Sunday, September 26, 2004

Optimism in the face of pessimism...

Ann Althouse agrees with a point Christopher Hitchens made on Tim Russert’s show. What caught my attention about the excerpt she quoted, however, was an earlier comment by Andrew Sullivan:
RUSSERT: What do we do about Iraq? What's going to happen? When American people are confronted, day in and day out -- a thousand soldiers killed -- 7,000 wounded and injured. There's a sense, obviously, in the world, that the United States will eventually say: Enough! We're getting out!

SULLIVAN: I hope to God not. If we need more troops, put more troops in there. ... You've gotta go through with this. And I think there's still a twenty, thirty percent chance of our succeeding.

Twenty or thirty percent? This just floored me. Now I realize I’m in the minority in thinking that the war is going very well, and I’ve gotten used to hearing views that are less optimistic than my own, but a twenty or thirty percent chance of success? Yet neither Russert nor Hitchens balked at this assessment, nor did Althouse find it worthy of note. I suppose I should conclude from this that I’m the one who needs a reality check, but I continue to believe that the received wisdom is wrong.

As I’ve said before, we seem to have lost all perspective on how war works. Somewhere along the way, we’ve gotten it into our collective heads that wars should be organized and predictable. I’m not sure where that notion came from, but it’s dangerous. If we fail in Iraq, it won’t be due to poor planning or execution. Failure will come at the hands of a withering spirit, poisoned by a lack of realism. I worry that far too few grasp the big picture, so I’m heartened when I find a kindred voice like Thomas Sowell’s:

Has the war in Iraq gone according to plan? No! But name any war that did.

Even World War II -- the "good war" of "the greatest generation" -- didn't go according to plan. The invasion of Normandy was a historic feat but lots of things went wrong.

Our paratroops who were dropped behind enemy lines were dropped in the wrong places. Intelligence reports about the big gun emplacements our troops were supposed to knock out turned out to be wrong.

Our own bombers accidentally dropped bombs on American troops, killing over a hundred men. We got caught completely by surprise by the German counter-attack that led to the Battle of the Bulge. But we won the war -- and that's the bottom line.

Any Civil War buff can spend hours telling you all the mistakes that were made on both sides. Robert E. Lee, whom many regard as the greatest general in that war, was so mortified by one of his disasters that he offered his resignation.

Mistakes in war are not new. What is new is a widespread lack of realism about war, especially among people who have never been in the military, who are like the proverbial little kid on a trip who keeps asking: "Are we there yet?"

No, we’re not there yet. But we will get there, and we’ve accomplished much in a short time. The “experts” predicted the loss of 10,000 troops just taking Baghdad. Eighteen months later, our casualties are a tenth of that. Saddam is in prison. The oil fires and refugee problems never materialized. Control and sovereignty were transferred to the interim government ahead of schedule. Local elections have been held in many cities, and national elections will follow in a few months. What we’ve done is remarkable.

There have been mistakes and “miscalculations.” There will be many more. They will be easy enough to spot with the war being broadcast with “play by play” analysis like some sporting event. Wars have always been disordered, chaotic, and faltering. The difference is that now we are able to put them under the microscope of the media to an extent we never could before. Anything is ugly if you zoom in close enough—especially something as ugly as war.

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