WASHINGTON — Awash as we are in the cranky appraisals of our war in Iraq and the congressional projects to end it summarily, we have every reason to conclude that for some Americans a real war is not nearly as amusing as one produced in Hollywood. A real war is a lot more difficult to script than a war headed for the silver screen. Inopportune events take place. Even uncovenanted happenings occur. During World War II more than 14,000 American POWs died in German and Japanese hands. President Franklin Roosevelt had not anticipated such brutal treatment. Other unanticipated enormities took place, for instance, the dithering in the hedgerows of France after the D-Day landings. Still, no congressional investigations were convened to distract our leaders from bringing the war to a diplomatically viable conclusion.
Were Senator Joseph Biden in the Senate during that ghastly war, I wonder how many of President Roosevelt’s cabinet members the senator from Delaware would have fallen on? How many times would he demand the resignation of Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson? How many congressional inquiries would the congressional minority have insisted on after atrocities were discovered, logistics bungled, or battles lost? Surely the bombings of German cities were controversial. Would these bombings be called atrocities by a 1944 version of Senator John Kerry? In fact, during World War II the Allies suffered many controversies and setbacks. Yet the criticisms and recriminations were almost nonexistent in the Congress, and even the press was quiet. Revelations that might have comforted our enemies were downplayed even after the war.
My favorite examples of this self-discipline are to be found in David Reynolds’s stupendous history of how Winston Churchill wrote his Nobel Prize-winning war memoirs, In Command of History. In a word, Churchill censored himself. Working with the Labour government’s cabinet secretary, Churchill passed over in silence many wartime successes. Revealing them even after the war might have weakened British national security. For instance, he never mentions the cracking of the German Enigma code or his low expectations for Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency. Maybe today there are fussbudgets in the antiwar movement who would have Churchill’s Nobel Prize withdrawn for deceiving readers, but at the outset of the Cold War the British had to contemplate the aggressive designs of the Soviet Union. Washington, doubtless, practiced similar deceptions.
The distinguished British journalist William Shawcross has just returned from Iraq. He was a famous critic of the Vietnam War but he views the Iraq War as just and winnable. In fact, he reports that things are going far better there than either the British or the American press has reported. An Iraqi army is coming together. It is, as Shawcross says, determined “to defend Iraq — the whole of Iraq — against terrorist destruction.” Given Senator Biden’s fascination with all things British, perhaps he will quote Shawcross on the Senate floor. You might recall the Senator’s 1988 run for the Democratic presidential nomination when he got caught plagiarizing from a speech by British Labour Party leader Neal Kinnock.
A growing number of Democrats are demonstrating Senator Biden’s shameless opportunism. An unedifying specimen of it is their easily provoked calls for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld arrived at the Pentagon for his second stint as secretary of defense (he also held the post during the Ford administration) charged to reform the military. Still organized to fight a Cold War, it had to be reorganized for future wars. It had to be brought into line with the Goldwater-Nichols Reauthorization Act of 1986, calling for cooperation among the services and an end to inter-service duplication. Rumsfeld transformed this legislation into Pentagon doctrine. “He did that in spades,” Jed Babbin, the Pentagon watcher, remarks. Then came the war in Iraq. Never before have the armed services operated in such smooth combinations so agilely. Rumsfeld was vindicated.
In the post-Cold War climate there has been a huge increase in the manning of special operations units. Each branch of the military makes its contributions to whole units that are more adaptable and deployable than ever before. Rumsfeld made this too happen. Though the post-war policy adopted in Iraq was not his first choice, he has loyally stood by it. Rumsfeld is true blue. We should not have to wait for the end of the war to recognize that. He and President George W. Bush should have the loyal opposition FDR had in his day.