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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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Comments (24)

I agree with just about eve... (Below threshold)

I agree with just about everything except:

"one which could not be anticipated"

Not only a known risk, but one we taught the Taliban when they were Freedom Fighters.

Ok-I just read the first se... (Below threshold)

Ok-I just read the first sentence:

Well, Sunday morning has traditionally been the time for politicians to go on television and demonstrate the limits of their comprehension.

But it's a duzzie, I laughed but damn it's a sad state of affairs, isn't it?

Off to read the rest.

Be careful disagreeing with... (Below threshold)

Be careful disagreeing with Drummond, even on small technical points, he might start editing and scrubbing your posts.

One Wizbangoid spells Petra... (Below threshold)

One Wizbangoid spells Petraeus "Patraeus." Now we've got one who can't spell McClellan, as in Major General George Brinton McClellan.

Seems like a general problem.



[] ed- sorry SS, had to wash the dog and forgot to check that. It's fixed now. Thanks for the catch DD []

DJ Said:Whe... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

DJ Said:

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 even one candidate make that admission.

"I would do essentially what the president's doing. I know it's not popular right now, but I think we have to look down the road and consider the consequences of where we are. ...

Wars are full of mistakes. You rectify things."

Fred Thompson

sanssoucy - Is that a Whaaa... (Below threshold)

sanssoucy - Is that a Whaaabulance I here approaching? Lets us know when you start your blog so we can send over the Spelling Police.

Jeff Blogworthy - And so...... (Below threshold)

Jeff Blogworthy - And so...?

I read that to mean Thompson would "do essentially what the president's doing," as in present tense not supporting what already occurred.

No truer words about leader... (Below threshold)
Caustic Conservative:

No truer words about leadership in time of war have ever been written, DJ. H/T to you and your considerably level head.

If only there were more of that these days.

marc:You've alread... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:


You've already displayed your lack of reading comprehension here several times.

Wars are full of mistakes. You rectify things.

The meaning is clear - to most of us.

Blogworthless - What was yo... (Below threshold)

Blogworthless - What was your original contention? Oh yeah that you "have yet to hear even one candidate make that admission."

Then quote Thompson as saying "Wars are full of mistakes. You rectify things."

My reding comprehenson is jst fine, my speling is atrocious as you can see.

And BTW thanks for a ass smouch. What you say you didn't! OK you're hereby invited to kiss it.

Giuliani is not my first ch... (Below threshold)

Giuliani is not my first choice of candidates; but, he often refers to mistakes made in Iraq in the context of "mistakes made in all wars". I also heard him once say something along the line that all Presidents make mistakes and he would too. It was said in a similar context to how Fred Thompson worded it above.....in that you fix mistakes and move on.

While I agree with your pos... (Below threshold)

While I agree with your post in general I'm annoyed at this mistake - which so many people make.

> the 3,909 American military casualties in Iraq

You're confusing casualties with deaths. Casualties include deaths and wounded. This is extra annoying since you go to so much trouble later to specify the battle deaths in earlier wars.

[] ed - DANG! It's fixed now, thanks Arthur. DD []

Man McCain-Don't g... (Below threshold)

Man McCain-

Don't get me started...

He used what military knowledge that he had at his disposal to get out ahead of where things were going anyways so that he would look "right".

He positioned himself accordingly and in the process he was the media's muse and the Democrat's darling because he provided them cover for all their flak and cheap potshots at the imperfections of war.

They prefaced all of their attacks or most of them with the "false front" that Is McCain-by saying "well even-some Republicans think so" or "war hero" John McCain has said" and then they would build on that and amplify it.

He gave them a major plank to build their anti- platform on-to lose the war on the homefront in the court of public opinion so that McCain ended up "right" about one thing it was just like Vietnam- we lost the war at home.

Yes, George Bush might pull this out and win the war in Iraq despite it all quite miraculous-but I am talking about the war at home in this aspect-

A Democratic President.

A Democratic Senate Majority leader.

A Democratic Speaker of the Hosue.

And McCain enabled it all because he couldn't let go of all that transpired in Carolina and he let that consciously or subconsciosly cloud all his judgements.

Weirder still he might be the only one to stop Obama if you look at the head to head polls.

Talk about the ultimate triangulation.

What I got from watching th... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

What I got from watching the debates, at least the war on terror part is simple. A vote for any Republican likely to be nominated is a vote to continue the current war. A vote for any Democrat likely to be nominated is a vote to end the current war, but without resolution. Either way the U.S. will be at war with the forces of radical Islam in the future. The difference is that with the Republican there's a chance of winning that war, and with the Democrat there's a chance of losing that war.

3,900 dead Americans is che... (Below threshold)

3,900 dead Americans is cheap? Maybe if we saved the world from Communism, saving the union or Fascism, but for non existing WMD compared with the price we are paying in Afghanistan and Pakistan due the President's incompetence to finish the job at hand.

Meanwhile the GWOT continues.

Americans were expecting de... (Below threshold)
Todd K.:

Americans were expecting deaths more along the lines of the first Iraq war and so are using this standard to judge how the current war is progressing. Obviously, they have determined the Republicans have failed.

Republicans can scream all they want about being in a war, but Americans sense this is a ridiculous claim (war footing anybody..taxes, draft, anybody else sacrificing anything besides our soliders?) and sense the Republicans are using this claim of a perpetual war to justify losing our civil liberties and whatever crack-pot scheme they can push through. Republican could have realigned the politics in America and just blew it. Welcome to the new Democratic century: universal health care, green oriented economy and international-first foreign policy.

Don't be silly Todd, there ... (Below threshold)

Don't be silly Todd, there is no loss of civil liberties to "justify". Civil liberties have increased during the G.W. Bush administration.

Todd K - "Republicans c... (Below threshold)

Todd K - "Republicans can scream all they want about being in a war, but Americans sense this is a ridiculous claim (war footing anybody..taxes, draft, anybody else sacrificing anything besides our soliders?)"

Using that as criteria I guess we weren't "at war" during the Bosnia war, the first Gulf war or Grenada.

And to use a lefty talking point (the war prevents the the cost of it being spent on many other "social programs") everyone Is making a sacrifice.

DJ,There are some ot... (Below threshold)

There are some other even more colossal Presidential mistakes with even larger losses of life than the ones you list. Some of them even more foreseeable.

Franklin Roosevelt was urged several times to relieve Douglas MacArthur from command in the Phillipines. Dougout Doug's incompetence resulted in the US Army in the Phillipines being badly led, failing to follow its own pre-war operations plans for the defense of the Phillipines and resulted in many deaths as well as the Bataan death march.

Harry Truman's own Secretary of State gave the North Korean's reason to believe that the US would not defend South Korea and emboldened them to attack. Look at the tens of thousands of US and literally uncounted South Korean dead as a result of that incompetence.

Lyndon Johnson's failure to understand the ideology and will of the North Vietnamese communist party resulted in hundreds of thousands if not millions dead in Southeast Asia as LBJ played silly games with on and off bombing of North Vietnam to "send a message" that he never understood himself.

Baghdad barney - "but f... (Below threshold)

Baghdad barney - "but for non existing WMD"

The far lefty mind at its "finest." Non-existing WMD's will forevermore be the one and only reason for taking out Saddam to the complete exclusion of the other 20 or so documented reasons.

SPQR - "There are some ... (Below threshold)

SPQR - "There are some other even more colossal Presidential mistakes with even larger losses of life than the ones you list. Some of them even more foreseeable."

You can add Iwo Jima to the list. The Generals said based on the "best intel" that the battle would only last several days. It drug on for over a month at the cost of 6,825 killed in action.

SPQR, marc, thanks. I sort... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

SPQR, marc, thanks. I sort of bookended the Presidents, running back to Carter to show the trend, then using Lincoln and Washington - generally regarded as our best Presidents by historians - to show that mistakes are universal.

Needless to say, FDR and Truman were not our best. Then again, I also stayed short of discussing Benjamin Harrison's approach to war, or Woodrow Wilson, so it could be worse as well.

DJ, Woodrow Wilson is a goo... (Below threshold)

DJ, Woodrow Wilson is a good example of what a real suppression of dissent looks like - jailing thousands including Eugene Debs for their speech opposing the war.

I will point out that one o... (Below threshold)

I will point out that one of the major reasons we have fewer deaths for this one has little to do with the danger of the war and more to do with medical care. In previous wars, those with limbs blown off often did not survive. I suspect if we compared the number of wounded, we'd be closer to previous wars for the amount of time involved. Also, look at the Vietnam war-we didn't start getting massive casualties for years.






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