Wednesday, September 12

"Shut Up," He Explained.

Donald Kagan, "Today's Defeatists: The 21st century cut and run." NRO September 10

VIA Roy who disposes of it in less time than I need to write an intro, and who notes elsewhere:
Around the time of the original attacks, I recall, there was a lot of talk about getting the people who actually sent the planes. The list of targets quickly expanded well beyond that, of course. Six years later, conservatives pain bull's-eyes on everything outside their own shrinking sphere of influence. A grim anniversary, indeed.

This will not be on the quiz. It could turn up in your nightmares, though:
Observers of today’s fierce partisan conflict between those demanding immediate or rapid abandonment of the war in Iraq at any, or almost any, price, and others who refuse to give up the fight, might think this a rare event in American history, but it is not unprecedented. In the two World Wars of the 20th century, to be sure, the country was essentially united and fought on to victory without much dissension. In the Korean War, however, there was considerable division, and a new administration that itself had not begun the war accepted a draw — a draw that has demanded a commitment of troops ever since and presents a serious threat to this day. In the Vietnam War, deep and violent dissension at home was, perhaps, the major element in compelling the United States to accept a humiliating defeat. In neither war were the American military forces defeated and driven from the field. It was the political victory of enemies of the administration and the war it has undertaken that brought defeat.

Let's just step gingerly around that "immediate abandonment at any price" bit. At this gaseous stage of decomposition the carcass of neocon war plans, like a dead animal in the woods, is liable to explode all over your boots at the merest touch, and you'll never get the stink out.

Another word of caution: if you were slightly stunned by the suggestion that there's somebody out there old enough to read who imagines opposition to the Iraq war to be "unprecedented", please do not drive or operate heavy equipment for the duration of the piece. Plus, we'll be skipping that portion of Ameican history known as the Peloponnesian War, but there are postcards available in the lobby.
Defining the Defeatist

The results of the recent change in leadership and strategy in Iraq have made it plain that the war there is not lost nor is defeat inevitable. And yet, the war’s opponents, even as the situation improves, have rushed to declare America defeated. They offer no plausible alternative to the current strategy and take no serious notice of the dreadful consequences of swift withdrawal. They seem to be panicked by the possibility of success and eager to bring about withdrawal and defeat before events make it too late.

In their embarrassment they, not their critics, have raised the question of their patriotism. However that question may be resolved, such people surely deserve to be called defeatists. My dictionary defines “defeatism” as “the attitude, policy or conduct of a person who admits, expects, or no longer resists defeat.”

Really. "My Webster's defines defeatism as...." This is the Sterling Professor of Classics and History at Yale. I read that paragraph three times, and by the second run-through, out of sheer despair at the sort of people who have influence in this country, I'd gone from demanding an immediate abandonment of Iraq at any price to the conviction that we should probably just surrender outright to the first Muslim we see and hope for the best.

I've known professional people--mostly medical doctors, but also scholars of the European type, even musicians--who were so wound up in their own fields as to be practically illiterate about everything else, but it's difficult to explain this in a Classicist, who, by definition, doesn't need to spend a whole lot of time keeping current.

That said, let's take a brief survey of modern warfare for anyone just joining us from the Bronze Age. One, modern warfare is generally conducted by standing, professional armies using explosive weapons of some description, not by all the menfolk hereabouts wielding farm implements. Two, such armies must be maintained: trained, equipped, kept supplied. Where this once was accomplished by kings and princes throwing open the doors to the larder, that practice died out about the same time as the powdered wig. The function is now taken on by governments. In the United States (founded in the 18th Century), which is a large territory in North America ("discovered", as some Classicists still maintain, in the late 15th Century), this function is reportedly controlled by an elective body of legislators known as the Congress, together with the Militias of the various States. So that, in theory, anyway, eligible voters--men and, yes, women, over the age of 18, including slaves, although we pay them now (!)--convening periodically, could vote direct control of this funding to groups of people promising to attack Canada at night, while they're sleeping, direct the Fleet to sail in circles for the next two years, or, even, de-fund costly, useless military enterprises. That's the theory. It's called "democracy", although it's frequently pointed out that this is a misnomer. But then, considering what passes for truth nowadays maybe we should just drop it.

A corollary of all this is that in modern warfare it is no longer required, or even sufficient in every case, to drive the other army from the field, or even to show up on one, and it is no longer necessary to do so solely or primarily by force of arms. Oddly enough, this is often explicit in the examples cited by apologists for US military action in Vietnam who want to insist that American forces "were not defeated in the field". The German army was not defeated in WWI. The Viet Minh did not defeat "the French", they defeated French forces in Indochina. Terrorists drove the British out of Palestine, but they did not defeat the RAF and His Majesty's Navy. These still go in the Win column. The United States Herself was founded precisely that way (and lost the War of 1812--just as we were starting to "win", too--by virtue of recognizing reality sometime before the last drop of available blood was shed).

And somehow the ol' Victor Davis Hanson Lincoln in '64 bit becomes the centerpiece of Kagan's argument, apparently just to see if he can make it more wronger. (Don't skip ahead. He can.)
The Democratic convention was dominated by the anti-war faction whom the Republicans called “Copperheads,” after the poisonous snake.

Well, in fact it was because they wore copper coins as political badges, but we've gotten this far without resorting to accuracy, so let's push on.
According to their best historian,

Who shall remain nameless?
they were “consistent and constant in their demand for an immediate peace settlement. At times they were willing to trade victory for peace. One persistent problem for [them] was their refusal or reluctance to offer a realistic and comprehensive plan for peace.”

Remind you of anybody? Huh? L-I-E-B-R-U-L-S?
Pressed by the Copperheads, the Democrats nominated a rabidly antiwar candidate for vice president and adopted a platform that called the war a “failure,” and demanded “immediate efforts” to end hostilities….” Their platform statement would permit abandonment not only of emancipation, but of the most basic war aim, reunion. Even New York’s Republican Party boss declared that Lincoln’s reelection was widely regarded as an “impossibility…The People [were] wild for Peace.” At the end of August defeat for the Republicans and the Union cause seemed inevitable, but Lincoln refused to seek peace without victory, saying that he was not prepared, to “give up the Union for a peace which, so achieved, could not be of much duration.”

The Copperheads so dominated the Democratic convention of 1864 that they were able to name the Vice-Presidential candidate! Wow. Never mind that the Presidential candidate, one George McClellan, was the pro-war Democrat they'd opposed. Never mind that he repudiated the anti-war plank in the party's platform. They were just like Nancy Pelosi!

We will note once again this peculiar fixation on 1864, which seems based on nothing more than the fact that the whole canard was boiled up and served by Hanson as a 2004 election morale-booster without anyone checking to see whether it had been plucked, and people have been feasting on feathers ever since. 1863 is a much better example, since Lincoln was still looking for his General (at least in the early part of the year) and anti-war sentiment was at its height (so too was Copperhead power, for what it's worth, amounting to escaped deportee Clement L. Vallandigham running for governor of Ohio as a Canadian exile and getting trounced). By 1864 the war was won, though not concluded, and not to the satisfaction of the anti-war faction. Still, if they'd campaigned in those days the way we do now Lincoln could have pointed to Vicksburg and Gettysburg as decisive victories. What's Bush Bush's apologists, including every Republican Presidential candidate with a hope in hell of winning, have to point to? Specious arguments about Anbar, a place that has nothing whatever to do with our military actions, current or former, aside from the general mess? So what? Control of the Mississippi was a war aim from 1861. Find me someone who was saying, "Y'know, the key to this whole Iraq thing is control of the Western desert". I mean, before last week.

It beggars belief that one must remind professional historians that modern wars are won on lost off the battlefield at least as often as on, or that Americans, let alone Americans of the history professor type, could be ignorant of the fact that Lincoln did not inherit a standing force twenty times the size of his opponent's and thousands of times more powerful and fritter that advantage away for want of direction. There's no Eric Shinseki in Lincoln's bio. There's a McClellan, who was tolerated as the best man available, and because after the initial disasters Lincoln understood how much training--the thing McClellan was good at--was necessary. After that you have a rapid learning curve for the President and a search for the right man to match Lincoln's understanding of what needed to be done, a search that ended in Vicksburg. Where's Bush's "search"? Where's his growing understanding of the complexities involved? This is a bedtime serving of warmed-over pablum.
Although Americans were tired of and disgusted with the [Vietnam] war and eager to end it, they were not pleased by its outcome and its consequences. Their distrust of the Democratic Party, seen as the home of the defeatists who were unwilling to defend American interests, was a major factor in the victories of seven out of ten Republican presidents in the elections beginning in 1968. Even the two Democrats who won in that period, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, were perceived as distinct from the defeatists, and one of them ran to the right of his Republican opponent on defense and foreign affairs.

Remarkable how Defeatists are expressly repudiated in every national election yet still manage to derail successful military campaigns. I was particularly taken by Kagan's assertion that Eisenhower--the most accomplished Commander-in-Chief since Grant--was forced to accept "a draw" in Korea, against all military sense, because of some bellyaching beatniks. Yes, Ike inherited that war (the Nixon defense rides again!), but the idea that he would have ignored the North Koreans crossing the 38th Parallel if it had happened on his watch is just ludicrous. Ike was a bigger proponent of the Truman Doctrine than Truman. And one can only puzzle over the suggestion that the permanent US military presence on the Peninsula is due to not pressing on to "victory", whatever the definition of that Kagan keeps secret from us is. Assuming the Chinese and Soviets had just given up and watched us roll the North Koreans, would that have magically been the end of it? We wouldn't have 40,000 troops still there? We made that decision the minute we decided to prop up Syngman Rhee. Assuming we'd stopped Communist infiltration, Communist aggression, and the fluoridation of our bodily fluids in Indochina, how many US troops would be permanently stationed there keeping what modern version of Madame Nhu in Italian shoes and Swiss chocolates? How would we have achieved those numbers, or paid for them? The neocon administration was too cowardly to institute a draft in the face of Civilization-threatening eternal warfare.

I swear to God. My parents never told me that masturbation would make me go blind, and it hasn't, so far. But I've been watching American Right jerking itself off for the last four decades, and I'm beginning to wonder if I'm not just one of the lucky ones.

5 comments:

pookapooka said...

I swear to God. My parents never told me that masturbation would make me go blind, and it hasn't, so far. But I've been watching American Right jerking itself off for the last four decades, and I'm beginning to wonder if I'm not just one of the lucky ones.

The finest well-said of many many well-saids in this communication.

Kindly indulge in a generalization borne from a bit of Actual Experience -- in my judgment, Yalies tend toward an inward dwelling on cleverness and self-consciousness, and hardly at all upon the immediate unfoldings of the quotidian world outside ivoried Harkness Tower. E.g., upon visiting the campus for the first time, my Hawaii-born-and-raised wife noticed that just about every critter perambulating there seemed to be trying their darnedest to un-preen for the eyes of any posited non-Yalie who might be wandering around them. To which observation I appended: from my soph year up, I obsessed in learning how to be (=appear) a Yalie, a behavior quirk I had to jettison hastily once I found myself in a world unimpressed with my Sterling education. Living where neutral abides (i.e., there are statistically equivalent numbers of assholes at Yale, and on Yale's faculty, as in the world at large) continues to be one of my more pleasant waking-life tasks.

Mr. Doghouse, you must have killed on the Writing Sample.

dms said...

You are my writing hero, and since I know jack about military history, you are my hero there too.

Considering I'm 53, that's a rather humbling admission to make. You really must have rocked the Writing Sample.

In awe, utter awe.

Julia said...

the beleaguered husband, our house military history expert, joins me in my deep appreciation of your rockingness.

punkinsmom said...

Leaving aside the poisonous snake, how come they never explain why Lincoln managed to win his war despite the dissention of Copperheads.
Must be another blind spot.

Doodle Bean said...

Duh, punkinsmom.

Lincoln won because he stayed the course!