In 1993, in their first book Generations, my friends Bill Strauss and Neil Howe identified three great crises in American national life--the revolutionary and constitutional era (approximately 1774-1794), the civil war era (1857-1868 or so, in my opinion, although longer in the South), and 1929-45. Identifying a periodicity of about 80 years, they anticipated the next crisis by about 2010. After 9/11 many of their readers assumed the crisis had come, but I think now that that was a mirage. But it is upon us now, albeit only in the realm of the mind and spirit. It is a truly Orwellian battle now: the battle for the right to say that two plus two equals four. And like all such battles, it is bringing out both the worst and the best among Americans.
Last night I finally watched Bill Moyers's special on the selling of the Iraq war, which was undersold, not surprisingly, by the mainstream media. It's watchable at pbs.org and no one should miss it. Moyars excoriates the virtually entire mainstream media, led by the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the networks, for swallowing the Administration line on WMD hook, line and sinker. He reserves his praise for two brave reporters for Knight-Ridder, a newspaper chain which, significantly, does not have a paper in either Washington or New York, and whose reporters took the trouble to investigate open sources and run down leads and found little or no evidence that Iraqis had weapons of mass destruction. He names the names of all the pundits--Safire, Kristol, Krauthammer, Judith Miller, Tom Friedman, Richard Cohen, Jim Hoagland, and Peter Beinart of the New Republic--who embraced preventive war to disarm Saddam Hussein. Of them all, only Beinart has apologized, and the first five refused even to be interviewed by Moyers--as far as they are concerned they don't owe us any explanation. (For the record, I myself repeatedly attacked the preventive war doctrine on which the conflict was based in the months before the war on an internet list called H-Diplo. Anyone who is interested can go to its discussion log and search for my posts. I did not have the knowledge to argue that Iraq had no WMD, but I repeatedly attacked the preventive war doctrine as a violation of everything the US had always stood for and a disaster for the international community.) Moyers also spent some time on the media's failure to cover the inspectors' mission to Iraq in late 2002-early 2003. It turns out that while Colin Powell was complaining about certain mysterious Iraqi sites to the UN (with a smirking George Tenet sitting behind him), inspectors had already looked at those sites and found that they contained nothing of significance. President Bush's continuing insistence that Saddam refused to disarm--which ignores both his lack of weapons and his high degree of cooperation with the inspectors--is one of his most outrageous falsehoods. Moyers also showed how the few Democrats with long memories and courage to oppose the war from the start, like Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy, were virtually blacked out by the media, just as Wayne Morse was when he spoke against the Tonkin Gulf resolution in 1964. Moyers, who left the Johnson White House because of our last disastrous foreign intervention, is doing his bit regarding this one.
So is retired general Paul Eaton, whose recent letter to President Bush was posted on a veterans web site. I reproduce it here for non-commercial use only. In recent weeks, President Bush has been arguing that the Iraq war authorization must be passed because it's what the military leaders in Iraq say they need--which amounts to an abdication of his responsibility as commander and chief and political leader, since he is the one who is supposed to set the goals of American foreign and military policy and decide what is needed to meet them. Eaton nails that one most effectively.
May 1, 2007
President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President,
Today, in your veto message regarding the bipartisan legislation just passed on Operation Iraqi Freedom, you asserted that you so decided because you listen to your commanders on the ground.
Respectfully, as your former commander on the ground, your administration did not listen to our best advice. In fact, a number of my fellow Generals were forced out of their jobs, because they did not tell you what you wanted to hear -- most notably General Eric Shinseki, whose foresight regarding troop levels was advice you rejected, at our troops' peril.
The legislation you vetoed today represented a course of action that is long overdue. This war can no longer be won by the military alone. We must bring to bear the entire array of national power - military, diplomatic and economic. The situation demands a surge in diplomacy, and pressure on the Iraqi government to fix its internal affairs. Further, the Army and Marine Corps are on the verge of breaking - or have been broken already - by the length and intensity of this war. This tempo is not sustainable - and you have failed to grow the ground forces to meet national security needs. We must begin the process of bringing troops home, and repairing and growing our military, if we are ever to have a combat-ready force for the long war on terror ahead of us.
The bill you rejected today sets benchmarks for success that the Iraqis would have to meet, and puts us on a course to redeploy our troops. It stresses the need for sending troops into battle only when they are rested, trained and equipped. In my view, and in the view of many others in the military that I know, that is the best course of action for our security.
As someone who served this nation for decades, I have the utmost respect for the office you hold. However, as a man of conscience, I could not sit idly by as you told the American people today that your veto was based on the recommendations of military men. Your administration ignored the advice of our military's finest minds before, and I see no evidence that you are listening to them now.
I urge you to reconsider your position, and work with Congress to pass a bill that achieves the goals laid out above.
Major General Paul D. Eaton, USA, Retired
The Administration's debasement of the debate over Iraq is making it impossible even to focus on what the war is about. It claims that we are fighting Al Queda, as if Al Queda would rule Iraq if we left. Yet every responsible observer has argued from the beginning that foreign fighters make up a tiny fraction of the problem in Iraq, and academics like Mark Lynch
and Juan Cole have recently been reporting that Al Queda has fallen afoul of the Sunni tribes in Anbar province and is losing ground. We are in fact fighting both of the major political forces in Arab Iraq, the Sunni insurgency and the militant Shi'ite militias, especially that of Moqtar Al Sadr. Today's Washington Post reports that a major portion of our casualties last month--the highest since January 2005--took place thanks to ieds in Shi'ite neighborhoods of Baghdad which the surge is now entering. Meanwhile, story after story confirms that the Maliki government is in the Shi'ites' pocket and is doing nothing (as General Petraeus, to his credit, admitted) to bring about reconciliation. Generals who moved too aggressively against Shi'ites have been removed from the Iraqi army and the legislation the US has demanded for months is going nowhere. All of Arab Iraq is radicalized, and today's New York Times describes how the process is spreading into neighboring Jordan, where young men dream of becoming Jihadis themselves.
Faced with all this, the Democratic Party is apparently disinclined to roll over and play dead in the wake of the President's veto, but few if any elected Democrats are willing to state the obvious: that Iraq is going to be ruled by a mix of hostile Islamic extremist movements, and that the entire world of militant Islam will rejoice, loudly and publicly, when we are sooner or later forced to leave. Actually the second development may have a silver lining. Having re-established their right to rule themselves--something they thought they had won fifty years ago--the Arabs may be ready for more realistic dealings with us, if we are with them. But the experience will be painful, and the United States will have to abandon the irresponsible fantasy of transforming the Middle East according to our own wishes (a fantasy that was articulated, actually, all the way back in 1980 by none other than Richard Nixon, or his ghostwriters, in a polemic called The Real War.) Like Charles De Gaulle in 1959-62 over Algeria, some American leader must declare that attempts to rule distant lands by force now weaken, rather than strengthen, great nations. But that man or woman has not emerged.
The Republicans, on the other hand, are moving from one fantasy land to another. In last night's candidates' debate, Mitt Romney said that withdrawal from Iraq would undercut the kind of "strength" that the Republican idol Ronald Reagan had personified--forgetting that Reagan pulled out of Lebanon after we suffered casualties around 1/20 of what we have suffered in Iraq. Resolute American leadership, Rudy Giuliani argued, could face down Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "He has to look at an American president, and he has to see Ronald Reagan." Alas, Ronald Reagan to the Iranians is the man they helped into office by refusing to release our hostages, and who then allowed them to blackmail him into supplying them with spare parts for their weapons by kidnapping a few Americans in Lebanon. (Some one should ask Giuliani about this.) John McCain echoed the canard that Al Queda has won in Iraq if we have lost. I do not see at this point how any Republican can win next year, but I have not yet seen the Democrat who is willing to face reality and get us back on course either.