Times illustration by Matt Hollister
Fred Kaplan, "Beware Rumsfeld's Snow Job". November 25
Sir Donald Rumsfeld, "One Surge Does Not Fit All". November 23
FIRST thing: that's not a knot. It may have been inspired by a knot, specifically the sheet (or flag) bend, which is used to join two ropes together at the ends to form a longer rope (and which has the advantage, almost singular among bends, that it works when the ropes are of different diameters), but the free end (the part being held the way someone with terminal Victorian manners'd pick up a bird carcass) should have passed over itself (the "standing part") then under the other rope at the terminus there. Nor does this illustrate the untying of a sheet bend, which would be decidedly unphotogenic and require an extra hand, at least if you want to proceed apace. It illustrates, at most, the untangling of a fairly unremarkable tangle, that is, something short of Our Middle-East Clusterfucks. My suspicion is that Mr. Hollister (the artist) reduced a photograph of a sheet bend to B&W and added the hash marks, getting screwed up just at the end. If it's any consolation, that occurs a lot in knot tying as well.
As it happens I've spent the last week tying knots--not constantly, just every day--to keep my skills up, such as they are. Every so often I try to find where Larry has dragged the practice paracord (two pieces, left bound with a sheet bend) and I tie the five or so I know a few dozen times a day for several days, including by touch rather than sight. Because here is what little I know about knots: it's best to learn one or two useful examples of the types you need than to learn twenty different knots and wind up tying something that inadvertently combines two or more; that the two things you ask of a knot are that it hold under stress and untie easily; and that if you are ever likely to need to tie or untie one--I mean seriously do so--the odds are it will be on a pitch-black night in pouring rain at 34º F and you gloveless. So I know the Portuguese bowline, half-hitch, clove hitch, sheet bend, heaving line knot, and running hitch, and I can tie a highwayman's hitch, which is the only one I permit myself for fun (used, supposedly, to tie up horses when a quick getaway is anticipated; no amount of strain on the standing part will untie it, but those two prissy fingers in the illustration, applied to the free end, will collapse it in an instant. It's a lot of fun at certain types of parties. I have never actually tried it with a real horse, though, so proceed at your own risk). If my life ever depends on a pulley I'm SOL.
Okay, let's be charitable for once: that illustration does capture the incompetent execution of the Iraq War, even if it was unintentional. It's just got nothing whatsoever to do with our extraction predicament.
Kaplan takes the Op-Ed to task:
The first eyebrow-raiser comes in the second paragraph, in which he writes, almost in passing, "As one who is occasionally—and incorrectly—portrayed as an opponent of the surge in Iraq. …"
Let's stop right there.
From beginning to end—from the preparations for the invasion in the summer and fall of 2002 until his (forced) resignation was announced in November 2006—Rumsfeld consistently opposed all proposals to send more troops to Iraq.
Okay, but look: at the peak of The Surge we had fewer troops in Iraq than we began the war with, and next to no Willing Coalition forces. This is part of the The Surge Is Working canard, and it plays off the equally vacuous idea that we went into Iraq with 200,000 troops because of something called the Rumsfeld Doctrine. We didn't invade Iraq with 200,000 troops because that was the "right" number, or because Rumsfeld thought so. We went in with 200,000 troops because that was all we could muster and still conduct the war on the Bush administration timetable. This isn't even open to debate; within a year we were scrambling to find 20,000 troops to replace scheduled rotations, and we've been grinding away ever since, reducing our Strategic Reserve for the first time since WWII, massively restructuring troop alignments overseas, reducing R&R, and, finally, extending the tours of troops already in the field. It's certainly more complicated that just moving chits around a Risk board, but it never was a question of Rumsfeld overruling General Shinseki's plan to use 400,000 troops. We didn't have 400,000 troops then, which should be obvious considering we couldn't find them in the interim, and we don't have them now. We do have a changing set of circumstances (in a war! who'd'a thunk it?) which has allowed us to conduct a more effective counter-insurgency (after being forced by circumstances to acknowledge the Sadrists and bankroll the Sunni) which, combined with the mass-market media's relative disinterest in the present levels of violence has been portrayed as a "success" instead of the more accurate "new definition of failure".
That is to say, he understood (as many of the Army's senior officers did not) that the new GPS-guided "smart bombs"—which could destroy enemy tanks and troop formations from the air with extreme accuracy—meant that massive artillery units, with their heavy weapons and long logistical lines, were no longer necessary. However, he did not understand (as those officers did) that when it comes to postwar "stability operations," the key ingredient is boots on the ground—and lots of them.
For one, GPS-guided bombs are even more remarkably effective when one simply swallows the PR about them instead of bothering to look. But, still, this is bullshit in defense of bullshit. Facing a mostly tenth-rate force, one depleted by two major wars in fifteen years, completely lacking air cover and without anything that might have charitably been called "Command and Control" in the 20th century, we still managed to run into serious local trouble by outrunning our "outdated" supply lines, and, had the Syrians and, especially, the Iranians taken it into their heads to disprove the Rumsfeld Doctrine at that point we'd be talking about more than 4200 American casualties today. Laying this off on antiquated military thinking is bunkum. The plan the Bush administration forced on the military, in part by cashiering Brass until it cooperated, was unnecessarily risky and oriented toward political PR victories and the continued bankrupting of the country through incontinent militarization so beloved of the Right. Mission Half-Accomplished, and I don't need to tell you which half.
Let us state plainly, and again, that this bunch did not throw away American blood and American treasure into a wrong-headed military theory; they threw them away on a calculated act. It's the difference between a tort and a major felony. 400,000 troops required an international coalition. That meant waiting a year to even begin planning, before Germany, France, and Russia were convinced diplomatic pressure had not worked, which, of course as we now know, it already had. In a twelvemonth it would have been obvious, at least to anyone willing to look, that Saddam Hussein was no threat, imminent or otherwise. The alternatives to a large-scale coalition were a) a restructuring of our existing forces, namely our overseas commitments, which would have effectively eliminated most of them, and taken at least a year to arrange redeployment, re-equipping, and re-training, or b) conscription, which would have taken at least eighteen months to begin to make a difference, after the inevitable lawsuits over the exemption of women and gay men, and led to massive resistance and a sudden purple-fingered democracy movement in our own country, in which a public suddenly faced with a pre-pay arrangement on Iraq saw things in a sudden new light, like Saul of Tarsus, let us say. And let's repeat, here: the Bush administration didn't have the guts to put its proposals up to public scrutiny. It thumped that goddam tub for a year without ever making a move to increase or reorganize troop levels enough to cover our commitment to South Korea, for fuck's sake, at the same time it was naming Kim Jong Il World's Sexiest Hitler.
It's hardly surprising that Rumsfeld's autobiography promises to be as self-serving and full of glaring omissions as Krusty the Clown's. We're not going to imprison him; history's never going to absolve him. But leave us not lessen just what Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld set out to do for the sake of what Slate's military geniuses imagine is left of their reputations.