Maureen Dowd on a speech by Douglas Feith, the genius who, as Dowd describes him, "drove the neocon plan to get us into Iraq, and then dawdled without a plan as Iraq crashed into chaos," or as General Tommy Franks put it, "The stupidest fucking guy on the planet":
[Feith] noted that in battles through American history, “the military fights better over time.” This from a guy who sent our military into Iraq without the right armor, the right force numbers or the right counterinsurgency training.
“A strategic alliance of the ousted Baathists and foreign jihadists was something that our intelligence community did not anticipate,” he said, continuing to spread the blame.
But the intelligence community didn’t miss it. The neocons tried to scrub out that sort of analysis, knowing it would make the war harder to sell.
I'm not so sure it was the case that the neocons worried that it would make the war harder to sell. I think it's more likely that they just didn't believe that any Iraqis would have the guts to fight back once they were sufficiently shocked and awed.
Back when we were kids, my friends and I used to have long, fierce debates on the playground about how many United States Marines it would take to defeat an attacking horde of whatever historical enemy we were interested in that day. How many Marines would it take to fight off a band of Vikings, say? Or how many Marines would it take to whup an army of Saracens or polish off a tribe of Apache warriors?
It was always a given that the Marines would win, although not necessarily handily. Vikings, Saracens, and Apaches were tough customers, that's why we picked them as the bad guys for these imaginary battles. So the question included not just how many Marines would be needed to defeat them, but how many casualties the Marines might suffer in the fight. The answer to both parts of the question was never more than 10, but never less than 3.
I don't remember our debates taking into account the fact that the Marines would be armed with automatic weapons and grenades, machine guns and mortars while the Vikings and Saracens would be armed with swords and the Apaches with bows and arrows and maybe a Winchester or two, except as signs of the Marines' superior fighting skills, as if choosing to carry an M-16 was something your average Viking would have done if he'd been smarter about picking out his weaponry for the day. At any rate, the Vikings and Saracens and Apaches always attacked in such overwhelming numbers that the Marines' weapons could be assumed to provide no real advantage. The Marines triumphed because they were American fighting men and to prove it we often allowed into the debates the possibility that they'd run out of ammo at some point and have to fight it out hand to hand, bayonets against battle axes, scimitars, and tomahawks.
Debates like this have taken place on playgrounds all over and since the invention of boys. Our tribe can whip any other tribe has always been one of the first lessons little kids in the tribe learn.
I call these arguments the Three Against a Thousand Debate after the Bob Hope routine in Fancy Pants in which Hope, as a valet pretending to be a British noblemen, regales a group of partygoers with the story of how he took part in a terrible battle to defend a fort against enemies of the Raj back in "Inja". It's a bloody tale, with bodies falling all around Hope and desperation mounting for the defenders of the fort as the implacable enemy keeps on coming and coming, undeterred by any punishment Hope and his friends can dish out, and Hope punctuates it regularly with the refrain, "Three against a thousand."
The story ends with the last of the three falling dead in the dust, which stuns Hope's audience to hear, because there's Hope, still alive to tell the tale. How did he survive? Wasn't he one of the three?
Of course the punchline to the story is, "When it was all over, we all agreed that those were three of the toughest blighters we'd ever fought."
Feith was one of the chief neo-cons who are still directing the Bush League's thinking, such as it is, on foreign and military policy. And I believe that the neo-cons are the kids who grew up believing that a fundamental truth was decided in those playground debates, which is:
A handful of United States Marines can whip any other tribe's warriors anytime, anywhere, no matter the odds.
There's more to being a neo-con than this, but a basic principle of neo-conservativism is that American military supremacy ought to be the basis of our entire foreign policy. Neo-cons believe, essentially, that a handful of Marines can whip any other tribe at any time, and all other nations on earth ought to know this, respect it, fear it, and defer to us because of it. But because our enemies are often forgetful of this fact, or too stupid to believe it, it is necessary for us to routinely demonstrate it by picking out some country to beat up on.
This is the principle behind Thomas Friedman's Suck On This argument rationalization of the invasion (and demolishing) of Iraq.
We needed to go over there, basically, um, and um, uh, take out a very big state right in the heart of that world and burst that bubble, and there was only one way to do it.
One of the neo-cons' reasons for going to war in Iraq was to shove that fact down the throats of leaders in Iran and Syria, not to mention North Korea and China. It's an important goal of their planned war on Iran---scaring the Chinese and, because they might need some scaring too, the Russians.
The problem with this notion, besides its arrogance, essential childishness, sheer bloody-mindedness, and the bully boy's cowardice that's at the heart of it---you don't feel a need to run around scaring everybody else unless you are terrified of them---is that it doesn't take into account the probability that other tribe's warriors, the ones who are supposed to be easily whipped by a handful of United States Marines, are made up of young men who grew up having their own Three Against a Thousand Debates on their playgrounds.
We can whip one tribe's warriors and then turn to the next tribe and say, "See how easily we took care of them?"
And all the next tribe is likely to do is shrug and say, "Of course you did. They're a bunch of creampuffs. Five of our guys could have wiped them out with their right hands tied behind their backs."
The evil and the built-in failure of the neo-con world view derives from the way it turns foreign policy into a constant debate between ten year old boys with guns and bombs and it never considers that the punchline of any of those debates might be that sometimes the other side will include three of the toughest blighters you ever fought.
Just an aside on the way kids' minds work: Me, above: "So the question included not just how many Marines would be needed to defeat them, but how many casualties the Marines might suffer in the fight. The answer to both parts of the question was never more than 10, but never less than 3."
Think about this and you'll quickly figure out that sometimes we allowed ourselves to imagine that all the Marines would die in the fight. This didn't bother us or change our thinking. After all, we all knew that the Alamo was a victory for the Texans. And the last man to fall was always the Marine who'd polished off the last Viking, Saracen, or Apache, and he died of his wounds, stoically as the US cavalry finally appeared coming over the hill.
For further reading: Chris Floyd on Thomas Friedman and his Pottery Barn Rule of Warfare.
Hat-tip to Molly Ivors.