Wednesday, July 5

Big Picture, Part II

Independence Day Edition

Theoretically, this wasn't supposed to take more than a month to write. But because I'm so slow, several news events caused me to almost literally scrap the entire essay and rewrite it from scratch. Also, I needed to know a certain fact from someone, and only got confirmation of it yesterday afternoon.

When last we left the drunken private party between "Piranha" and I, we were both pretty solidly three sheets to the wind and catching up on old times. Sooner or later, a question came to mind that I didn't want to ask — but I had to: "So what's next for you?"

I didn't want to ask that question because I didn't want to remind him of combat when he was safe here at home. And every soldier, sailor, marine, and pilot faces this same dilemma when their tour of duty ends: part of them doesn't want to return to theater. They're home now. Safe. But the other part yearns to go back: there are still more enemy asses to kick, and his brothers are still out there in harm's way. I could see it in Piranha's face the moment I asked the question, and the answer was just what I expected: he doesn't want to go back, but he might have to.

If he wanted to, he could have stayed here permanently. He was back stateside because his division, the 1-13 Armor, was being dissolved as a combat division. Everyone in it had their choice of reassignment duties. Piranha could, if he so chose, join another unit that would redeploy, or, since he was close enough to the end of his enlistment period, ride it out until his tour of duty ended. So if he had to go back, it wouldn't be because he was ordered to: it would be because the same incorporeal force that draws men and women like him to serve their country in the first place — and what drove Piranha to join the U.S. Army despite nearly being killed when he was run over by a car — would compel him to do it again in order to finish the job.

And let there be no doubt about it: this war is winnable. Piranha, and his brothers, aren't stupid, or suicidal. For every veteran who comes back and joins anti-war groups or writes vitriolic essays about the mistakes made in the operation, there are easily hundreds, if not thousands, who still believe in the mission and are willing to see it through — even if it costs them their lives. From behind the wheel of his M1A1 Abrams tank, Piranha has seen things that the rest of us, whether we're media types writing from the safety of the Green Zone, or pajama-clad bloggers screeding ourselves into cyberspace, can never see. Piranha told me we're winning. I believe him.

But there was another reason that yearn to reenlist and continue the fight held such power over Piranha. He had a hard time telling me, so he used some of the people he recognized in the bar to demonstrate. That woman over there, wearing a wedding ring and dancing very very closely with a man who was not; another, very drunken girl living it up well after 2 AM even though she was the mother of a toddler, who was at home. I quickly saw where he was going. He pointed out these people because he had just sacrificed some of the best years of his life for something greater than those years, and he came home with new eyes to a society which, for the most part, thinks only of the now as opposed to the future. I understood, and sympathized: even though I haven't made the same sacrifice he has, people who practice such hedonism bother me. I don't rail about it constantly because it makes me look like an old fuddy-duddy or a pompous moralizing preacher, neither of which I am. But it still grates on me, just as it grates on Piranha.

This caused me to think, and think hard. Piranha, I, and all of the other people who have supported and continue to support this great conflict the United States is currently engaged in do so because we believe the sacrifices we make today will lead to a better future. We are opposed by people who, obviously, think the opposite: that the lives and treasure lost aren't worth it. A subset of this group of people have held that "it's not worth it" from the very beginning of the conflict, and while I think that a no-war-at-any-cost mentality is a flawed and dangerous ideology to maintain, my main disagreement is not with them. It's with the people who signed on in support of the war at its outset but have since changed their minds based almost solely on the fact that we have lost so much. It is true: this conflict has cost us dearly. But that doesn't mean it has ceased to become worth fighting.

On June 7, Coalition forces bombed the hideout of Iraqi al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, killing him and his lieutenant and spiritual advisor, Sheik Abd-Al-Rahman. Less noticed but perhaps more important was that information gleaned from the safe house allowed Coalition forces to roll up dozens more of the terrorist network's heavy hitters. This, unequivocally, is a win for the forces of freedom. But almost immediately, the war's detractors sprung up and attempted to downplay this accomplishment. Of the complaints, the less insane ones were that Zarqawi's death won't make a difference in the long run, since he will have a successor, and so on. Somehow, these people seem to think that the al-Qaeda chain of command works similarly to the U.S. military, where competent people wait patiently for their turn to be promoted, and command flows relatively seamlessly. How silly. If someone smarter, better, and more ruthless than Zarqawi had existed before he was killed, he probably would have killed Zarqawi himself and assumed operational control of Iraq's al-Qaeda cells. This is not an organized regiment of soldiers we're up against: it's essentially a pack of wolves in humanoid form. Zarqawi's successor is someone who's virtually unknown, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir. "Al-Muhajir" literally means "the immigrant" or "the foreigner" in Arabic. It's very tough to believe that this dark horse will be able to have the same effects in Iraq as Zarqawi did.

When the anti-war critics failed to sour optimism due to the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, they seized on the one thing that has bothered them more than anything else: the rate of combat deaths. On June 15, that number reached 2,500. With that grim milestone came a slew of front-page stories by news media which, by and large, refuses to treat each combat death as the tragedy it is unless it is a nice round number like 2,500. The 2,500th soldier's death is no more or less a tragedy than the 2,136th or the 2,487th, but every time the combat toll rises to an easily-remembered number, that's somehow newsworthy. But I digress.

The 2,500th combat death renewed calls in the United States Congress for timetables for the Coalition exit from Iraq, as if victory could follow a schedule like a train station. On June 22, Senator John Kerry took to the Senate floor in support of an appropriations amendment that would force withdrawal from Iraq by July 1, 2007:
The fact is, sure you can muddle along with this course. None of us have come to the floor and said the cause is lost. None of us have suggested that you just have to walk away and leave chaos. That's not what this plan does. This plan honors the investment of our troops. And in fact, what it does is provide a better way of not only empowering the Iraqis, but of empowering the United States of America to fight a more effective war on terror. Let me say it plainly. Redeploying United States troops is necessary for success in Iraq.
Now, I'm not a military guy. When Piranha and I talk about the things he did in Iraq, every time he used some military jargon I had to make him explain what exactly he was talking about. But even I know that while in a technical sense "redeployment" can mean what Senator Kerry is using the term to mean, a near-full scale withdrawal isn't referred to by military personnel as "redeployment" — it's called "bugging out."

The purpose of the Kerry Amendment seems to be that Iraq should be left to the Iraqis — and they treat this like some sort of revolutionary new plan. But President Bush's plan all along has been the "Iraqification" of the conflict. How many times have we heard Bush say "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down"? If you Google that exact phrase, you get 14,300 hits. But Kerry, his amendment's cosponsors, and the rest of its supporters (including Hillary Clinton, who agrees with the basic idea behind the amendment but not rigid timetables per se) evidently think that the plan in place right now is some clumsy neverending commitment to a status quo of watching American servicemen come home in boxes and doing absolutely nothing about it.

In reality, there are two competing plans for Iraq. Here's an analogy: the Bush plan is that U.S. forces are like a professional swimming coach, patiently teaching the nascent Iraqi government and their military forces how not to drown. The Kerry "plan" tosses them overboard and hopes like hell they don't get eaten by sharks. Perhaps the Iraqis will survive, but even with al-Qaeda diminished following the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, it's doubtful. Far likelier is that despite Kerry's claim, his "redeployment" would, in the end, precisely "walk away and leave chaos."

But here we have the competing ideologies, not just on this conflict — large as it may loom at this moment, it is just one conflict — and what motivation drives them. One school of thought sacrifices the short term for the big picture, and their opponents care nothing except for what happens now. Now it's a mess, now there's been 2,500 combat deaths, now it's time for us to get out — excuse me, "redeploy" — and of course we can't simply settle for "redeploying" eventually, we have to do it now. Whatever consequences happen — Iraq really falling into civil war (and not the phony civil war claimed to be ongoing, but a real one); the terrorists interpreting our "redeployment" as surrender; other nations becoming increasingly hostile toward us because they know tnat even if we invade (and that's a big "if"), we'll walk away after three years — are irrelevant, and secondary to what we should do now.

I should interrupt right here, because another odd characteristic of those who support immediate "redeployment" is that they seem to interpret any and all criticism of them as "questioning their patriotism." I wish. It'd be a lot easier to dismiss them if they were being un-American. But they're not: they earnestly believe in withdrawal because they feel it is the best course of action for the United States. I don't think they're unpatriotic — I think they're myopic. Short-sighted. Ignorant, but not in a stupid way — in a childish way. "I want it now." And of course, there is no better poster boy for politics according to now than John Kerry, who famously voted for the war before he voted against it, before he attached a cut-and-run amendment to the defense appropriations bill before he called it "redeployment" before the amendment failed by a vote of 86-13 before he went ahead and voted for the appropriations bill anyway.

Of course, there are many other examples of people who practice the politics of now. Some are pretty harmless, like the adulation showered upon Stephen Colbert after his painfully unfunny performance at the White House Correspondent's Dinner. However, many are quite dangerous, like The New York Times' revelations of the SWIFT program. But I've gone too long on this already, and a third installment on Labor Day would seem somewhat cheesy.

So, on this one day when we celebrate the vision and imagination of a group of men who declared that we would be free for all time, I want you to think about America's future more than just its present. I try to whenever I can, and my friend Piranha does too. He didn't want to come home just yet, but he also took his friends' death in Iraq awfully hard, and he didn't want to be a tattoo on my arm, either. Last night I learned he split the difference, signing on the dotted line for a four-year extension to train new recruits on how to drive tanks.

I don't know who should be more frightened: his future students, or the insurgents in Iraq, who'll soon have dozens of Piranha's clones running them down in 63-ton tanks at 45 miles per hour.


Location: Mishawaka, Indiana, United States

I graduated with an English degree from the University Of Notre Dame in 2001, and in 2008 I have a day job that has nothing to do with my degree but gets the bills paid in a semi-regular fashion. (I have running water five days a week!) The idea is that once I get turned around on my bills, I go to grad school. I also have an idea for cold fusion. Anyone's guess which will be feasible first. In non-work mode, I'm usually reading columns by famous and well-read thinkers, blogs by critically praised writers, or sometimes blogs by overzealous cranks who make me laugh. I yearn to be all three at once; until then I'll settle for being the third. I also have an undying love for the Chicago Cubs and Notre Dame football. Praise them and I'll buy you a beer; curse them and I'll dump it over your head. If that's not enough, I'm becoming quite the fan of no-limit Texas Hold'em. My games have one of two results: I either win all the money or whine because I didn't win all the money.

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July 2006
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August 8, 2005: High Gas Prices
August 1, 2005: Judge Roberts' Hearings
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April 25, 2005: Lebanon
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What's Your Line?


I absolutely love the name of your site.

Scott "Big Trunk" Johnson, Power Line
Just the name? Not the content? . . . I'll take it.

You have something in common with Dave Barry, Hemingway, and Mark Steyn: I'm not linking to them, either.


That's good stuff there Mark.

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Psst, it's "Mike."

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