Monday, January 19, 2009

Oh, the Suspense!

Did you ever read one of those newspaper articles, and think, OK, well, nothing unusual about that... but then later on, suddenly go “whaaa???” This happened to me the other day, and it concerned an article about the Department of Defense, AKA The Pentagon (even though, officially, the building is called “Pentagon”, with no “the” -- bet you didn't know that, did you?). It seems that they are preparing "contingency plans” in case President Obama orders an immediate withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. Well sure, makes perfect sense – civilian control of the military and all that. They always have to be ready to stop and turn on a dime any time a politician says so.

But consider, for a moment, the implications. For one thing, it's well known that the Obama “transition team” has been working the economic sector in minute detail for months – talking to legislators, economists, financial leaders, experts of all sorts. They have developed detailed plans as to how to handle, i.e. continue, the massive bailout and – for all intents and purposes – government takeover of most of the major elements of the financial sector, not to mention the auto industry. No issue has been too fine or too trivial to have escaped their attention. And, basically, they are shooting for a seamless transition between Bush-style fascism and Obama-style fascism, when it comes to the economy.

Now contrast this, if you will, with the spectacle of the Defense Department having NO IDEA AT ALL what Obama intends to do with regard to the war in Iraq. Apparently no meetings have been held, no one has spoken to anyone, no plans have been developed, and as far as our military is concerned there is a very real possibility that, within 24 hours, they will be ordered out of Iraq – every man jack, or woman jill, of them, along with all their equipment, supplies, weapons, ammunition, vehicles, electrocuting showers... the whole works.

So... is this situation for real? Or are we seeing some sort of political charade being played out? Well, what is the usual answer to that question? What, in short, is the Defense Department trying to pull, making an announcement of this sort? Did they announce, just before Nixon took office in 1969, that they were in a “wait and see” posture regarding whether to continue the war in Vietnam? Crazy, right? So what's going on this time?

Well, for one thing, the U.S. military really does believe in civilian control. It is drummed into them from their first day on duty, and woe be unto anyone who questions this core doctrine. It is said a million times a day in a million ways – the military doesn't decide things. They don't play at statecraft. They don't dictate to the civilian leadership; in fact they don't even mildly suggest. If pressed, they might -- “might” -- provide some tentative speculation as to the likely consequences of given initiatives and strategies, but they are hard pressed to even do that. Did anyone scream bloody murder when Bush ordered our military into Iraq, for example? Anyone with a grain of military sense, or a sense of history, could have told you that it would be an utter disaster – which indeed it was, and is. But never was heard a discouraging word on the Bush ranch. So in we went.

See, here's the thing. No one in the military ever got punished (i.e. non-promoted or forced into early retirement) for not giving advice or for not speaking up. Never! Not once! But plenty of military members have been severely sanctioned for their failure to keep their mouths shut. And in those cases, you get punished more for being right than for being wrong. So the best thing to do, even when confronted with the most hare-brained order, is to click your heels, salute, do a smart about-face, and march out the door en route to your staging area. This is the military culture of our time. So.... what the military is trying to accomplish by making this “preparedness” announcement is, number one, to affirm that it is, in fact, ready, willing, and able to follow the orders of its civilian superiors, unto the complete reversal of an already well-established course if need be. (If Truman had changed his mind about dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima when the bomb was halfway to the ground, you can bet that the “Enola Gay” would have turned around and tried to fly under it and catch it in a net before it reached detonation altitude. That's just the way things are, and always have been.)

But there's a bit more to it than this. There's also that little thing known, colloquially, as “ass covering”. The military is, in effect, saying “Hey, this war was not our idea, so don't blame us. We've been following Bush's orders all this time, but we're every bit as willing to follow Obama's orders, and if he wants us outta there, we're outta there, period, full stop. We are not running the show -- nope, not us, unh unh.” And this makes perfect sense, given that one of the many myths about the Vietnam war is that it was “the military's idea”. Once again, anyone with a grain of sense could have predicted that Vietnam would turn out to be the briar patch, the tar baby, and a huge pool of quicksand all rolled into one. But hey, there were medals involved, and promotions, and a chance to try out new weapons, so click, salute, and off we go. The problem is, it's the military who have to do the shooting, and the bombing, and all the other loud and destructive things that go along with conflict, with the result that it's the military who are the immediate cause of civilian deaths and injuries, destruction of property, and so on, with the result that, to the simple-minded, it's the military who are responsible for the consequences of war – especially its failures. The doughy, out-of-shape guys in the power suits in Washington never lift a finger in anger, so somehow they get off scot free, even though they're the ones who gave the orders.

And I can't end this discussion without pointing out that, as far as the war in Iraq is concerned, the fix is in, Obama-wise. He's not going to get us out of there any faster than Bush would have. Well OK, he might get us out of there in less than 100 years (re: McCain), but that's small consolation. And, as I've predicted before, his more leftist supporters are going to go into convulsions when they find out it's just business as usual in Iraq for the foreseeable future. I wonder how many of those attending the inauguration tomorrow really and truly believe that the troops will be home by next week. I'd feel more sorry for them if they didn't show every sign of _wanting_ to be fooled, in every possible way, at every possible opportunity.

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