The Tepid War

As we slog into the fourth year of the "quick war", like a muddy and exhausted Bill Maudlin grunt emerging from a foxhole, it's time to pause and look at the crossroads where we find ourselves. But first, a quick historical review is in order.

WWII was what pundits refer to as a "hot war". There were clearly defensible reasons for it. Bloodshed was on a level that makes Gulf War II look like a paper cut. It was a defining moment in our nation's history. We became the world's arsenal and our soldiers spread out across the world in a true and capable coalition. We fought for a well developed sense of right over wrong and largely managed to stay within those bounds.

The period immediately after WWII was a short slide into a "cold war". Hasty decisions and behind the scenes politicking during WWII handed us a very complex world rent with traps and problems. Because of those problems, the world spent the next 50 years on the lip of the atomic escarpment wondering what fool would shove us over the edge into nuclear holocaust. But the cold war wasn't always cold. Sometimes it had hot spots - usually directly related to something not cleaned up in the messy aftermath of the big hot war.

Korea was the first hot spot. It was the first time someone had jostled those on the atomic cliff and we damn near went ass over tea kettle off the edge as a result. The only things saving us were a few Hail Mary passes and a lingering fear on the part of the Chinese that a few nukes might fare quite well against human wave attacks. The result was a stand-off that remains today. And the current administration's response is to hope that Kim Jong Il - a raving loon if ever the world has seen one - will somehow stop being a loon and instead become a productive member of the global society. One look at the Fratboy's ringing diplomatic successes and Kim's penchant for Elvis pompadours may foreshadow things to come.

Vietnam was next. It was the hot war that Top Gun Tex and Deferment Dick sat out. We fought it because of post WWII diplomatic failures and it ground on far longer than it should have. The US placed itself in the unwinable position of not wanting to fight the war on a grand scale, but not wanting to adjust to the Vietnamese's scaled down war plan either. Dozens of misguided diplomatic forays were tried and none worked. Finally, the US decided the annoyance wasn't worth the time, declared victory and went home.

Though that seems like a valid response to the current quagmire, there is an important distinction. Except for a few interested parties, no one much cared what happened to the Vietnamese except the Vietnamese. There was little risk of nuclear conflagration over a spit of land with no great natural resources or industry of value. In leaving, the US could jettison a huge liability for little more than a temporary loss of prestige on the global stage. The loss of prestige is still there, but that's what the world has come to expect from us now.

Today we're in the midst of Gulf War II. We went there for dubious and constantly shifting reasons and those reasons have become even less clear over time.

We started out with a shock and awe big bang that went well because the military was allowed to do what it does best, fight wars. The infamous "Mission Accomplished" sobriquet wasn't entirely a farce. If restricted to the simple soldier's definition of, "the big war is now over and someone will begin pacifying the place now," it wasn't entirely untrue. The problem was that Dub and Dick - with their excellent military backgounds - didn't understand what that meant.

Don Rummy explained it to them like this, "It means we can all head off to the ranch for a big barbecue and quail hunt," and they promptly went on an extended vacation. The soldiers thought it meant, "Fun's over, let's pack up and go home." Clearly, no one had bothered to think about winning the peace - such a small detail we know.

So, the military went about not pacifying because that's an oxymoron and not what they do. They fight, they don't make peace. Dub and Dick were having a splendid time back in Crawford ignoring hurricanes, trying to pass ill-fated social security reforms, and generally shooting themselves, and at least one guest - in the face.

Meanwhile, the rest of us, along with the poor forsaken Iraqis, are stuck smack in the middle of a "tepid war". It isn't hot in the sense that thousands of people die each day. It isn't clearly defined like a big war either. In a sense, there is no enemy because the ones propped up at the beginning all turned out to be made of straw.

It's not a cold war. There isn't some evil empire - despite what George pontificates - waiting to send us all into that long, cold, nuclear winter. It's not clearly defined enough for this category either. There is no big faceoff between global ideologies. No, pretty much everyone agrees that Saddam was an asshole who's better off in the clink than running the streets of Baghdad.

So that leaves us with a tepid war. One that wasn't forced into being by huge events on the global stage. Hundreds of nukes are not pointed at each other waiting for the lunatic call to launch. In fact, the few nukes we thought they had turned out to be made of straw too. But none of this - not the lying, not the ineptitude, not the craven disregard for human life - is enough to change something that is immutably true...this tepid war means something.

The Iraqis, a grossly dumped upon people, have had their country turned from shithole to really, really degrading shithole without electricity and sewage service. Things don't even work as well as when Saddam ran the place, and he was a raving madman. They need help now, even if they do keep going back to avenge religious slights that happened thousands of yeas ago. Our point here is Mr. & Mrs. Baghdad didn't sign up for this crap and more than you or us. Their "superiors" did it.

Secondly, there is the oil. Try to ignore it if you like, but it isn't just about about Chevron and Exxon profits, it's about whether your lights come on more often they do in Baghdad. It's about whether you have a job to pay the bills. And more importantly, China is mighty oil-thirsty these days and a restive dragon will be all up in our face breathing oil-fueled fire if supplies get too tight. You might argue the point that Iraq has no nukes, but NO ONE believes China doesn't.

So here we are at the crossroads where Captain America has driven us. He's suddenly decided not to drive the bus anymore because it's no fun when people actually expect the bus to go somewhere. There is a great temptation for all of us to hop off the bus and start walking home, but that still leaves that nasty mess to clean up. What about the innocent Iraqis, the freezing upper Midwesterners, and the thirsty Chinese? Who's going to mop up all that spilled milk. We're thinking George is going to be too busy making useless speeches and revised strategeries.

We're in a hell of a pinch that's getting considerably tighter. The Iranians are talking about the Great Satan again and may or may not have nukes soon (which doesn"t really matter since they already said they want nukes). Kim Jong Il is one haircut away from leaping across the nuclear divide. Terrorism is still an issue, although one that now seems oddly quaint and almost safe in comparison. We still don't have reforms we need for domestic programs, we're spending money faster than we can print it, and the administration has grown fond of using the Constitution to wipe its well-upholstered, lobbyist besotted-ass.

We're an omnipotent being and we don't know how the hell to get out of this mess. It's so large and complex I'm not sure a really smart person could pull our ass out of the fire...and George's report cards from Yale reveal what a smart guy he is.

No ladies and gentlemen, our ass is in the fire. We have zero good options and damn few even acceptable options. Whatever happens, we're in for a rough ride.

We're beginning to think maybe the survivalists just had the wrong year back in Y2K. Maybe the real problems are right now in Y2.06K.

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Monday, March 20, 2006

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