The Fog of Politics

Well, Sunday morning has traditionally been the time for politicians to go on television and demonstrate the limits of their comprehension. With the 2008 Presidential campaigns in full Primary mode, this means that the POTUS wannabe’s have held the stage on the latest incarnation of the ‘Gong Show’. Over on “Meet the Press”, for example, I saw John McCain chatting up Tim Russert about Iraq, playing a position only a politico like McCain could hold; that it was right to go into Iraq, but that he would have done it without the mistakes made by the Bush Administration. This is not only an arrogant thing to claim, but demonstrates a serious flaw in understanding war, especially for a candidate who boasts so much about his experience in this matter. War never goes as planned, and every President makes mistakes in his military decisions. Bill Clinton had Mogadishu and the Balkans, Bush I failed to take out Saddam when he could, Reagan had Beirut, and Carter had Iran, Panama, SALT, and a depressing array of faux pas. And so on.

Early leaders also made mistakes. During the Civil War, President Lincoln trusted the fate of the Union Army to George McClellan. McClellan had a bad habit of evading risk, and therefore missed numerous opportunities to end the war early. Lincoln finally realized his mistake in trusting McClellan with the Army and relieved him of it. McClellan’s consequence for his timidity? He was the 1864 nominee for President by the Democratic Party, showing that even then, war could and would be manipulated for political gain.

Even George Washington made mistakes. As commander of the Rebel forces in the Revolutionary War, Washington made a series of mistakes in the early war which not only lost Long Island and Manhattan, but turned public opinion in New York against him. Moreover, Washington approved raids into Canada which proved disastrous, costing Washington precious resources and gaining nothing for his pains.

None of this is meant to impugn the decisions made by these men, though some were clearly more successful in their policies than others. But it is apparent to anyone who studies History, that if a candidate for President implies that he will not make mistakes in the performance of that office, he is other lying or dangerously unrealistic. Both pro-war and anti-war contingents have sold arguments which implied that if their position had been embraced and supported by everyone, nothing serious would have gone wrong. The problem with either side, is that the enemy does not subscribe to our point-of-view in the slightest. It is ludicrous in the extreme to imagine that we could invade Iraq, hold the territory, gain the trust of the people, and establish a democratic republic in less than half a decade without serious complications. On the other hand, the notion that we could leave a dictatorship like Saddam Hussein intact without serious threats to our National Security is dangerously unreasonable; Iraq had made and used WMD in its past, had twice invaded neighboring countries, and had broken every major tenet of the 1991 cease-fire. Either decision, to invade Iraq or to leave Saddam in place, invited serious consequences.

Also, it should be understood that the 3,909 American military deaths* in Iraq is among our most cheaper wars in cost. Here’s a list of wars we fought with greater cost:

American Revolution: 4,435 battle deaths
Civil War: 214,938 battle deaths
World War I: 53,402 battle deaths
World War II: 291,557 battle deaths
Korean War: 33,741 battle deaths
Vietnam War: 47,424 battle deaths

The reader may note that these tallies include only battle deaths, while the 3,909 deaths in Iraq include non-battle deaths. Historians will no doubt be aware that each war is different, and while some wars see few deaths outside of actual combat, others suffer relatively heavy casualties away from battlefields. It is, again, a sign of inexperience to claim that the IEDs and sniper attacks represent a failed policy, rather than a deadly evolution of warfare, one which could not be anticipated and which is therefore no one’s fault. The attempts to politicize the conflict through false accusations are nothing new, but are even so reprehensible.

When deciding on a candidate for your vote in 2008, one key is not so much which side of the decision they take, as their honesty in admitting that every leader makes mistakes, and that they will as well. So far, I have yet to hear many candidates*** make that admission.

update – spelling corrected. * “casualties” corrected to “deaths”
*** Jeff Blogworthy (in the comments) advises me that Fred Thompson has said that “wars are full of mistakes”, and Frogg advises that Rudy Giuliani says that all presidents make mistakes, and what you do is learn and move on. The text is accordingly corrected, thanks

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