July 12, 2005

Eliot Cohen's Rethink

Eliot Cohen's 'rethink' of the Iraq war seems a tad disingenuous to me. I have no doubt that the man has conviction, and has thought deeply about the issue; that much is clear. However, what actually frightens me about that two page question and answer is this: he spends the second page talking about how the Iraq war compares favorably, in terms of American policy adaptation (quicker, for the same lessons learned) - to Vietnam.

Um, Mr. Cohen, if you recall, the endgame in Vietnam was not really one which we favored. It certainly was not one which I feel comfortable saying that we should have gone to war to get, even over Saddam Hussein. Do I approve of Saddam Hussein? Hell, no. Quite the contrary, I agree with you wholeheartedly that he and his were bad, bad people - and that a war to remove him and his ilk from power in the Iraqi state was something that I (as a self-described Liberal American) could (and did) advocate. However, both now and at the time, there was a critical difference - I and many others like me wanted an endgame. The endgame that you admit, now, you are upset that the current civilian prosecutors of the conflict can't seem to find with both hands, a map, all of GPS and four LORAN systems. They overrode not only academic wisdom, which is certainly no sign of negligence necessarily, but their own military professionals - the same cadre your son is joining. The same group of Americans who are spending their blood on those same sands.

You say history cannot provide lessons, only perspective and context. I don't buy that. There were no shortage of people clamoring stridently, armed with lessons from history (not just context), for a clear and specified endgame. Colleagues of mine on the planning group inside the U.S. Army, for example. Overridden by civilians who agreed that no, there were no lessons to be drawn - because 'the new technology' and 'the new way of war' made any such lessons obsolete.

How many times have we had to learn the lesson that they are now refusing to learn - and that your son and his colleagues are being forced to study for them, although they well know the text?

Read our books again, sir.

If a 'flicker of rage' is all you can muster for the current disconnect between the civilian leadership of the Pentagon and even the the operational realities that are filtering through the news channels ("Last throes" != 33 dead from suicide bombs in one day, with numbers rising weekly; increasing sophistication of IED tech; engagements pulling in Syrian forces) then I would submit there are still lessons there that they can teach you - and that they are stronger than mere 'context' and 'perspective.'

Posted by jbz at July 12, 2005 2:42 AM | TrackBack

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