It has been six years since a group of fanatics chose to sacrifice themselves and a few thousand other people in order to make a statement about their opposition to modernity, and their discomfort with societies where the rules are flexible and women retain their clitoris. My country was driven to great rage, and as we have in the past, rallied around a President who seemed to know the right words for that moment. We drove these backward savages out of Afghanistan, but from there things went awry.
Today we are fighting a war where even its proponents admit there is no end in sight. There is some evidence that the 'surge' (or more correctly the change in tactics that accompanied it) have produced some real benefits in certain regions of Iraq. There is some of that 'military momentum' General Petraeus was talking about. But even Bush appointee Ambassador Ryan Crocker has admitted that the political side of the equation, the very thing the surge was intended to buy time for, is an utter mess with no reason for optimism in the foreseable future. He also said today that nothing that resembled victory would come, though he insists avoiding defeat is still possible. The British, our most stalwart allies, are withdrawing under leadership that never liked the war in the first place.
Worse, company grade officers and middle ranking NCOs, the backbone of any Western Army, are leaving the service in droves. For many, interminable deployments with no end in sight, the choice is one between the military and their marriage. On August 10, (not coincidentally a Friday) War Czar General Douglas Lute suggested that bringing back the draft would be considered as a way of reducing the load on our overworked soldiers and Marines. His trial balloon was met with a deafening silence. None of the war's stalwart supporters would consider doing that, as a draft is too politically dangerous and after all, our soldiers are all 'volunteers'.
The simple thing is this: opinions on the surge tend to depend on your ideological position. Ideological conservatives fervently insist it is a success, and the war can be won. After all, none of their predictions have come true, and utter defeat will leave a lot of egg on faces of people who have never stopped calling their critics fools. Almost everybody else has another opinion, including the moderate Republicans who more and more want to distance themselves from their failed President.
I think our soldiers have done very well. And I don't think MoveOn.org was right to call General Petraeus "General Betray-us" in an ad. But this was no calumny. The lies around this war began before the war, and the Bush Administration is quick to punish dissidents and bearers of bad news. Many men, including men wearing stars, have spread over-optimistic half or untruths about the progress of this war. Given the multitude of lies that have come from the Administration and Defense, skepticism of what might come from its representatives is simple common sense. And if the President wanted to present a rosy picture, the General did not let him down. He said the surge was doing well enough that units might be withdrawn soon, never mentioning that the surge must come to an end on its own, or the President must extend already extended combat tours even longer. The military simply doesn't have the manpower to keep up the surge. General Petraeus merely acknowledged what was, and tried to make it sound like a breakthrough.
I'm glad things are going better in Iraq, though 'better' does not mean 'good'. Good is no longer possible. I'm glad there has not been another attack on American soil, but al-Quaeda never really was more than a group of vicious cranks with limited capabilities at best. I'm glad some Sunnis have decided they're better off without these fanatics, but they're really thinking of the endgame when America is gone. They don't like these people, and what better way to arm themselves for the coming civil war than to get their guns from the Americans. If they do get rid of al-Quaeda in Iraq, we're next.
And I'm glad that America seems to have learned what it should have learned in Vietnam, even mighty nations have limits. More importantly, we need to learn that the only people who can bring democracy are the natives. But what's that I hear in the distance? Could they be war clouds gathering over Iran?
It seems that some people never learn.