Lost in the Woods - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Lost in the Woods

Last summer I hiked 125 miles from New York City to New Paltz on the Long Path, New York’s equivalent of the Appalachian Trail.

On the last afternoon, when I was an hour away from being picked up by friends with a summer cottage, I lost the trail. I had just climbed a long, rocky slope and didn’t want to go back and find it. I checked the map and figured if I cut through the woods about one-fifth of a mile I could intercept it.

Unfortunately, that one-fifth of a mile turned out to be through a stand of mountain laurel, which is like climbing through a junk pile of steel cables. Your feet rarely touch the ground. After struggling half an hour, I realized my faithful golden retriever was no longer behind me. I ditched my pack, backtracked, and finally found him, tangled in the underbrush.

I shouldered his pack, retrieved my own, and wrestled on another half hour. I was getting cut and scratched at every turn, losing gear out of my pockets, even my watch was ripped off my wrist. Still I fought on, thinking all the while, I must admit, that there was something heroic to my efforts.

Finally I remembered something they teach in Boy Scouts — “STOP.” When you’re lost in the woods, “stop, think, observe, plan.” I sat down under a pine tree and calmed down a bit. After fifteen minutes of reflection I realized it was useless to push on. I had to go back to where I lost the trail. I bedded down for the night, sleeping on 45-degree-angle rocks, and started back in the morning, leaving half my gear.

I found the trail fairly easily, but when I went back for my gear I got lost again, so I decided to pull out. I went back to the mountain twice in the next three days but never found my gear — $700 worth. Still it could have been worse. I might have lost my dog or not made it out at all.

You’re waiting for the metaphor, right? Well here it is. I think George Bush has to STOP — stop, think, observe and plan. Of course he supposedly did this last week when he announced a “new strategy” in Iraq. But you know as well as I, all he decided was to keep plunging ahead.

So we’re going to send in 20,000 more troops. Why? To disarm the Shi’ite militia. These are the people we supposedly went in to liberate! They were going to greet us with open arms. It was the Sunnis and the dead-ender Baathists who were the problem. Now we’re even starting to offend the Kurds. You know perfectly well, in another six months we’ll be at war with the whole country. Then we’ll have to send in another 50,000 troops — or will it be 100,000?

Close your eyes and it’s 1968. This is where Lyndon Johnson was when he already had 500,000 troops to Vietnam and decided he needed another 250,000. He called in Clark Clifford and a few wise men and they told him to get a grip. Johnson changed course, decided not to run for re-election, and eventually left Nixon to wind down the war.

Oh I know, I know, we lost the war in Vietnam, were humiliated, and we’re never going to let it happen again. But that’s the whole point. We’re always going to end up losing when we intervene in these civil wars and try to prop up a puppet regime in a country that basically doesn’t exist.

How many times do we have to learn this lesson? There is no Iraqi democracy. All there is are Sunni and Shi’ites who have been fighting each other since 700 A.D. It’s humiliating to watch President Bush playing Br’er Rabbit with this Tar Baby, crying, “Where are you Iraqis? Why don’t they stand up?” They only exist in his imagination. Prime Minister Maliki isn’t George Washington, he’s a frightened bureaucrat trying to avoid being assassinated. He can’t “disarm the Shi’ite militia,” they’re the ones who keep him in power. They’re already killing television comedians, university professors, anyone who represents normal life. They’d kill him in an instant if he turned against them.

We’re at the point of the emperor’s new clothes. A couple of weeks ago Bush admitted that the “insurgents” had really messed up our efforts to create democracy in Iraq. Is there any child in the country that doesn’t know this? And is there anyone who doesn’t know that committing 20,000 more troops is only going to lead to 20,000 more?

Bush had his Clark Clifford moment when Baker and company handed him The Iraq Report. Amazingly, he didn’t take it. Instead, he was reportedly won over by Fred Kagan’s “Choosing Victory,” cooked up at the American Enterprise Institute.

I would challenge anyone to read this report. Here’s the way Kagan begins:

* American resources are great: 300 million people, $12 trillion in GDP compared to 25 million Iraqis, $100 billion in Iraq GDP in a country the side of California.

* Success requires effort and will, but we need not choose to lose.

It’s interesting that he implies we’re at war with the whole country. I thought we were supposed to be defending somebody? Someone should also inform Kagan of Archimedes’ principle. The force of an object at the end of a lever is its weight times the distance. We may have six zillion times the wealth of the Shi’ite militia, but the war is being fought on their home territory. By the time a U.S. soldier starts poking through the warrens of Sadr City, all that wealth back home has been reduced to his rifle and body armor against a bunch of IEDs and AK-47’s.

Kagan’s analysis simply reprises the joke that circulated around the army in 1970. The Pentagon hires a huge computer, plugs in all the data about comparative forces, and asks, “How long is it going to take us to win in Vietnam?” The answer comes back, “You won back in 1965.”

Fortunately, the army has learned this lesson. It’s the armchair warriors in the think tanks and the White House who have not. Here’s what retired Lieutenant General William Odom has to say about how we should proceed:

Write off the democracy goal as a draw, declare a tactical victory, and withdraw in good order. Of course a terrible mess will be left, but more troops and money can only make it worse, not better. The new strategic aim must be regional stability, not democracy in Iraq. The United States alone cannot achieve it. It will need help. And other countries will not help while we are bogged down in Iraq. They enjoy our pain.

But once they see U.S. forces departing, they will be frightened. The aftermath of our departure will cause them far more pain than it will us. Not only will the countries in the Middle East become more cooperative, but so will the Europeans and others.

Why? Because none of them can lead a global coalition. The Europeans will be asking us to lead, and the others will see it as the least-undesirable alternative.

The best suggestion I’ve heard is this. Let’s schedule a referendum for March asking the Iraqis if they want us to go or stay. They’re a democracy, right? Let them decide. If they want us to stay, then we’ve answered the world. If they want us to go, then we can withdraw with honor.

But of course our withdrawal will kick everybody else into action, just as Odom predicts. Iran, Syria, Egypt, the Saudis, Europe, the UN — all will rush to the negotiating table trying to settle differences. We can broker the whole process. We’ll be top dog, the player who sets the game in motion, determines the outcome, and guarantees the stability of any and all agreements. We might even bring a modicum of peace to the region.

Mission accomplished.

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