Tuesday, August 05, 2008

War is Over. We Won.

By Bernie Quigley

For The Hill on 8/06/08

The war is over before it’s begun, said Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street, quoting Sun Sun Tzu’s famous phrase from The Art of War. It should be noted that as per the Taoist arc of ascending and descending power that Sun Tzu describes, war is likewise already well over before the end is acknowledged. I felt it mid Spring in 1968, a few hundred miles to the left of Quang Tri where the battle of Khe Sanh was blazing. Others did too. I felt it again on November 8, 2006, when Robert Gates replaced Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense.

Bret Stephens, who writes the Global View column for The Wall Street Journal, made that claim yesterday. He says the war in Iraq is over and he bet Francis Fukuyama $100 that it is.

“The war in Iraq is over. We've won,” writes Stephens.

It might not be quite fair to bet with someone who declared “the end of history” in 1992. But Stephens is right; the war is over and we won.

The war in Iraq was from the beginning a revenge kill plain and simple. The sacking of Baghdad was the price of 9/11. To get the true picture you’d have to have gone to Southern States – Southern States is a farm and feed chain that runs through the South – in my old neighborhood of Tobaccoville, NC. Tobaccoville is about the nicest place on earth. It is right next to Mount Airy, NC, which is, in fact, the nicest place on earth. Mount Airy is the real-life Mayberry, as in Mayberry RFD, and it is just like that TV show.

I stopped in at the Southern States in Tobaccoville to buy a new pair of Pointer Brand overalls just after they bagged Saddam. At the cash register they had a photoshoped picture under glass of Barney Fife driving the patrol car with the bearded and forlorn Saddam Hussein blankly staring out the window in the back seat.

That tells you all you really need to know about the war on Iraq.

They never talk about it and it would be impolite to do so, but for every war there is an inner war. That’s Sun Tzu. The external war calls for neutralizing the opposition, holding real estate and extracting fortune and retribution. The inner war calls for revenge. It is the animal life force and it is required to regain equilibrium. That was Sherman’s purpose in sacking Atlanta when victory was elsewhere. Atlanta was the price of Southern secession, just as Hiroshima was the price of Pearl Harbor and Wounded Knee was the price extracted for the death of Long Hair at Little Big Horn. Black Elk, the Lakota mystic, took his first scalp there as a child soldier and beaming with pride, brought it to his mother, who sang a little tremolo for him. He said so many Indian ponies had trampled through that Custer’s body could not be distinguished from the others in the pile of horses and soldiers. But the massacre at Wounded Knee would inevitably follow. Likewise, the sacking of Bagdad would inevitably follow 9/11.

This is what war is really about. Later they come with Telford Taylor or Henry Kissinger and Thich Nhat Hanh and the other tiny Buddhist monks in their big oversized government-issued overcoats, the quiet and serenity which sustained them through warfare since Dien Bien Phu challenged by the rainy cold of January mornings at the Paris Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam. That is something else. That is something other than war.

Here is something you’ve got to watch out for. Anyone who has ever been in a war will tell you that it is hard to slow down later. And the bigger the war, the bigger the afterglow. The phony Cold War was an afterglow of WW II so vast that it threatened world stability for decades to come and it still does. It is also hard to stop being a soldier once you’ve been one. It is hard to change course and go back because everything you did prior to the war now seems too easy.

Gaze is shifting now from Iraq to Afghanistan. And that is what President Obama has to watch out for.

On his recent trip to Afghanistan Obama said, "losing is not an option." He said that he wants to "rebuild the country” and to stabilize the country and to promote a rising standard of living and disable al-Qaida and the Taliban to the point where they cannot cause problems for anyone.

But that is something else entirely. Haviland Smith, a foreign policy expert and a former CIA Station Chief who served in East and West Europe and the Middle East and as Chief of the Counterterrorism Staff, says there could be problems with that.

“And now,” he writes in a recent editorial, “we sail off into Afghanistan! It is almost as if, in the aftermath of 9/11, we are morally obliged to do that. We have to find Osama bin Laden. After all, he launched that attack on us from Afghanistan, with the protection of the Taliban – the same organization that has now morphed into an insurgency against our presence in their country.”

Historically, he says, where terrorist organizations hardly every win anything significant, insurgencies almost always do.

“Afghanistan is very different from Iraq. Where Iraq is fairly flat, Afghanistan is anything but. The terrain is mountainous and not favorable for conventional warfare. The people are different. Although they are not Arabs, but a mélange of Central Asians, Persians and other minor groups, they are 80 percent Sunni and 20 percent Shia. Their main languages are Indo-European and their culture is tied more to Persia than to the Arab world. They have the reputation of being unconquerable and ungovernable.”

As a people, says Smith, Afghanis are not terribly interested in being ruled by anyone outside their own tribe or clan, let alone their nation. They have tried that before. If our goal in Afghanistan is to pacify the country, or bring them democracy and prosperity, let's think again.


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