Friday, February 18, 2005

Pedantry Corner

I must take issue once again with a Clifford May article. Specifically, this article.

When a politician or a journalist talks about an “exit strategy” from Iraq,
there is only one appropriate response: Roll your eyes and leave the room.

I have argued before and will continue to argue that the time may come when it is necessary for us to pack up our bags and bugger off as far as the Iraq war effort is concerned. At this point we will have - let us be perfectly frank here - lost the campaign. However, it is one campaign in a broader war and throughout history armies have lost campaigns while ultimately winning the war.

I have some sympathy with May on a personal level, as too much blather about "exit strategies" by smug journos does take place and frankly it can go too far.

Where I have my beef - and, by God, it's a great big slab of it that's just been walloped with an humane killer - with all this is the fact that once again the history May uses to back up his argument is utterly, utterly lamentable.

History, as we all surely know, can be the most potent tool the strategist has at his disposal. But, as Colin Gray has pointed out repeatedly, bad history is worse than no history at all.

And, my word, this is bad history. Michael Jackson could write a song about it.

Or possibly Weird Al Yankovic.

May begins by comparing Iraq with World War 2. Uh-uuuuuuh. Try again, Cliff. Iraq is a campaign within a wider war. If he was imaginative, May might try to choose the Battle of Britain as the campaign with which to juxtapose the current conflict in Iraq. It's lucky he didn't, because the parallels aren't good. Better ones might be the Battle of France. Or the Norway campaign. Or the Middle East. Or what you will. But the point is that this is a campaign we can afford to lose and bounce back from. It wouldn't be pretty (and - I feel the need to restate this over and over - I am NOT suggesting that we are at a stage where it is time to cut and run), but we're talking Battle of France territory here, not Battle of Britain (if you accept that the loss of the Battle of Britain would have resulted in the British being knocked out of the war). If a reporter had asked the British what their "exit strategy" for the Battle of France was, they would have looked at him and gone, "whuh?". Or possibly, "hungh?". This is because the phrase "exit strategy" hadn't been invented then. But the fact of the matter is that when the chips were down and it became apparent the more could be salvaged by a calculated strategy of pissing off, they turned around and marched for the sea. And quite right too.

It's got to be put into some sort of reasonable, realistic context. And to equate Iraq with the entire World War 2 war effort and suggest that exit strategising is on a par with coming to a negotiated settlement with the Nazis or the Japanese is simply incoherent. In fact, it's alarming.

But a few years later, we did accept a substitute for victory in the Korean
War. The consequence: More than half a century later we are menaced by a second
generation despot in Pyongyang, heading a regime that has been building nuclear
weapons and exporting nuclear technology to those who despise us.

I assume I don't have to go into the implications of this viewpoint and way of thinking.

In Vietnam, we also had an exit strategy – the image that comes to mind
is of helicopters frantically evacuating Americans from the roof of our besieged
embassy in Saigon. After we left, millions of Vietnamese exited, too -- using
not helicopters but ramshackle boats. An unknown number perished in
shark-infested seas.

At least we are in the right sort of ballpark here. However, I would note that not only did America continue to exist following its defeat in Vietnam, it went on to win the Cold War, of which Vietnam was argually a campaign.

The Cold War – World War III – we won, despite that fact that much of the
Washington foreign policy Establishment wanted to back away from any serious
confrontation with Communism. But others – Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson and
President Reagan, for example – preferred to push until the Soviet Union

Bah yah bah. The fact of the matter is that the USA won the Cold War for a variety of reasons, using a variety of strategies which altered over time. These ranged from Truman's strategy of containment (carried out against a backdrop of 1940s vintage Clifford May's babbling on about "losing" China) to Eisenhower's prudent vision of the Cold War as a long hall requiring an economy and a defence establishment geared for a marathon and not a sprint (in the face of similar tub-thumping, this time from Democrats), to President Nixon's prying open the already existing fissure between Red China and the USSR to President Reagan's big buildup and excellent rehetoric followed by appeasement from a position of strength.

In Iraq today, America and its allies are fighting two enemies. The
first are the remnants of Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime, those who were
neither “shocked” nor “awed” by the invasion of 2003. It is clear that we erred
by permitting them to flee and reorganize, apparently utilizing neighboring
Syria, another Ba'athist regime, as a safe haven.

There's a bit more too it than that, but let's pass over this.

If, thanks to a premature exit, these butchers (of Iraqis, Iranians,
Kuwaitis, Israelis and Americans), were to return to power in Baghdad, it would
be a significant defeat for the U.S. and for the Free World.


We also are fighting the forces of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, designated by
Osama bin Laden as the top al Qaeda general in Iraq. Were Americans to depart
Iraq while Zarqawi remained, it would represent nothing short of our Waterloo in
the War on Terrorism.


It would not be our Waterloo. Or more accurately, it need not be our Waterloo. It would be a defeat, a bad one. A very bad one. But it could be our Corruna or - for those of you of both an historical and a Teutonophilic bent - our Jena.

Oh, I could go on. And on and on and on. But I won't.


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