September 24, 2003

Why Max Cleland is a Former US Senator

The US South has possibly the highest concentration of military, active, former, and reserve in the entire country. Max Cleland is a genuine soldier. A decorated Vietnam War hero who lost three of his limbs fighting for his country. And he lost his Senate seat to a great extent on his lack of military judgment? As someone who didn't follow Georgia politics that much, this turn of events just seemed... weird. I mean, how bad could he be? Now I know.

In an article attacking the administration for following Lyndon Johnson down the road to Vietnam's quagmire he gets the basic facts of the situation so wrong that he would be a certified menace if the people of Georgia hadn't retired him to the safety (for the nation) of academia.

Don't underestimate the enemy. The enemy always has one option you cannot control. He always has the option to die. This is especially true if you are dealing with true believers and guerillas fighting for their version of reality, whether political or religious. They are what Tom Friedman of The New York Times calls the "non-deterrables." If those non-deterrables are already in their country, they will be able to wait you out until you go home.

In arguing against underestimating the enemy, he underestimates the enemy. These non-deterrables do exist but he ignores one crucial fact. A great many of them are engaged in an enterprise of worldwide conversion to their brand of Islam. If we go home they will follow us and continue the fight there. In that case, civilian casualties are our civilians, not somebody else's.

If the enemy adopts a "hit-and-run" strategy designed to inflict maximum casualties on you, you may win every battle, but (as Walter Lippman once said about Vietnam) you can't win the war.

This presupposes that there is a strategy for which there is no counter, that in the case of any adversary the US faces, if they adopt this strategy, they will win. If this were true, we are doomed as a power and might as well give up right now. It is, of course nonsense.

Superior US combat abilities mean that the battles will likely fall into our favor but both Vietnam in the 60s and 70s and Afghanistan in the 80s were wars where major powers invested large amounts of resources to ensure that those hit and run tactics could continue. Absent those resources, such tactics are as doomed as the armed anti-communist resistance of post WW-II E. Europe.

If you adopt a strategy of not just pre-emptive strike but also pre-emptive war, you own the aftermath. You better plan for it. You better have an exit strategy because you cannot stay there indefinitely unless you make it the 51st state.

Here, former Senator Cleveland is implying that there is no exit strategy. But just a short time ago Paul Bremer laid a credible strategy out on the op-ed page of the Washington Post. In due time, a constitution will emerge and elections will proceed with us drawing down our troops as the situation stabilizes. Artificial timetables that are rigidly adhered to will only rush things and increase the chances that, some time in the future, the US will have to do this again in Iraq.

If you adopt the strategy of pre-emptive war, your intelligence must be not just "darn good," as the president has said; it must be "bulletproof," as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claimed the administration's was against Saddam Hussein. Anything short of that saps credibility.

It is highly unlikely that intelligence will be "bulletproof" in this world until it is far too late to do anything about it. No doubt, the intelligence services of 1939 Poland heard rumblings about Nazi aggression but there were some doubts about it right up to the time when troops started crossing the borders. What we have here is a naked appeal to forget the lessons of 9/11 and go back to the intelligence era that the Church Committee created, cautious, fearful of career ending error, and underestimating the threat time after time.

If you want to know what is really going on in the war, ask the troops on the ground, not the policy-makers in Washington.

Funny, there is a great deal of information coming out of Iraq straight from the troops and none of it seems to support former Senator Cleland's assertions. The creation of the blogosphere has made it easier than ever to get information direct from the troops. If we were in trouble, we'd see it both in military blogs and a wave of court martials for defeatism and other likely whistleblower crimes. The troops seem mostly mad that people like former Senator Cleland are giving heart to the enemy with their unrealistic negativity.

In a democracy, instead of truth being the first casualty in war, it should be the first cause of war. It is the only way the Congress and the American people can cope with getting through it. As credibility is strained, support for the war and support for the troops go downhill. Continued loss of credibility drains troop morale, the media become more suspicious, the public becomes more incredulous and Congress is reduced to hearings and investigations.

And what is to be done about the Cassandras in our midst? What happens when the media are the liars who leave out all the good news? When the morale drainers are in the anti-war dissenters? What happens when the elites give no punishments in credibility when time after time the anti-war crowd is wrong, wrong, wrong? For those of us who have access to a wide variety of news sources, it's not so bad but for those who only get their news from these sources, it's draining. The liars can come in both pro and anti war forms.

Hats off to the people of Georgia. I wish other states were so discerning in their Senate delegations.

Posted by TMLutas at September 24, 2003 11:42 AM