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Gerson on the Democratic exit strategery

Michael Gerson’s column on the Democrats’ Iraq exit strategy contains some great lines. To wit

History seems to be settling on some criticisms of the early conduct of the Iraq war. On the theory that America could liberate and leave, force levels were reduced too early, security responsibilities were transferred to Iraqis before they were ready, and planning for future challenges was unrealistic. "Victory in Iraq," one official of the Coalition Provisional Authority told me a couple of years ago, "was defined as decapitating the regime. No one defined victory as creating a sustainable country six months down the road."


Now Democrats running for president have thought deeply and produced their own Iraq policy: They want to cut force levels too early and transfer responsibility to Iraqis before they are ready, and they offer no plan to deal with the chaos that would result six months down the road. In essential outline, they have chosen to duplicate the early mistakes of an administration they hold in contempt.

But nothing beats this for poignancy:

In 1974, a weary Congress cut off funds for Cambodia and South Vietnam, leading to the swift fall of both allies. In his memoir, "Years of Renewal," Henry Kissinger tells the story of former Cambodian prime minister Sirik Matak, who refused to leave his country.


"I thank you very sincerely," Matak wrote in response, "for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you, and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection, and we can do nothing about it. You leave, and my wish is that you and your country will find happiness under this sky. But, mark it well, that if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is no matter, because we are all born and must die. I have only committed this mistake of believing in you [the Americans]."

He was, as Gerson notes, killed three days later by the Khmer Rouge (remember those monsters?).

Discussions - 15 Comments

I agree that no good may come of pulling out of Iraq, but I'm still for it because I have definately seen that no good has come of staying in.

The issue isn't what Democrats are doing or are likely to do in the future. The issue is what the President is doing RIGHT NOW to secure Baghdad, pacify Iraq and annihilate the terror masters of the Mideast.

The President has been provided more than enough time to handle the situation. How many of you know that the troops that were originally tapped for the surge were not deployed in a genuine "surge" fashion, but in a fashion more accurately described as a "trickle." Democrat Senators are saying that the surge is a failure, and only last week were all the troops allocated for the surge finally deployed to Iraq. Now that's incompetence. The effects of the surge were being debated in Washington for a couple of months easy, and all the while, all of the troops intended for the surge weren't even in theatre.

Nathan Bedford Forest had many maxims of war, one of which was "Get there the fastest with the mostest." This administration has decided that it's best to "Get there the latest, with the least." Troops are finally being deployed when Washington politicians are already pulling down the curtain on the play. Gerson blames the Democrats. And to be sure there is a good deal of blame to attach to them.

But what of the President? What of the Pentagon? What of Gates, what of Condi, what of Cheney, what of this administration?

Was anyone on hand to record the poignant response of Saddam Hussein when we withdrew U.S. support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war? Remember Reagan promising to do "whatever was necessary and legal" to prevent our buddy from losing to Iran?

Does anyone have any images of a noble-but-tragic Saddam setting a stoic example in the face of our cowardice and treachery?

Who gives two damns what happens to the foremost terror sponsor on the face of the earth? Back in the '80s, or for that matter, today. Who really cares? Iran is behind every single muslim terror group on the planet, from Al Qaeda, to Hamas, to Hezbollah, to the brotherhood. You name the muslim terrorist group, the Iranians are behind 'em. And I'm supposed to what, feel bad that Saddam went after them, after the Ayatollah purged his military high command, by killing off the officer corps and their families. It was the ayatollah's purge of the army that set the stage for Saddam's opportunism, not the United States. Unless that is, you blame the USA for allowing the Shah to fall. Is that what the left is now doing, blaming us both for the ayatollah and the shah, blaming us for the conditions of the Iranian revolution, then blaming us for conditions in the aftermath.

I don't get this fixation on blaming Uncle Sam for every problem on the planet earth. Not so much as a sparrow falls somewhere in the sticks of islam, yet an American somewhere, somehow is to blame. Iraq was a client state of the Soviet Union. Their weaponry was Soviet, they were trained by Soviets, they modeled their secret service after the Soviets, and their leader, Saddam, visited EVERY SINGLE home of the late soviet leader, Stalin. And erected vast public images of himself, just like Stalin. And yet somehow, Saddam was "our guy."

Where does this nonsense come from?

What perversity of logic and reason somehow morphs a soviet client state into an American surrogate?

What perversity of logic and reason somehow morphs a soviet client state into an American surrogate?

I think it comes from NSDD 114.

Thanks to the Democrats and some cowardly Republicans (whom we have with us always), the best advice Americans can give our international friends is: "Don't count on us."

And what impact did NSDD 114 have in altering the overall influence that the Soviet Union had over Saddam, had over his intelligence agency and over his army? Not to mention, what chance did NSDD 114 have in seriously changing Saddam's personal fascination with all things relating to Joseph Stalin?

Let's be blunt, two dirtball regimes went after one another; one was led by that lunatic the Ayatollah; the other was led by that lunatic Saddam. We desired neither to gain any clear advantage. We didn't want Saddam dominant at the end of hostilities, nor did we desire the ayatollah extending a sphere of influence throughout the region.

Most strategists would say that was a rather rational take on events. So what's your beef?

American betrayals are indeed common, but often the problem is that foreigners trust our elected officials (and the American media) more than the American people do. Of late, our elites take us (or engineer us) into wars, without the consent of the American people. Had Congress held a thorough and public debate on the merits of war in Iraq, and on the quality and integrity of pre-war intelligence, followed by a yea/nay vote on a Declaration of War, it is unlikely that the outcome would have been the same. We would, perhaps, be still focused on the pursuit of Al Qaeda, instead of a crusade of "nation-building" and a "world democratic revolution."

Thanks to the Democrats and some cowardly Republicans (whom we have with us always), the best advice Americans can give our international friends is: "Don't count on us."
We still have international friends?

As far as I can tell, the message we're sending is "you better develop nuclear weapons fast - if you don't have 'em we can push you. If you do, we'll negotiate with you."

What's my beef? How about this saccharine sentimentality regarding Sirik Matak from the same people who would demonize Cindy Sheehan and other Americans who have lost loved ones, and who oppose this war and opposed the war in Vietnam as well, because, among other reasons, Americans were asked to support them both based on a bunch of lies, scare tactics, and patriotic rhetoric that enjoyed all the accuracy of a spitball in a hurricane.

Suddenly, we are asked to shed a tear for the life of some South Vietnamese puppet who had the bad judgment to get into bed with the U.S.A., and at the same time, we are asked to overlook AND EVEN TOLERATE THE CENSORSHIP OF IMAGES OF our own dead.

Our government treats the weak leaders of other countries like stooges. We feed them until they get nasty, and then we cut them off at the knees, and label them "madmen," then we set up our own guys. We use indigenous people as spies and soldiers and photo opportunities, then we cut them loose when we feel they have outlived their usefulness.

But now, when the tide is turned against Mr. Bush's illegal war, we are asked by the same propaganda machine to commit more Americans to this losing enterprise out of some synthetic, inauthentic "poignant" story about Sirik Matak?

If readers want something to cry about, there are plenty of coffins coming home from Iraq right now -- Bush and Cheney just won't let us see them.

Fung, was there censorship of imagery in The Great War, was there similar censorship of imagery in The Second World War? Wasn't FDR President then, and isn't he considered one of the top four American Presidents?

On 9/11, every major media showed Americans plunging from the towers, but none of them ever showed those Americans hitting the streets, now did they? Did you complain then? Did you demand in righteous tones to see the ENTIRETY of the carnage of that day? So why the pass for major media, and why the denunciation for an administration whose actions are not inconsistent with those actions of yesteryear? Additionally, you seemed particularly worked up about the supposed censorship of imagery of American battle dead. What of that imagery of people like Nick Berg being beheaded. If you desire images of coffins broadcast, what of images of beheadings. What of images of little girls beaten, gang raped and slaughtered. What of images of those in Fallujah, who were tortured by al qaeda and allies of al qaeda.

In short, you seem worked up about the censorship of images that might lead to American paralysis. But you don't seem too worked up about the censorship of images that might make Americans fightin' mad.

This discrepancy hasn't gone unnoticed.

Now it's true that American statesmen are somewhat limited by the material they have to work with, when dealing with much of this 3d world scum. They're like defendants in American civil suits, who must take the plaintiff "as they find 'em." And not as they would wish them to be. I don't know if you've noticed, I'm sure you have though, there don't seem to be a great many Jeffersonians, Madisonians and devotees of The Federalist Papers outside the Anglosphere.

That sad fact narrows, sharply narrows the playing field for our foreign policy. Grand Ayatollah Sistani doesn't bear much resemblance to Reverend Witherspoon, now does he? Foreign policy is not always a choice between good and evil, sometimes it's a choice between the bad and the manageably bad. You need to go watch again Paul Scofield in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS.

Have you ever denounced FDR for making alliance with the Soviets during The Second World War? By the time of that alliance, Stalin murdered far more than the bargain basement thugs we've usually had to deal with of late. Did that fact, that horrific, bloodsoaked fact taint FDR's foreign policy?

Original sin exists. Statesmen, at least mature statesmen, are cognizant of that, and take man's fallen nature into account when they try to formulate policy.

Not every problem since the end of that vast war is attributable to the sinister machinations of American cabals, American businessmen, American greed. Many of the peoples of the earth have motivations BEYOND those that could be tethered to American action or inaction.

Islam has its own inner dynamic.

Do we use people, then discard them? Sometimes. Sure. Are we the only ones? Which civilization hasn't? Is that flaw, {and sometimes it's not necessarily a flaw, for instance we and the British used Poles and Czechs to fight the NAZIS, it was the brave Poles that finally took Monte Cassino, but after victory, we didn't push for the liberation of their countries; we didn't do so because it might have triggered a new war; was that wrong of Churchill, FDR and Truman, can you really categorically decry their actions...} but getting back to that flaw you've mentioned, is that flaw unique to the United States? Is that flaw something that would warrant so radical a critique of this administration, of American foreign policy?

Now you know that I've not hesitated to blast this administration. So much so that others tell me to ease off a bit. But criticism has to be grounded in reality, it can't proceed from the proposition that a mythical, ideal world is possible. I've criticized Bush for REAL WORLD things that could have been done, for REAL WORLD problems that could have been avoided. My criticisms exist within an "orbit of foreseeability."

Your criticisms seem more rooted with the problem of man as a fallen being, far more than they do with the foreign policies of the United States.

There was such a thing as The Cold War you know. It was a real, life and death struggle. It wasn't a fraud, it wasn't a fiction of the American military industrial project. The existence of that life and death struggle formed the backdrop for much of the minor maneuverings that you call to mind with such eagerness. At least our efforts, at least those maneuverings, however unseemly many of them were to you, at least all of our efforts during that long twilight struggle were crowned with victory. Where does that victory factor into your withering denunciations? What of the collapse of the Berlin Wall? What of the Velvet Revolution? Who do you think brought those events about, if not the United States? You have a hair trigger to blast away at your country. Can't you call anything to mind about our foreign policy over the last fifty years, that is favourable, that is a credit to this country, that is a credit to our founders, that is a credit to the West.

But enough, I'm going to go make myself a margarita.

Dan, While I don't know much about censorship during WWII, I won't argue that point with you. And, I am not denying that there are times when we have to make nice with unsavory characters. What I AM reacting to is the blatant attempt above to select and magnify certain images (Sirik Matak) in order to shame Americans into supporting a continuation of the Iraqi debacle, while simultaneously censoring images of AMERICANS to whom we owe a great deal.

I am sure that many agree with you that such manipulation is good practice. Anyone who supports effective propaganda would agree with you. But, as an American taxpayer, father of sons, there is nothing wrong with pointing out the irony and hypocrisy of that attempt at manipulating the hearts and minds of Americans.

Wars don't stay popular long with democracies.

I watched today a segment on Pennsylvania Network television about Gettysburg. During the anniversary of the battle, PNCTV runs video of the actual walking tours provided by Park Rangers at Gettysburg National Park. One of the tours today concerned Lincoln's great address marking the setting aside of a burial place for the fallen.

Many of those that were there to listen to Lincoln were parents of fallen soldiers. And Lincoln tried to speak to them, but in a larger way, to speak to the ages. He tried to make sense of what was going on, he tried to make sense of the carnage, he tried to provide a transcendent purpose behind all the blood, the suffering, the tears and the brutal partings that were rending families all across the country.

A cynic could easily say he was propagandizing.

It's OK to remind people why they're fighting. It's OK to remind people what were the causes that led them to war.

Remember Frank Capra's famous "Why We Fight" series for instance. That was an attempt to provide a broader understanding of what the war was all about.

Such things can be called propaganda.

But it doesn't necessarily mean that it's dishonest. Manipulation of information may occur, but that manipulation doesn't necessarily imply mendacity.

Stephen Ambrose relates a story of what motivated the ordinary GI during WWII. One of our guys was captured during the Bulge. And a German soldier asked this guy why he was fighting, and the GI responded: "We're fighting to free you from the fantastic idea that you're a master race." Now it's true that a great deal of our propaganda at the time focused on the master race thing. But for all that, wasn't it true? The NAZI regime did have a thing with the whole master race idea. They really did. So though the soldier's answer might have reflected Hollywood, might have reflected wartime propaganda, it rang true for all that.

I too am unhappy with how imagery is being used today. I think the President's efforts at communication are negligent, probably beyond gross negligence. They're appalling, absolutely appalling. And this nation deserves so much better. But the reason that the PR of this Presidency stinks, is that they don't have an overall strategic objective. They're not really sure what they want to achieve, nor are they sure what are the best methods to pursue. Even with Iraq, what is it exactly that they intend to result as a result of their pacification of Iraq. Sure, they have certain vague hopes, certain nebulous notions, but if asked for specifics, for precise details, I don't think you'd get a hard and fast answer from this administration.

And that is what we're seeing in the communicative efforts of this White House, this Pentagon and this State Department.

I agree that there is nothing wrong with reminding us why we fight. I also agree with you that the current vision of this administration lacks integrity and coherence. And so, I agree with what I think you have presented: Better to remind others that their vision lacks integrity than to insult us all by pretending otherwise. By pointing out the hypocrisy of conflicting messages, that is exactly what I was doing. While others on this blog have tried to demonstrate that even Roosevelt had his detractors, etc., we all know that Hitler was a very real threat, and the goal of defeating him was valid, both then, and in retrospect.

If Iraq had been remotely comparable to Nazi Germany, then the PR for the war would not be such a tough sell. Image is NOT everything!

Part of the problem was GW's long wait before moving on Saddam. Right after 9/11, if he said to the American people that Saddam is an Arab warlord who has gotten in the face of the American people once too often for his own good, and we're removing him right now. Nobody would have questioned his decision. There was no reason why we didn't move SIMULTANEOUSLY on Saddam and the Taliban. And we could have done so, kept our reasoning rather straightforward, our aims clear, and we wouldn't have cluttered our foreign policy with a great many trips to the UN.

Right after 9/11, the American people wanted DECISIVE action. But Bush promised instead "a long war," a "decades long war." That was brain dead. Democracies aren't too fond of such protracted indecision. Western democracies are keen on closing and destroying, then returning to the ways of commerce. This is the insight of Victor Davis Hanson, in CULTURE AND CARNAGE. Bush's policies have ENHANCED the powers of our enemies to wear us down. Those policies play to the enemy's strengths, our weaknesses. Our weaknesses not just as Americans, who despise messy indecision. But our weaknesses as a democracy.

There wasn't any need to sell our war with the themes of the 1930s. It was a mistake to do so. Far better to have simply said: "We've had it with him."

It's sad even to recall the opportunities wasted after 9/11. Not just strategically, but culturally, diplomatically, economically, in terms of energy policy, public relations. It's all gone with the wind.

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