Special Report

Rules of Disengagement

Anti-surge Democrats fail to understand that if the U.S. loses in Iraq, they lose too -- we all do.

By 3.15.07

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Many of the obituaries that appeared on the recent death of Arthur M. Schlesinger inadvertently (one can only suppose) made mention of the Professor's understanding of political honor as a significant fact about his life. During the disastrous CIA-sponsored invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs in April of 1961, Schlesinger found himself in what must have been the acutely embarrassing position of being the Kennedy administration's point man in explaining to the media what was going on. It would have been embarrassing in any case, but it was all the more so as he had himself opposed the invasion and argued against it in the administration's inner councils. Yet he never flinched but manfully went to bat for his president and what it was already apparent was the administration's badly misjudged policy.

The New York Times, which describes the historian and friend of the Kennedys as "a provocative, unabashedly liberal partisan," puts it like this: "Mr. Schlesinger distinguished himself early in the administration by being one of the few in the White House to question the invasion of Cuba planned by the Eisenhower administration. But he then became a loyal soldier, telling reporters a misleading story that the Cuban exiles landing at the Bay of Pigs were no greater than 400 when in fact they numbered 1,400." The London Daily Telegraph tells the story a bit more colorfully:

Schlesinger had opposed the venture, though he put his hand to an official paper justifying the invasion and accepted the task of speaking for the provisional government of Cuba, which the CIA had brought to a small hut in the Everglades to ship to Cuba after the invading brigade established its beachhead. Matters descended into farce when Schlesinger held a press conference. As the cameras rolled, television viewers could hear the members of the would-be government inside the hut shouting in Spanish: "Let us out. Let us out." Schlesinger, embarrassed, nevertheless continued to speak for the members of the supposedly legitimate government, who had apparently been locked inside the hut because the CIA feared what they might say about Kennedy "betraying the invasion."

The London Times, by contrast, wrote by contrast, wrote of Schlesinger's "tendency to glory in the rougher side of the power game" and attributed to that tendency the fact that "he tried, rather too obsequiously, to defend (while on a special mission to Europe on which President Kennedy had sent him) the Administration's ill-judged, clandestine adventure over the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba." This is closer to the way in which we customarily view such matters now, which is to regard it as "obsequious" and perhaps even shameful for one of its officials to put loyalty to the administration ahead of his personal opinion -- and, presumably, the advancement of his own career. But in the end where this view of things leads us is to one or other of the multitude of potential anti-"surge" resolutions in Congress.

What the anti-surgers don't understand that the honor of their country is at stake. So used have they become to performing in the comparatively diminutive theater of national politics that they have an exaggerated sense of their own importance. They don't understand that, on the world stage, nobody is interested in them or in whether they are -- or were -- right or wrong about the Iraq war. Before the eyes of the world, the performer in Iraq is not them, or even President Bush, but the United States of America, with which they are included whether they like it or not. The humiliation of the United States which they are attempting to bring about by forcing a withdrawal from Iraq with the enemy still undefeated will, therefore, affect them every bit as much as it will the hated Bushites. Their foolishness in not seeing this is like that of Michael Moore in wondering why the terrorists of 9/11 would have hit a blue state like New York instead of some place where the war-mongers lived like Texas or Alabama.

That kind of thinking also depends on the liberal assumption that if we are hit it must be because we have done something to provoke those who hit us. That's why the anti-war left thinks that matters of war and peace are simple ones. All we have to do is stop provoking the enemy and he will stop hitting us. The thought that we might be provoking him simply by being who we are, and therefore that there is nothing we can do to keep from being hit but to hit him first, is quite literally unthinkable to such people. To them, it's a not-in-my-name moment. Like Senator Webb in his reply to the State of the Union Address, their concern is to get it on record that they didn't support the war in the first place. Like Senator Kerry testifying before Congress in 1971, they think the President's concern with avoiding the world's perception of American defeat is a mere matter of personal vanity.

But the only thing that will matter to the enemy is that the USA chose the battlefield in Iraq and then chose to leave it with the enemy still in control. That is a defeat for our country whether Michael Moore or Senator Webb or Senator Kerry or Congressman Murtha or anyone else thinks it is or not. That's the unforgiving nature of honor, which they don't understand. Not only is it a defeat but, like all defeats, it cannot but breed further struggles -- and further defeats -- down the road. Once we are driven out of Iraq because three or four or five thousand dead -- or whatever the final number turns out to be -- seems too high a price for us to pay for national honor, it will only be a matter of time before we are driven out of Afghanistan and anywhere else where we meet the enemy directly. Then, when we think we can retreat behind our own borders and avoid him, he will come for us here too. And when he does the anti-surgers will doubtless still be bleating: "Why do you want to kill us? We were against the war?"

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About the Author

James Bowman, our movie and culture critic, is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He is the author of Honor: A History and Media Madness: The Corruption of Our Political Culture, both published by Encounter Books.