WASHINGTON — I suppose it will be considered highly outre for me to say it, but I shall say it anyway. The President spoke quite well in his press conference yesterday, and was very gentlemanly when he caught one of the journalists interrogating him in an embarrassing malapropism. The hack asked him to be “reflexive” about the war in Iraq when the word he meant to use was “reflective.” Critics of the White House press corps will understand the slip. Most of these hacks are reflexive even on those rare occasions when they make an elementary effort at being reflective. In fact, their thought processes are almost wholly reflexive.
“Very impressive,” is how the British historian and journalist Paul Johnson found this president a week ago when the president conferred on him a “Presidential Medal of Freedom.” Yesterday in his press conference Mr. Bush lived up to Johnson’s assessment.
One of the salient messages to be taken from this press conference is that the White House is now engaged in a far-ranging reevaluation of America’s military posture. That is all to the good. However, I am not sure I would adopt the drastic measures being suggested by some of the critics of this war, for instance the bellicose Senator Edward (Teddy) Kennedy. Reevaluating our tactics and strategy is appropriate, though we should resist the drift of the Massachusetts senator’s taunts about the Iraq war dragging on longer than our war with Germany and Japan. Yes, senator, the United States could end this war as expeditiously as we ended World War II, but the use of nuclear weapons on Iraqi cities is not the way to do it. Really Senator Kennedy in old age has become frighteningly hotheaded, and it is not reassuring to see that other Democrats — for instance Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi — are also recommending the brevity of World War II as more desirable than our more moderate pace in Iraq. They are a reckless lot.
They are also impatient, which is one of the reasons that I too have given thought to a revision in our military posture. The strong consensus among Republicans and Democrats when we sent troops into Afghanistan was apparently misleading. At first it looked as though all Americans were going to stand with the president to defeat the reemergence of right-wing aggressors, this time in the form of Baathists in Iraq and Islamofascists in Afghanistan. But apparently at least the Democrats do not have the patience to pacify these conquered countries. For a certitude they lack the stomach for Franklin Roosevelt’s goal of transforming Nazi Germany and militaristic Japan into democracies.
The Democrats’ abandonment of this war makes it apparent that an entirely new strategy is necessary if our military is to be used to achieve our diplomatic goals. The military has demonstrated that it is sufficiently powerful to smash any aggressor anywhere on earth, but American public opinion is not sufficiently resolute to sustain a commitment of American troops in hostile environs. Thus we must adopt a strategy that recognizes the impatience of public opinion, as well as public opinion’s enthusiasm during the initial stages of combat.
My suggestion is that the Pentagon, the State Department, and the White House adopt what might be called the Strategy of the Bar Room Brawler (SBRB). According to SBRB, if a foreign government is not amenable to our diplomatic requests we simply bust the joint up. Photographs of what we accomplished in Serbia merely with airpower and in Iraq with airpower and armor ought to persuade even a stubborn fellow like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that if he continues to displease us his office will be a wreck. And if he plans to drive home or even take public transportation, forget about it. Tehran’s infrastructure will be a mess overnight. Within a few months our lightning-quick military could turn much of Iran into a ruin, and according to the protocols of SBRB our troops would be home in no time.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton would still be in her cheering stage as our troops headed home. And with our troops safely home from Iran we would not even have to clean the place up. Leave that thankless task to the French and the Germans. With the money we save we could get on with busting up Syria.
The Cold War had the strategy of Containment. For a while Washington talked up other strategies, “Brinkmanship” and “Roll Back.” The demands of history change. The Cold War was not as dominated by instant gratification as the present. The mentality of many Americans and the enormous capacity for destruction of our military can be wedded for a very effective and exciting strategic doctrine. “Bust the place up and be gone” — that can be the slogan for the Strategy of the Bar Room Brawler. After a few beers surely Senator Kennedy will see the sense of it.