to avert Iraqi perpetual dependence. Debating how many soldiers should have been deployed in the three-week war of 2003 and its aftermath is about as helpful in the present as fighting over culpability for the surprise at the Bulge.

But who disbanded the Iraqi army?

It doesn’t matter now — the new army is nearing 300,000 strong and growing. It will either rise to the occasion or fail. The decision of 2003 to leave it scattered is ancient history.

Still, wasn’t de-Baathification far too sweeping?

Perhaps, but three years later that’s not an issue any more either, now that former Hussein government officials have long been welcomed back into the military and civilian bureaucracy.

Weren’t we slow in turning over control to the Iraqis?

Absolutely, but now, after three elections, Iraq is autonomous, and American proconsuls are not on television hogging the news of someone else’s future.

Wasn’t it terrible that Tommy Franks left in the middle of a long theater campaign, as if he sensed that Centcom’s three-week victory might well devolve into his three-year messy aftermath?

Yes, but so what? He can no longer do a thing either to save or to lose Iraq.

It used to be blood sport to blame the supposed flawed architects and implementers of the Iraqi war and occupation — neocon advisers to President Bush, the proconsul Paul Bremer (whose blazers were emblematic of his out-of-touch, unrealistically optimistic, rather than workable and good enough, solutions), or the nice, but deer-in-the-headlights Gen. Sanchez.

Even if these purported scapegoats have been accurately portrayed, and their mistakes account for the current pessimistic Iraqi prognosis — neither of which I grant — what are we to say about those currently in charge? Even critics of the war have praised the Middle Eastern Ambassador Khalizad, the savvy Gen. Petraeus, the Arab-speaking Gen. Abizaid, and the best and the brightest fighters in the field, such as a Lt. Col. Kurilla or a Col. McMaster. All of these players are not only in, or about to be back in, Iraq, but are pivotal in crafting and adapting American tactics and strategy there.

Many wars metamorphize into something they were not supposed to be. Few imagined that the Poland war of 1939 would within two years evolve into a war of annihilation involving the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, Germany, Japan, and Italy. So too with the third Iraqi war of 2003 (following the first 1991 Gulf War, and the second, subsequent 12-year no-fly zone stand-off) that has now become a fight against jihadists for the future course of the entire Middle East.

What matters now is not so much what the war was or should have been, but only what it is — and whether we have learned from our mistakes and can still win. The answer to both questions is yes. We have the right strategy — birthing (through three elections already) an autonomous democracy; training an army subject to a civil government; and pledging support until it can protect its own constitutional government.

Few American officers are talking about perpetual occupation or even the need for more troops, but rather about the need for a lighter footprint, bolstered by teams of Special Forces and air support, to ensure Iraqi responsibility for their own future,. And the key to success — a diplomatic squeeze on the Sunnis to suppress terrorists in Nineveh and Anbar provinces in exchange for Shiite guarantees of more government inclusion — is now the acknowledged goal of both the Iraqi and American governments.

Thousands in Iraq accept that they have crossed the Rubicon, and they must either make their own democracy work or suffer a fate worse than that of the boat people and the butchered in Southeast Asia when the Americans left.

As for how to ensure against this disastrous outcome, multilateral talks are no magic bullet, as we see from the failed EU3 efforts with Iran and the stalled six-party negotiations over the North Korean problem. The “more rubble/less trouble” solution that the Russians employed against the Chechnyans in Grozny is out of the question for a humane United States. The U.N. is no answer as we have seen from serial genocides from Rwanda to the present killing in Darfur.

No, only the United States, and its superb military, can stabilize Iraq and give the Iraqis enough time and confidence to do what has not been done before, and what apparently no one any longer thinks will be done: a surviving, viable democratic government in the heart of the dictatorial Middle East. Though the necessary aims are clear, they are not quickly and easily attained. Everyone understands that there is no single military answer to Iraq, but rather that the political solution depends on soldiers providing enough security long enough for free commerce and expression to become established. So rather than agonize endlessly over past perceived errors, we must realize that such lapses are not unprecedented in our military experience and focus on whether they are still correctable.

By the standards of Grenada, Panama, and Serbia — where few American died and some sort of tenuous consensual government emerged fairly quickly — Iraq is indeed messy. But if we grant that the effort to replace Saddam with democracy in the heart of the ancient caliphate is a far formidable enterprise, and thus akin to the challenge, and cost, of taking an Okinawa or saving a Korea, then our losses and heartbreak so far are not extraordinary.

For all the Democrats loud criticism, if they do regain Congress, they would probably rely on the present expertise of a Khalizad, Abizaid, or Petraeus, and not the often quoted wisdom of three years past of a Gen. Shinseki or Zinni. I doubt they will bring back Gen. Wesley Clark to fix the “mess.” They will either have to cut off funds, ensure a pull out before the end of the year, and then watch real blood sport as reformers are butchered; or they will have to trust that our present military and civilian leadership has learned the hard lessons of three years in Iraq, and can find a way to stabilize the nascent democracy.

How do we define success in Iraq, in the context of a dysfunctional Middle East where elections in Lebanon and Palestine bring turmoil, the “correct” multilateral NATO war in Afghanistan is still raging, and we still can’t do much to find bin Laden in a “friendly,” but nuclear and Islamic, Pakistan? No mention is necessary about an Algeria still reeling from a horrendous bloodbath in the 1990s, the nightmare that was Qadhafi’s Libya, perennial Syrian roguery, the theocratic disaster in Iran, or all the other butchery that passes for the norm in the Middle East.

We can only ask: Are the tribal leaders of the troubled Anbar province now more likely to join the government or the insurgents? Are the old controversial barometers of Iraqi wartime electrical production, GDP, and oil output currently falling or stable? Is the successful Kurdistan seceding or in fact still part of Iraq? Is the Shiite leadership now de facto a pawn of Iran, or still confident about its role in a democratic and autonomous Iraq? Do the communiqués and private correspondence of al Qaeda in Iraq reflect cocky triumphalism or worry over losing? Do Iraqi elected leaders praise us or damn us and ask us to leave? In a global war against Islamic jihadists, who have killed thousands of Americans here at home, should we lament that we are now fighting and killing them as they flock to distant Iraq?

As we head for the November elections, most politicians have renounced their paternity of the now-orphaned American effort in Iraq. And pundits of summer 2003 have not just had second thoughts about Iraq in the autumn of our discontent in 2006 — but very public third thoughts about whether they ever really had their enthusiastic first ones.

The odd thing is that, for all the gloom and furor, and real blunders, nevertheless, by the historical standards of most wars, we have done well enough to win in Iraq, and still have a good shot of doing the impossible in seeing this government survive. More importantly still, worldwide we are beating the Islamic fundamentalists and their autocratic supporters. Iranian-style theocracy has not spread. For all the talk of losing Afghanistan, the Taliban are still dispersed or in hiding — so is al Qaeda. Europe is galvanizing against Islamism in a way unimaginable just three years ago. The world is finally focusing on Iran. Hezbollah did not win the last war, but lost both prestige and billions of dollars in infrastructure, despite a lackluster effort by Israel. Elections have embarrassed a Hamas that, the global community sees, destroys most of what it touches and now must publicly confess that it will never recognize Israel. Countries like Libya are turning, and Syria is more isolated. If we keep the pressure up in Iraq and Afghanistan and work with our allies, Islamism and its facilitators will be proven bankrupt.

In contrast, if we should withdraw from Iraq right now, there will be an industry in the next decade of hindsight exposés — but they won’t be the gotcha ones like State of Denial or Fiasco. Instead we will revisit the 1974-5 Vietnam genre of hindsight — of why after such heartbreak and sacrifice the United States gave up when it was so close to succeeding.

©2006 Victor Davis Hanson

ziggytrix Nov 1st, 2006 11:42 AM

Well, I guess that certainly shows the "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it" adage who's boss around here.

KevinTheOmnivore Nov 1st, 2006 12:07 PM

Quick, get your head back in the sand, Ziggy!

ziggytrix Nov 1st, 2006 12:09 PM

If that was supposed to be a joke, I don't get it.

KevinTheOmnivore Nov 1st, 2006 12:12 PM

It was more statement of fact than a joke, but Preechr will get it. That's all that ever matters. :love

mburbank Nov 1st, 2006 12:16 PM

I don't get it either.

KevinTheOmnivore Nov 1st, 2006 12:21 PM

I'm sorry. :(

Maybe if I had simply spelled out "go back to capitulating and equating terrorism with a 'police matter'" it would've stuck with you guys.

ziggytrix Nov 1st, 2006 12:25 PM

Oh right, your favorite straw man. Have fun with that.

KevinTheOmnivore Nov 1st, 2006 12:29 PM

Thanks, will do.

sspadowsky Nov 1st, 2006 12:50 PM

Someone needs to tell Kevin that Raygun has hacked his account.

mburbank Nov 1st, 2006 01:07 PM

Thanks, Kev. I still don't 'get it' as a joke, since structurally, it isn't. I can, however, now rule out the possability that you aren't being absurd.

Are you just reflexively taking a potshot at Ziggy based on the fact that it was his post, or are you actually quibbling with the idea that

"Those who forget the past are condemmed to repeat it".
-George "I've got my head in the sand" Santayana

I mean, it's not as if that thought is new to Ziggy. And it does kind of come readily to mind when an article leads with "Looking back is a sure way to stumble". If you're so done with Ziggy that you're into the kind of thing we used to do when we responded to The Kap'n by typing I WIN!!, then fine, be my guest.

But if you rather are doing what seems to be a new habit of yours, reacting to a perfectly reasonable comment any number of reasonable people out in world might make the as if it were some sort of bizarre, fringe, crazy-ass rambling...

Well then, sir, I think the disservice is only to yourself.

KevinTheOmnivore Nov 1st, 2006 01:51 PM

There was nothing reasonable about the comment, and added nothing to the discussion Preechr had initiated. You could be attacking Ziggy for beginning the derailment, but instead go after me for finishing it. Perhaps that's because you don't like what i have to say, so you lash out. It seems like a rather old habit of yours.

First of all, if you're going to use the phrase, get the damn thing right. The elusive point of the article is that war critics present no alternative to stabilizing Iraq, or defeating terrorism. Some seem to doubt that the latter even exists. They'd rather hate the president, hate America, and win big next week (woohoo!). If Dems take Congress next week, what will happen first? A. Peace comes to Iraq, or B. The president is impeached? If either were likely, my money would be on B.

So is that what Mr. Santayans meant? Inaction and cynicism?

mburbank Nov 1st, 2006 03:20 PM

Neither is likely, but you already know that.

"Some seem to doubt that the latter even exists. "

Find me a quote from someone somewhere that impies terrorists don't exist. That is SO the easy way out.

"Some poeple today think rapists should be allowed to rape at will. And, well, call me old fashioned, but I think that's wrong."

I agree that the lack of alternative plans for Iraq, and the lack of media coverage of alternative plans that are out there (My old pal George McGovern has a good one, I'll find the link, but no one wants to cover an old wild eyed liberal because it's much more fun to say 'Defeatocrats', and you risk carpal tunel less for your paycheck). IF the point of the article was that looking back was a solution to current problems on the ground, I'd be all for it. But there is a disdain for looking back that I think makes Ziggys quote perfectly appropriatte.

We need to look back for a number of reasons. If we got into this position because people deliberately lied, they need to be exposed and punished so that they cannot regain positions of trust and power. Not for vengance, but because lord forbid they pull more shit. We need to make clear how we got into this mess, so that we might recognize it the next time it happens. I think this is what Santayanna had in mind, and I do find it relevant to the article.

Do you think that as a country we are incapable of looking back and trying to stabalizing the middle east? Do you think we can only 'win' if we plow forward and refuse to look back?

'nothing reasonable', 'added nothing'. I didn't think so. If Ziggy had posted "Cow bucket pringles sunset" THAT would have added nothing. I thought your taunt added nothing, in that is was no funnier than if you';d written 'yeah, so's your old man!' actually, that would have been funnier. Just becuase a reaction is different than your own, you shouldn't immediately assume it's meaningless. I'm way older than you and I don't do that yet.

Respectfully, I disagree that it was a derailment. The article brought to mind that quote for me before I read Ziggy's post, and I dare say it brought it to mind for many people who read it, here and elsewhere.

What's going on with you that you've become such a big fan of dismissing people? Count up the number of folks who post here you outright dismiss. Give me a tally. My own totally solid count is three, but I bet all three of them are on your list too.

I'm gently suggesting that you are becoming a little rigid and dismissive. It's unbecoming in a young man of your intelligence and writing skills.

In the last pargraph the guy says that the bad thing that happened in Vietnam is that we didn't win when we were so close. No wonder this guy doesn't think looking back is good policy.

ziggytrix Nov 1st, 2006 03:46 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by KevinTheOmnivore
There was nothing reasonable about the comment, and added nothing to the discussion Preechr had initiated.

I'm sorry, did this forum implement an ignore feature when I wasn't looking, or wasn't my comment the only response to a cut-n-paste op-ed?

Fuck you if you want me to take debate on this forum seriously Kevin. Fuck you and your "you must have a Political Science degree to debate with me" attitude. ;)

KevinTheOmnivore Nov 1st, 2006 03:55 PM

No, no, no, Ziggy. I think you did just fine. Why, if you ask Max, your attitude isn't flippant at all. Your random comment was like a ray of sunshine for a dark and empty thread. The only thing that should be dismissed here is my dismissal of your dismissive attitude. Sayeth The Max.

But hey, thanks again for being so insightful! I'll be less critical next time!

mburbank Nov 1st, 2006 03:55 PM

Preech, what do you think? You posted it, so I'd imagine obviously you disagree with me on the points (as is your AMERICAN RIGHT), but do you think "There was nothing reasonable about the comment, and added nothing to the discussion"

In point of fact, it seems to have gotten the conversation going.

ziggytrix Nov 1st, 2006 04:34 PM

Quote:

Fuck you if you want me to take debate on this forum seriously Kevin. Fuck you and your "you must have a Political Science degree to debate with me" attitude.
means I wasn't trying to provoke discussion. i can still make a joke, right?

every post in this forum has to have a deep insightful meaning now?

you're such a pompous ass.

KevinTheOmnivore Nov 1st, 2006 04:45 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by ziggytrix
every post in this forum has to have a deep insightful meaning now?

Now hold on a moment. You and I are in agreement here! You made a stupid, flippant remark, and I countered with the same. It was Saint Burbank who came in and scolded me for dismissing your Pulitzer caliber message board post.

Max once again can't decide if we're writing eulogies or Bazooka Joe wrappers here.

Quote:

you're such a pompous ass.
Well that just hurts a lot.

ziggytrix Nov 1st, 2006 05:05 PM

Yeah, except I'm not sitting here criticising you for doing the same thing I did. I'm criticising you for this:

Quote:

There was nothing reasonable about the comment, and added nothing to the discussion Preechr had initiated. You could be attacking Ziggy for beginning the derailment, but instead go after me for finishing it.
You didn't finish shit. You FURTHERED the derailment while patting yourself on the back. I'm genuinely impressed. You've almost managed as smug a self-satisified attitude as Mr. Hanson's tone in his article.

I'm strongly tempted to debate the flaws in the article, but you've already laid out what you believe my beliefs are, so what's the point?

KevinTheOmnivore Nov 1st, 2006 07:49 PM

No point, you should probably go away.

Preechr Nov 1st, 2006 10:34 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by mburbank
Preech, what do you think? You posted it, so I'd imagine obviously you disagree with me on the points (as is your AMERICAN RIGHT), but do you think "There was nothing reasonable about the comment, and added nothing to the discussion"

In point of fact, it seems to have gotten the conversation going.

Damn... I don't even have to BE here to get in an argument! Sweet!

To be honest, I'd just noticed a couple of days had gone by with no posts, so I decided to chum the water with some VDH articles I knew would resonate with Kevin and really piss Max off.

You all know I'm siding with Kevin on this one, so I have no reason to follow Max down the road of finally proving Kev's let his omni-power go to his head. Right now, he's my best buddy, despite his new-found fascism, simply because he's on the same page as I am on this, the most important issue of our time.

As for Ziggy, I like him, and I really don't get why you guys give him such a hard time. Isn't the modern reality based on the moral perfection embodied in the concept of the victim, assumedly of anything, regardless of circumstance? It's like Michael J Fox: Ziggy is confused, bitter and defective, so shouldn't we defer to any claims he makes upon reality?

Personally, I think it's our moral duty to adopt without question to our moral code any suggestions made as additions to what we maintain now on a basis of an idea's lack of worthiness or efficacy being it's hallmark of acceptability and reasonableness, as we are all just human, which is nothing but a state of imperfection... so we should celebrate humanity by seeking imperfection as virtue.

Preechr Nov 2nd, 2006 08:41 AM

Anyways... The point of the article was not that we should avoid historical lessons when formulating plans for the future. When he says "Looking back is a sure way to stumble," he is clearly referring to those that are constantly second-guessing the details of the war's prosecution, such as troop levels and six-party talks with NKorea. Everybody and his or her brother is apparently more qualified to plan and execute this war than is the current administration.

Sure, the subtitle of the article is ironic. It's meant that way. Hanson is a history buff. Those that read him do so in order to gain a historical perspective on current events. He's a huge fan of the war from a historical basis, but you don't need to know his work to get what he's saying... you just have to form an impression of this article based on more than just the title.

As far as Ziggy's initial botched joke goes:

"Well, I guess that certainly shows the 'Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it' adage who's boss around here."

It sounds more to me like he meant that we "around here" annoy him with, if not our talk of history, at least our spotty support for the war. His was a critique of my posting the article, not it's contents. I'm not complaining about that... as Max says, it's his AMERICAN right to totally disagree with whatever he wants to, even if he refuses to discuss his reasons why.

With that being said, I think Kevin responded appropriately to Ziggy's post. I get the joke, because I've seen him use it before. He started using it back when Ziggy proved he feels no need to explain his objections to certain ideas and/or facts that might cause him to re-evaluate his opinions. Since I don't agree with Ziggy on this, I think it's Ok to say he's got his head in the sand, save for the times he pops in to throw a blurry rock at somebody every once and a while.

I think Kevin would prefer an open and honest discussion to random, snide remarks. I think I would, too. I think Ziggy would prefer me, Blanco, Ant, Kevin and anybody else that doesn't agree with his ill-defined world-view to just drop it and think some other way... more like him, probably.

The article claims those of you that are focused on how what we are doing is doomed to failure are missing the proof that though the road has been rocky, it's headed in the right direction... at least if you consider a democratic mideast the right direction.

Being an "Armchair President" isn't as easy as just wildly objecting to everything the real president does. The decisions being made are based in much more than just what some guy thinks might work. None of us have access to the resources available to the actual planners of the war on terror. We have to guess why what's happening makes sense, or we are left to assume that it just doesn't. Personally, I think it's pretty stupid to assume the most powerful country in the history of the world is being run by retards, but that's just me. I tend to think some sort of intelligent decisions are being carefully weighed out by lots of interested parties before being implemented, and I think public opinion is not heavily wieghted in the process. The goal is the goal.

If you guys have a better method of obtaining that goal, or if you don't believe this should be our goal, please feel free to explain your point of view. I think we all can agree we should be working towards a more peaceful and free world, right? How is hating the Bush franchise working towards anything at all? How is second guessing every decision made in the war on terror helping?

The article simply says it is not. That's what "The Wonders of Hindsight... Looking back is a sure way to stumble" means. You can't win a war... or achieve anything for that matter... by claiming nothing good is possible because everything we've done so far has been done wrong, especially when time is proving some of your suppositions were in fact wrong.

mburbank Nov 2nd, 2006 09:31 AM

Here's what I took away from all that.

1.) Preech totally agrees with me about Ziggy having made a valid comment and Kevin being a power mad, hyde bound stuffed shirt. Why? Because he understands that while he may disagree with me, I have an enormous pants load of moral authority.

2.) Kevin has his panties in a bunch because he resents (and envies) my saintliness.

3.) Kevin and Preech are ignoring several aspets of the article because they tarnish his main (and more reasonable point)

4.) Ziggys quote, admission of flippancy aside, was the very first thing I thought of while reading the article, and I would be surprised to find that it didn't at least cross the mind of many who read it.

KevinTheOmnivore Nov 2nd, 2006 09:41 AM

You're not allowed in our club house.

mburbank Nov 2nd, 2006 10:07 AM

You know what Groucho Marx said about clubs.


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