Thursday, July 28, 2005

Things fall apart ...

... and history is littered with the wreckage of empire.

Fortunately, George W. Bush's version (the "new democratic order") seems to be unraveling with a relatively short whimper instead of a series of extended bangs. We do things quickly nowadays -- instead of centuries of agonizing decline a la Rome, the US frittered away its post-WWII position atop the Pile of Powers in 60 years flat, most of it in the last 15, and most of that in the last four. The consolation prize for the Fritterer-in-Chief is that at least it doesn't end in a bunker suicide with the Soviets a few hundred feet away and closing in.

A majority of Americans now realize that the US is not going to win the war on Iraq (although most of them don't yet realize that it's already long lost). A slightly smaller majority now realizes that they were sold a bill of goods in order to gain their support for it in the first place. Talk of withdrawal is now emanating from the places where that kind of talk means something. Precisely what it means is important and difficult to tease out, but we'll get there in a moment. [For the poll numbers and the withdrawal trial ballon, see any number of articles -- here's one from the Hong Kong Standard]

Political division on the war issue is already beginning to transform itself from "for" and "against" to "knew it was a bad idea all along" and "we could have won if it hadn't been for those people who kept insisting on bringing up inconvenient facts and sapping our morale."

This latter position is just a natural outgrowth of politics. Admitting error is difficult. Admitting multiple and massive errors is wrenching. Admitting total error is damn near impossible. We're going to have to learn to live with the fact that the neoconservatives will never, ever, ever be able to bring themselves even to the point of Arthur Fonzarelli's "I was wr ... wrrrrrr ... wro ... well, you know what I mean." They will go to their graves believing that imminent and glorious victory, followed by world hegemony, was within their reach, and that Justin Raimondo stole it from them.

Look closely. The "we were defeated at home meme" is already starting to grow like mold on the rotting underside of the Jacobin blogosphere.

The Busheviks know the jig is up. Right now, they're adjusting the "cooking time" on the withdrawal. If things continue to go to hell in a handbasket as is obviously happening, they want to be out several months ahead of the 2006 elections. But not too fast -- they're still drawing it out and hoping against hope for some unforeseen development which proves sufficiently "positive" to justify another stroll around an aircraft carrier deck and another declaration of "victory" before throwing in the towel.

But let's get to those inconvenient facts, shall we?

- In 2003, the neocons threw a full-bore temper tantrum when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Chief of Staff (thanks to Tony Torres for the correction) General Eric Shinseki told Congress that it would take several hundred thousand troops to pacify Iraq. Their anger knew no bounds when Secretary of the Army Thomas White backed the general's estimate:

White said it is reasonable to assume the Pentagon will need more than 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq to provide stability for at least the next year. Pentagon officials envisioned having about 100,000 troops there immediately after the war, but they hoped that number would be quickly drawn down.

White was driven from office and the neocons got their way. Today, 140,000 US troops remain in Iraq and the place isn't even close to pacified. History says that the number needed would be more along the lines of 480,000 troops. In the fever swamp of the neoconservative mind, it is all the fault of Shinseki and White for bringing the matter up, rather than their own fault for not paying attention.

- Right now, the US military looks stretched. It isn't just stretched, though -- it's shredded. The Pentagon objective of maintaining a force which can fight two simultaneous conventional wars is in tatters. For all their kvetching about the cuts introduced by Bush the Elder and continued by Clinton, the neocons have done a far more thorough job of destroying American military readiness than both of those former presidents combined. Here's why:

Since Korea, the reserve and National Guard have evolved into institutions designed to do two things: Train on weekends and two weeks a year, and deploy for action over the short term or in a catastrophic situation of total world war. This direction has been apparent for at least 15 years: After a mere six months of deployment for the first Gulf War, reservists/Guardsmen, their families and their employers were raising holy hell about getting the troops home (so much so that when I applied to extend my tour in Saudi Arabia in 1991, I was refused because the Pentagon was tired of hearing the bitching about reservists being kept for too long).

As the war on Iraq drags into its third year, reserve and Guard enlistments aren't keeping up with the Pentagon's demand for troops. The people who enter the reserve and the Guard want to serve their country -- but for the most part they want to do so in an auxiliary, "on call" capacity while they get educated and start families. If they'd wanted years of active duty, they wouldn't have joined the reserve or Guard, they'd have enlisted (or stayed on) active duty.

The neocons blew the US military advantage. In calling up the reserve and Guard for extended tours of duty in an optional war, they greatly weakened the force that would be needed in a future necessary war.

On the active duty side, it's a mixed bag -- but I doubt that we're being told everything. The Army seems to be the only service having real problems meeting its recruitment quotas, true. But I believe that that problem is worse than advertised. The Army admits that it has failed to recruit enough troops for the last four months, and that's bad enough ... but guess which troops they're having trouble recruiting. I doubt that they're going without when it comes to clerks, aircraft mechanics and cooks. Those quotas are probably filled and then some. No, the troops they're not getting are almost certainly ... riflemen. In other words, the troops that they need most desperately for the job at hand.

Since going back to an all-volunteer force after Vietnam, the military has depended on incentives to get young men and women to enlist. One of those incentives -- unstated but definitely at play -- is that while the kid is building a college fund and learning a skill, there's a limit to the amount of tear-assing around the world on bullshit missions that's acceptable. Yes, every kid who signs on the dotted line knows, or should know, that there's a possibility of war in his or her future. But there's also been a basic trust that America's leaders would only take the country to war under certain conditions (the Soviets rolling their tanks into western Europe circa 1985; "peacekeeping" duty in Bosnia circa 1995). Catastrophic wars, yes. Short-term deployments for realpolitik, fine. Optional forever wars versus endless insurgencies in sandpits which represent no threat to the United States -- not. The GI Bill can buy a high level of dedication, but raw credulity sports a higher price tag.

Once Iraq wraps up, if Iraq wraps up, and if America gets back on a reality-based military policy track, it will probably take a full decade to get back into the good graces of the 18-year-old grunts who are an absolute necessity to any viable military force.

- So, what did we get for sending a force of insufficient size into a war of (at its very best) dubious justification?

The WMDs were MIA.

Al Qaeda was nowhere to be found in Saddam Hussein's Iraq as of March 19th, 2003. Now they're thick on the ground.

The conflict has devolved into de facto civil war between a Shiite Islamist government and a Wahabbe Islamist insurgency -- heads the Islamists win, tails the US loses. The only thing the Busheviks have accomplished is to topple an evil former ally and turn Iraq over to an evil current enemy, at the cost, so far, of 1,784 American lives and the virtual destruction of the US military as a deployable asset.

Forget this talk of "quagmires" and such. Let's call a spade a spade. While our soldiers' heads are bloody but unbowed, the Jacobins back home have led the US into debacle, fiasco and abject defeat.

Which, pretty much, is what the reality-based community predicted.

Of course, the neocons will spend the next 20 years blaming us for predicting it and insisting that if we hadn't, their fantasies would have magically come true.

Unfortunately, many of the troops whose trust and dedication were abused in this misadventure will probably bitterly buy into that line, making common cause with their abusers in abusing those who stood against this mistake in the first place. We saw it after Vietnam, and we'll see it again. Many warriors have difficulty distinguishing their own honor from the honor of the leaders who sent them off to war, and will defend the honor of the dishonorable in the mistaken belief that their own rises or falls with it.

But maybe, just maybe, they -- and we -- will remember all this the next time our ever-present gaggle of armchair Tojos starts hawking the war nostrum.

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