Michael Scott here digs up a comment from the late H.L. Mencken in The Chicago Sunday Tribune, July 25, 1926:
... No normal human being wants to hear the truth. It is the passion of a small and aberrant minority of men, most of them pathological. They are hated for telling it while they live, and when they die they are swiftly forgotten. What remains to the world, in the field of wisdom, is a series of long tested and solidly agreeable lies.
Maybe so, but this is the week a new narrative started gathering momentum - or maybe it is a meme, a newly accepted axiomatic sense of what is an actual fact.
What would that be? Starting late last week with comments here and there on the net, citing various items in the New York Times and various wire services, followed by barrage of stories in the major papers as the new week started, and coming to a head in a short piece in Newsweek, we have a new given.
We are losing, or have already lost the war. That's the meme on the blogs this week. The majors are pretty much saying it too - building on the Newsweek item and interviews all over with its editors. This does not seem to be coming from the Democrats assailing Bush - but seem rather a simultaneous awakening by news folks and military folks. Things are bad.
Sidney Blumenthal - a former senior adviser to President Clinton and Washington bureau chief of SALON.COM - tries to get a sense of this shift here:
Far graver than Vietnam
Most senior US military officers now believe the war on Iraq has turned into a disaster on an unprecedented scale
Thursday September 16, 2004, The Guardian (UK)
The opening -
The war is already lost?
'Bring them on!" President Bush challenged the early Iraqi insurgency in July of last year. Since then, 812 American soldiers have been killed and 6,290 wounded, according to the Pentagon. Almost every day, in campaign speeches, Bush speaks with bravado about how he is "winning" in Iraq. "Our strategy is succeeding," he boasted to the National Guard convention on Tuesday.
But, according to the US military's leading strategists and prominent retired generals, Bush's war is already lost. Retired general William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency, told me: "Bush hasn't found the WMD. Al-Qaida, it's worse, he's lost on that front. That he's going to achieve a democracy there? That goal is lost, too. It's lost." He adds: "Right now, the course we're on, we're achieving Bin Laden's ends."
Who else is saying such things?
Blumenthal gives us a few:
Retired general Joseph Hoare, former marine commandant and head of US Central Command - "The idea that this is going to go the way these guys planned is ludicrous. There are no good options. We're conducting a campaign as though it were being conducted in Iowa, no sense of the realities on the ground. It's so unrealistic for anyone who knows that part of the world. The priorities are just all wrong."
Jeffrey Record of the US Air War College, said: "I see no ray of light on the horizon at all. The worst case has become true. There's no analogy whatsoever between the situation in Iraq and the advantages we had after the Second World War in Germany and Japan." And this guy teaches strategy there,
W Andrew Terrill, professor at the Army War College's strategic studies institute - and the top expert on Iraq there - says similar things.
The Blumenthal piece is full of assessments that are, as they say, dire.
The Newsweek item that everyone cited - It's Worse Than You Think - is subtitled "As Americans debate Vietnam, the U.S. death toll tops 1,000 in Iraq. And the insurgents are still getting stronger..."
It is a wake-up call of sorts, and the most cited paragraphs are these -
And it was these "no go" zones - reported in the New York Times the previous week - that seemed to start his ball rolling downhill. It's hard to claim things are going swimmingly when you admit you have decided large areas of the country, including a large part of the capital - Baghdad's Sadr City - are just too danger to enter, even with the tanks and gunships overhead. Report after report seems to indicate only the Green Zone in central Baghdad is secure - were our top guys do their work in Saddam's formal palaces. This does not look good.
America has its own Election Day to worry about. For U.S. troops in Iraq, one especially sore point is the stateside public's obsession with the candidates' decades-old military service. "Stop talking about Vietnam," says one U.S. official who has spent time in the Sunni Triangle. "People should be debating this war, not that one." His point was not that America ought to walk away from Iraq.
Hardly any U.S. personnel would call that a sane suggestion. But there's widespread agreement that Washington needs to rethink its objectives, and quickly. "We're dealing with a population that hovers between bare tolerance and outright hostility," says a senior U.S. diplomat in Baghdad. "This idea of a functioning democracy here is crazy. We thought that there would be a reprieve after sovereignty, but all hell is breaking loose."
It's not only that U.S. casualty figures keep climbing. American counterinsurgency experts are noticing some disturbing trends in those statistics. The Defense Department counted 87 attacks per day on U.S. forces in August--the worst monthly average since Bush's flight-suited visit to the USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003. Preliminary analysis of the July and August numbers also suggests that U.S. troops are being attacked across a wider area of Iraq than ever before. And the number of gunshot casualties apparently took a huge jump in August. Until then, explosive devices and shrapnel were the primary cause of combat injuries, typical of a "phase two" insurgency, where sudden ambushes are the rule. (Phase one is the recruitment phase, with most actions confined to sabotage. That's how things started in Iraq.) Bullet wounds would mean the insurgents are standing and fighting--a step up to phase three.
Another ominous sign is the growing number of towns that U.S. troops simply avoid. A senior Defense official objects to calling them "no-go areas." "We could go into them any time we wanted," he argues. The preferred term is "insurgent enclaves." They're spreading. Counterinsurgency experts call it the "inkblot strategy": take control of several towns or villages and expand outward until the areas merge. The first city lost to the insurgents was Fallujah, in April. Now the list includes the Sunni Triangle cities of Ar Ramadi, Baqubah and Samarra, where power shifted back and forth between the insurgents and American-backed leaders last week. "There is no security force there [in Fallujah], no local government," says a senior U.S. military official in Baghdad. "We would get attacked constantly. Forget about it."
U.S. military planners only wish they could. ...
And then early in the week the outgoing Marine general in charge of western Iraq says we made a mess with how we handed Fallujah
Key General Criticizes April Attack In Fallujah
Abrupt Withdrawal Called Vacillation
Rajiv Chandrasekaran, The Washington Post, Monday, September 13, 2004; Page A17
What to make of this?
We tried to turn this over to the local fellows, as it is their country now, and they help the bad guys and give them all the guns and equipment we provided.
The outgoing U.S. Marine Corps general in charge of western Iraq said Sunday he opposed a Marine assault on militants in the volatile city of Fallujah in April and the subsequent decision to withdraw from the city and turn over control to a security force of former Iraqi soldiers.
That security force, known as the Fallujah Brigade, was formally disbanded last week. Not only did the brigade fail to combat militants, it actively aided them, surrendering weapons, vehicles and radios to the insurgents, according to senior Marine officers. Some brigade members even participated in attacks on Marines ringing the city, the officers said.
The comments by Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, made shortly after he relinquished command of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force on Sunday, amounted to a stinging broadside against top U.S. military and civilian leaders who ordered the Fallujah invasion and withdrawal. His statements also provided the most detailed explanation -- and justification -- of Marine actions in Fallujah this spring, which have been widely criticized for increasing insurgent activity in the city and turning it into a "no-go" zone for U.S. troops.
That is not a good sign.
And here Knight Ridder reports that the anti-American insurgency in Iraq is "growing larger, more sophisticated and more violent," and that many experts believe "the best that can be hoped for now is continued chaos that falls short of a civil war."
The New York Times reports here that our pre-election (ours and theirs) get-tough tactics are backfiring. It seems where we cannot go we send in air strikes - large bombs and such - to blast what we think are places the bad guys congregate - and we kills a lot of the unlucky by mistake. The locals aren't impressed. They seem to see us as murderous cowards.
But we just want to make things better. But that's going sour too.
U.S. Plans to Divert Iraq Money
Attacks Prompt Request to Move Reconstruction Funds to Security Forces
Jonathan Weisman, The Washington Post, Wednesday, September 15, 2004; Page A22
Some things will have to wait (my emphases) -
Well, maybe if the Iraqi people had clean water, electricity, and maybe a sewage system that worked, far fewer of them would be fighting us.
The Bush administration asked Congress on Tuesday for permission to transfer nearly $3.5 billion from Iraqi water, sewer and electricity projects to pressing security, economic and electoral programs, acknowledging that increasing violence has forced a sharp shift in its rebuilding effort.
Including previous reallocations, the administration hopes to redirect more than 20 percent of $18.4 billion in reconstruction funds to cope with an escalating insurgency and the glacial pace of rebuilding. With two weeks left in the fiscal year, and 11 months after Congress approved the money, only $1.1 billion of it has been spent, because of attacks, contracting problems and other unforeseen issues, according to figures released by the State Department.
Marc Grossman, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, concluded that "without a significant reallocation of resources for the security and law enforcement sector, the short-term stability of Iraq would be compromised and the longer-term prospects of a free and democratic Iraq undermined."
The redirected money would be used for, among other things, 82,000 more Iraqi security personnel, including an increase of about 65 percent in police forces and a near-doubling of the number of border agents.
The shift of funds "is a de facto recognition that [the occupation authority's] ambitious plans to restructure Iraq's entire economy have failed," said Anthony H. Cordesman, a security analyst at the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies, "and that . . . efforts to plan the long-term structure of Iraq's economic development have foundered in the face of insurgent attacks, theft and looting, [and] bad planning."
Even administration allies said the State Department has been slow coming to terms with a security environment radically different from what was envisioned when the reconstruction plans were drafted last fall.
... "I don't think anyone can deny we have not been as successful as we would have liked," said Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's foreign operations subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the funds.
"Fewer people will get potable water. Fewer people will get the electricity they need in their homes or their businesses," Kolbe said. "But that's just a recognition of the reality that unless you have the security you need, you can't have reconstruction."
But we cannot get there now.
Okay then. We have made a mess of things and seem to be losing or to have lost this war.
Now what? Since the administration will never say things haven't gone well, we have a dilemma.
A few weeks ago here the idea was this a matter of attitude for that administration. You have to have the right attitude. It is a matter of resolve. The bad things that have happened while we've stayed resolved show that good things will happen if only we stay resolved. That's the line we're fed, which I called the "Tinkerbell Theory" - if we clap loud enough and believe... then Tinkerbell will live.
No. That's a fairy tale.
This seems to be the week people are sensing that this resolve and optimism look a little too much like denial and delusion. There just isn't enough fairly dust to fix this one.
We have alienated most of the world who now see us as the enemy - a great item on that is here - and our dream of building a fine democracy in an Iraqi of fawning, worshipful and grateful folks tossing flowers at us, at virtually no cost, seems, at best, absurd.
Bush's opponent, this Kerry fellow, might make much of this turn in the narrative, this new meme, but probably won't, as Kerry is as dull as he is earnest and well-meaning.
But this new idea - that we've probably lost it all - is snowballing. It may help Kerry whether he likes it or not.
The problem is that if he wins, he has to clean up this mess. Maybe he wants to be beaten.