Sunday, May 01, 2005

(Counter-Factual) History Friday on A Sunday

Today is May 1st, the second anniversary of President Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. Here’s what I wish he had said:

“My fellow Americans, I urge you to join me in offering our heartfelt thanks to the men and women of America’s armed forces for their ongoing service in the war on terror. We welcome the Abraham Lincoln battle group home in the sad knowledge that on-shore reunions will be all too brief and that they shall soon return to hostile waters. In consolation, I offer them the knowledge that this is not a conventional war, and the chance of this floating city being engaged in direct battle is extremely slim. Unless the deposed Saddam or the terrorists suddenly acquire a blue-water battle fleet, this nuclear powered ship and her consorts constitute one of the safest workplaces in the United States military.

This is not to denigrate the efforts of the United States Navy and her sailors, aviators, or Special Forces. It is simply an acknowledgement that after a decade plus of strenuously avoiding ground troop casualties and thus putting the army on the same level as the navy our current situation is as grave as it was in 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, only without the risk of catastrophic naval loss. Now as then, we ignored ten years worth of warning signs (indeed, in our modern case ignoring actual attacks), and got off to a terrible start, but unlike then the burden of fighting is falling on the army. Democracies, after all, are slow to anger and often slow to seize the offensive advantage. We can win this conflict but only if we avoid hubris and learn from history.

With that in mind, I should lay my cards on the table and level with the American people: despite this being an election year I cannot fabricate reports of great victories in distant lands for your polling booth edification. The falls of Baghdad, Mosul, Fallujah, Basra, indeed-even Kabul are battles, not wars, won. The truly self-critical might even go so far as to downgrade them to skirmishes. To use a Civil War analogy, we are the 20th Maine and we currently hold Little Round Top. We have successfully repelled the Confederates and control the high ground. As yet, we do not have mastery of the full Gettysburg battlefield and are far from winning a tide-turning victory. We are as yet many years from Appotamox Courthouse. What we have by capturing the cities, if you will, is the high ground. We should now range our artillery along the metaphorical ridgelines and use it to smash the enemy without remorse or second thought.

Let there be no mistake- this is not an attempt to bring democracy to the Middle East, or to end dictatorship, or to remove WMD from the world’s flashpoints. If these were our motivations for war, we would not be allied with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or Israel. My administration determined that Iraq was the easiest coconut in the shy to knock over and would become a magnet to Al Qadea terrorists, or more properly, Islamist insurgents. Time will tell if we have been successful in this.

As my tenure in office progresses, I promise to fully examine the unintended effects of our foreign and commerce policies in the Middle East and broader Islamic world. It is for these after all, not our ‘freedoms’, that bin Laden and his ilk are evermore successful in recruiting countless thousands to die in his cause. Put aside our rash and frankly panicked talk of color-coded threat warnings, duct tape, and reforming our public relations outreach. As the rusted wheels of our war fighting capability have clanked into action in our impatience we have sometimes over-reacted, followed the wrong path, and stuck to old paradigms. What is worse is that we have continued to be mislead into thinking that the raising of flags over abandoned embassies or the toppling of statues constitutes victory. My friends, even installing democratically minded regimes is not victory if they control no more than the parliament building and presidential palace. Wars are about killing our opponents and controlling real estate and we currently do not do enough of either to declare victory.

I would like to conclude with two quotes from hero Winston Churchill; ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, sweat, tears, and toil’ and ‘this is not the end, this is not even the beginning of the end, its is the end of the beginning."

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