Statements Of The Unacceptable
As a general matter, it is not great fun, shall we say, to write things that are not accepted at the time, that are even quite unacceptable at the time, although they are true and are later vindicated by history. Ibsen wrote of this in An Enemy Of The People. So did Jules Lobel in his recent book entitled Success Without Victory. Saying the currently unacceptable causes one to be thought badly of, to be reviled, to be accused of ranting, to be regarded as unsound. It often takes years, or decades, for the unacceptable position to become the accepted position, and he or she who said the unacceptable may not be around then. Those who said the unacceptable which later became conventional wisdom, and who sometimes did not live to see vindication, include at least the original revolutionists, abolitionists, proponents of women’s rights, proponents of the rights of labor, civil righters, and opponents of the Viet Nam War.
One of the reasons it can take a long time for the once unacceptable to become the conventional wisdom is that sometimes the question is predominantly one of values, even though facts are invariably involved as well. Women’s rights and civil rights exemplify. At other times, though, facts play a more dominant role, though values too are inevitably involved. Viet Nam exemplifies. The facts, as they came out, showed in relatively short order -- short at least when compared to the decades long struggles for women’s or civil rights -- that the Government’s position was a disaster. Today we have some situations regarding Iraq that exemplify points whose statement were once and may still be unacceptable, but that could become conventional wisdom, could even become conventional wisdom rather quickly, because of facts which are coming out. For instance, given America’s quick victory over Saddam’s armed forces, and the fact that Saddam was found cowering in a spider cole, it was plainly unacceptable for a long time to say that Saddam Hussein made a fool of George Bush and company in Gulf War II. Indeed, Howard Dean was dumped on viciously for making some statement to the effect that the capture of Saddam did not mean an end to the battle going on over there -- Dean ran afoul of those who were determined that he would not be the President or even the Democrats’ candidate.
But, as was said here unacceptably on at least two occasions in the first half of the year, we are learning that in fact Saddam did make fools of George Bush and his cohorts. The Duelfer report makes clear that, as was alluded to twice -- but only twice -- in at least one newspaper earlier this year, Saddam and his cohorts planned an insurgency before the war even started. Saddam, sad to say, was not as stupid as Americans have been brainwashed to think. He was not wholly oblivious to the disparity in combat power and ability between America and Iraq. So he planned an insurgency -- weapons and explosives were placed in hidden caches around the country, people were trained, intelligence officers were dispersed to run the insurgency. And he warned us publicly that there would be surprises. Then, instead of standing and fighting, his army -- except for Fedayeen attacks that should have given warning of what was to come -- melted away, like the British Navy in Kipling’s Recessional. Only Saddam’s army melted away so that its men would not be killed, but could instead fight in a guerrilla war.
And did the American brainiacs – the army planners, the civilians who run the Pentagon, the people in the White House, including Bush -- think anything of this? Did the media think about it or write about it? Did any of the brainiacs or media consider it at all strange that Saddam would publicly say he had surprises in store and then his fourth rate army mted away instead of fighting a first rate army? Did any of the brainiacs consider the examples of the Philippine insurrection or Viet Nam? Nope, nope, nope and nope are the answers to these four questions.
But let us be fair. It is said that, in secret reports, the much (and justly) reviled CIA warned that there would be a guerrilla campaign. The problem, however, is said to have been that the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the intelligence branches of the Army, Navy and Air Force, gave these warnings little credibility and did not pass them up the chain of command.
Nor, of course, does it appear that Bush, our fool-in-chief, raised any questions about the strange but telltale combination of Saddam’s claim of surprises and his army then melting away except for guerrilla style attacks. This, though, accords with what Bush’s handlers call his style of leadership (in reality his purported leadership) in which he sets goals and then leaves everything to the professionals, without engaging in the constant questioning recommended by Eliot Cohen and engaged in by every leader worth his salt in any and every walk of life. But let us not forget that Bush says a leader must be decisive. He cannot question what is going on. If he does, he cannot be a leader, etc., etc. Pace Abraham Lincoln. Pace Winston Churchill.
The truth, however, would unhappily seem to be that Bush’s intellect does not enable him to question what is going on. He is only good at shifting blame. Bush is, after all, the President who relies on one page summaries of 90 page reports.
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All of this raises the question of why hasn’t John Kerry picked up on the idea that Bush was seriously outsmarted by Saddam. This question is the more insistent because Kerry claims to be, and apparently is, a person who extensively questions plans, ideas, and suggestions. He does so, it seems, to the point of being called indecisive and a flip flopper. (Persons who speak more harshly of him says this shows he has no principles except the advancement of John Kerry.)
One might respond to the question by saying that, for two reasons, it is dangerous for Kerry to say Bush was seriously outsmarted by Saddam. One is that people will think badly of Kerry for saying it. The Bushies, for instance, will try to make him out as being pro Saddam. The other is that Kerry himself said we have to fight the war and voted to authorize it.
The first reason could be readily overcome, it seems to me. Notwithstanding how the Bushies might try to paint Kerry, he could accurately point out that to say Bush got outsmarted by Saddam is not to be pro Saddam. It is, rather, to lament that America’s leader was outsmarted, and to make the point that we need someone who is smart enough not to be so easily outwitted. We need no more Presidents so incompetent as to fly onto aircraft carriers to announce that a war is over when it really is just beginning. We need, one would add, someone who is not a fool-in-chief; someone who did not prepare for the presidency by being a serial business failure who constantly had to be bailed out by Daddy’s friends.
The fact that Kerry voted to authorize the war, with reluctance apparently, may not really be a terribly harder problem if Kerry is willing to tell the truth. A lot of people supported the war because the only information they had was that provided by the exaggerating, if not outright lying, Executive Branch. That information was that Saddam had WMDs and might very well use them. He was a serious threat. One presumes that Kerry (unlike, say, Bob Graham), had only this same information. If that was so, it was understandable that Kerry voted to authorize the war, especially if, as he claims, he believed there would not be a war until the inspection process had proceeded to the last ditch.
Of course, such a position would in effect require Kerry to admit that he was brainwashed by the Executive regarding our opponent and the Executive’s plans, similarly to George Romney’s candidacy-destroying statement in 1967 or 1968 that he had been brainwashed about Viet Nam. But an admission of brainwashing today would play a lot better than it did for Romney, because Bush brainwashed the whole damn country and people are unhappy about it by the tens or scores of millions.
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Kerry does have another problem, however. He says that he will solve the Iraq problem by bringing other nations on board to help out. Other nations are going to enter that horrible fray? That vicious guerrilla war? That guerrilla war from which members of Bush’s preposterously claimed "coalition of the willing" are already bailing? I don’t think so. Kerry has to do better than this. He is going to have to explain what he would do to get other nations involved and why it would work. As of now it looks like all that Kerry has is something identical to candidate Nixon’s "secret plan" to get us out of Viet Nam. Which is to say, he has no plan, secret or otherwise, but he has to say something, so we get empty talk about a matter which is this important.
By the way, why doesn’t Kerry think about and talk about the apparently logical three state solution discussed here before?
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Let me close this blog with examples of two matters which are different from the Saddam-made-a-fool-of-Bush point because they not only are still unacceptable to say (and are thus said in the media only very infrequently or not at all), but will almost certainly continue to be unacceptable to say for a long time. One is that we fight wars like Iraq because none of the children, kin or friends of people like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfwitz, et. al have to do the fighting. (There is only one member of Congress whose son fought in Iraq. Just one. It’s not like the Civil War or World War II.) Wars like Iraq are, as was said even of the Civil War, a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.The other is that, especially if history is any guide, we are likely to continue to have wars like Iraq every so often unless and until people like McNamara, Kissinger, Bush, Cheney and other war mongers are put in the dock, prosecuted and convicted for their violations of international and domestic law.
You can bet that the American media is unlikely to talk at all about the last idea, and is only minimally less likely to talk about the former one. But we will have wars as long as the kids of the leaders continue to stay safe at home and the leaders themselves continue not to be put in the dock even when they violate the law.*
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