Second, it seems to me that one can say choosing a battle you were unprepared to fight was a mistake without contradicting one’s larger position on the war itself. I’ve seen A Bridge Too Far a million times. It never dawned on me that the lesson of movie was that WWII was wrong or that the allies were foolish for wanting to break German lines in Europe. ~Jonah “Lie For A Just Cause” Goldberg
Apparently Goldberg did not bow and scrape before the Shahanshah of War enough in his original column, as he has to keep qualifying and reemphasising his support for the war after his “worthy mistake” column. So it was only a matter of time before he would fall back on a WWII reference (is there any other kind for these folks?). Apparently Iraq is just a bungled, overextended attack like Operation Market Garden, but everything else about the invasion makes sense and the obvious conclusion one draws from comparisons with Market Garden is…what exactly? If Iraq is Market Garden, our soldiers in Iraq are in more trouble than we thought; if the comparison were apt, it would mean that we ought to get out right now. For those who missed the film, Market Garden ended rather badly for our side.
But, in an odd way, you’d think this kind of thinking would make it easier for them to support cutting our losses and coming home from Iraq. If you think Iraq is just one battle in the larger war, even if you deem it an important battle, you should actually be less concerned about cutting your losses and coming up with a new plan of action. It would not be the end-all and be-all of your foreign policy, but would be, as Sen. Santorum lamely pretends to believe, just one part of the whole.
A supporter of the war probably should be more flexible than the people who look at U.S. foreign policy and really only see the war in Iraq as “the war” these days. For some antiwar people, Iraq has pushed everything else out of view or at least to the margins. The rhetorical gambit of linking Iraq to the “war on terror” may have the unfortunate effects of convincing more and more people that the “war on terror” (if it consists of little more than fighting in Iraq) is not worth fighting.
Many antiwar folks (who are only labeled antiwar because of Iraq, since we are indeed not always antiwar nor are we opposed for the most part to the war in Afghanistan) acknowledge and support the very real and important anti-jihadi war, but have never believed that Iraq has had anything to do with this. Because Iraq appears to us to be a separate issue (and I believe that it is a separate issue), liquidating that war makes the most sense, in no small part to preserve the armed forces for the more important fight. A majority of the public has increasingly distinguished between the legitimate anti-jihadi war and the war in Iraq, but war supporters should be able to give up on Iraq as you would give up on a failed attack against the enemy position rather than decide, like Lee at Gettysburg, that you are going to reach a decision on the battlefield one way or the other now. Making Iraq the tipping point for your war effort, you have guaranteed that the outcome, whatever it may be, will have that much more significance than if you just maneuvered your way out of there. Charging up that hill might seem romantic and admirable, but it is also a disastrous mistake to try to take that ground.
It is better to conserve your strength and fight another day instead of frittering it away in one battle. Yet supporters of the war in Iraq contradict their own conviction that it is just one theater in a larger war by making it the all-consuming definition of their foreign policy. The war in Iraq has become the central front simply in the war in Iraq, and they have been reduced to defending perseverance in this war effort out of an understandable, but I think misguided, conviction that national prestige and security will be harmed by any possible appearance of weakness that might go with leaving Iraq.
Now, if only we had had some generals warn us that Iraq would be a massive disaster! Oh, that’s right, we did–his name was Zinni (remember the “Bay of Goats” crack?) and he was ignored by all these people who are suddenly discovering administration errors. But the analogy makes so much sense–how else can you get behind the Nazi, er, jihadi lines unless you go by way of Baghdad? It’s so clever!
Incidentally, I am reminded of the old Blackadder III sketch where Stephen Fry as Wellington explains his strategy to the Prince (who is actually being impersonated by Blackadder):
Blackadder: And the fleet is in…?
Wellington: Alaska, Your Highness. We thought it best to surprise Boney by attacking via the North Pole.
In any case, the hackneyed WWII references reveal a problem that keeps plaguing some of the more prominent war supporters. At a loss for analogies for the “unprecedented” kind of anti-jihadi war we actually are fighting, they keep making references that define the jihadi war in terms of fronts and lines (“of course it’s the central front in the war on terror,” Goldberg sniffed), as if there were a way to get “behind” enemy lines in a global counterinsurgency. They make references to A Bridge Too Far, as if the way to victory was through seizing and holding landmarks and territory rather than winning away populations from the cause of insurgents and jihadis. Even in their vague admissions that invading Iraq was a mistake–but not one for which they are too hasty to make reparations!–they cannot be bothered to reconsider the most glaring flaw in the pro-war argument. That is, if the world has changed and we are fighting a war unlike any we have fought before, toppling a hostile government and occupying another country are absolutely the wrong things to do. To fight the war in this way suggests that the administration either does not believe that this is a new kind of war, or that it is so inured to old ways of doing things and old models that it cannot adapt to the new kind of war that is supposed to exist. Neither is a ringing endorsement of current leadership, and whichever one is the truth it highlights that Iraq was not only unnecessary but remains in important ways divorced from the real anti-jihadi war effort, because as much as we claim to be fighting jihadis in Iraq we are not acting as if we are fighting jihadis but rather as if we were still fighting the dead-enders and “Werewolves” of Mr. Rumsfeld’s fertile imagination.
Reliving WWII and using WWII as the precedent (which supporters of the war have been doing for four years), because some of these people are always reliving WWII and using WWII as their standard and precedent for all international crises, they have outdone the standard military error of fighting the last war. They are fighting a war that was six wars ago (four if you take out Panama and Kosovo). No wonder they cannot adapt effectively, and no wonder they are resistant to every suggestion that they alter strategies. Their conceptual model for war-fighting, which shows up in everything they say, write and do, is the fight against the Axis, mistaking imagined ideological similarities between the Axis and the mythical Islamofascists for proof of getting to re-fight the same kind of enemy in roughly the same way as their heroes got to fight in the 1940s. This strategic confusion is one excellent reason to end the war in Iraq, because even if successful–or perhaps especially if the war proved to be a success by some limited measure (“No more death squads” is not exactly a great victory slogan)–it would give everyone the false impression that we defeat jihadis by fighting conventional wars in set-piece battles with modernised, mechanised Muslim armies when these armies are manifestly the least of our worries and their destruction or dissolution a cause of so many woes in Iraq in particular. Thus, even in winning, we would lose. But someone trapped into the mental dead-ends of 1938ism, as so many Republican pundits are, cannot grasp this because he is constantly reaching back for comparisons to WWII to make sense of what he is seeing, when what he is seeing is in almost no way comparable.