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September 16, 2008

Facing Reality

Roy Meachum

The latest White House military pin-up vigorously protested the administration's hard-core policy toward the Middle East. Instead of calling for more and more young men and women to become cannon fodder, Gen. David Petraeus said: "You don't kill or capture your way out of an industrial strength insurgency."


As a long-time critic of American moves in that part of the world, I could not say it better.


Beginning with the thesis that eliminating Saddam Hussein, continuing with the faulty premise that the administration's Shock and Awe tactic would finish off all opposition and down to the very shaky proposition that bringing in more Americans was really the answer, General Petraeus signaled that he finally understood.


It's the totally opposite side of George W. Bush's "bring 'em on," and a quintessential difference from the "surge" philosophy. We have made enemies of more than one billion Muslims because our government is locked in a 19th century mentality. It worked when the Brits were building the empire on which the sun never set, but then the objects of their imperial desires were primitive and possessed no medium to communicate with one another.


Never mind the money Washington poured into Iraq – much of which went into Shiite and Sunni politicians' wallets – we encountered a situation where the story once relegated to newspapers' back pages burst out into the mainstream media. The Russians' 10-year incursion collapsed because the real enemy they met was not on the firing line but out of sight.


The Afghans struggled against the Red Army with U.S. help but also with that of other anti-Soviet and anti-West backers. The man Americans know as Osama bin Laden first earned his international spurs in Afghanistan. As soon as the Red Army left, he moved right in. After the unspeakable happened – on 9/11 – the American establishment made a half-hearted effort to pull him out. But they got very little support, domestically or internationally.


Such valiant American allies as France, Germany, Italy and a procession of lesser powers created a pastiche of fighting and non-combat troops limited in numbers.


Before the invasion of Iraq, all that followed was a product of Mr. Bush. It made no sense in Paris, Berlin, Rome and on Frederick's North Market Street. The neo-fascist Italian chief honcho went along until his Senate made him realize he was being less than practical and doing absolutely no good for the nation and its citizens. (The Senate in Rome printed my name and publication – New Republic – when I broke the story about undue influence by the colonels who ruled Greece.)


David Petraeus was guilty this week of gross military heresy. Other generals and flag officers would have called for more ammunition and warm bodies; he broke publicly the skein that started back with Lord Cardigan, who commanded the tragic light brigade of 600 who charged dug-in cannons and sharpshooters. Years later historians can cite no proof the dead horsemen had the slightest influence on the battle of Balaklava, or on the Crimean War.


George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, et al, have been all too willing to fight terrorists as long as others do the fighting and dying. Lieutenant General Petraeus said there must be a better way, and set out to help politicians find the path.



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