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May 8, 2004
NYT: Abandon Ship

Roger Cohen signals our surrender in tomorrow's New York Times, arguing that the Abu Ghraib scandal has so damaged our credibility that our best option is to pull up stakes and crawl back home:

A military defeat is a damaging thing, and Iraq remains a tense battleground. But a moral one may be more devastating and more enduring for a power like the United States that has long held that its actions are driven, at least in part, by the desire to be a force for good with a liberating mission for all humanity.

It is precisely such a rout of the American idea that now confronts the United States in Iraq. The world is asking what sort of liberation is represented by an American woman holding a prone, naked Iraqi man on a leash in Saddam Hussein's Abu Ghraib prison, of all places. No matter that the offenders represent a tiny minority of the American military or that torture may be common in Arab jails. Such images will be held aloft for many years whenever America declares itself determined to right a wrong.

"This is the most serious setback for the American military since Vietnam," said Richard Holbrooke, a former United States ambassador to the United Nations in the Clinton administration. "We now have to admit that the American position is untenable." In Europe, some people are saying that if America were a country of 10 million people, its leaders would be hauled before an international criminal court.

The conclusions drawn here are ludicrous; Abu Ghraib, while a tremendous embarrassment to the US, bears no resemblance to a military defeat. Nor does it make the American presence untenable, unless the US does nothing to stop it, which it has. Holbrooke hardly represents an unbiased view -- he's working for the John Kerry campaign, a fact not mentioned until almost the end of the article. His statements here demonstrate the strategy a Kerry administration would take on the war -- which would be to give up every time you have a setback.

Cohen displays an odd sense of war and its history:

In unsuccessful wars, a certain rot tends to set in. The first 100 days are often critical; after that, it is harder to regain the initiative. So whatever America does now, it is facing a rising tide of not easily reversible resistance and doing so in a country whose stability is tenuous.

For Cohen's benefit, here's a list of what 100 days into a war gets you:

World War II: In the Pacific theater, Japan seized Rangoon after a series of successful raids in the entire theater. The first American "victory" of WWII in the Pacific doesn't come until April 18th, 1942 (Doolittle's Tokyo Raid), more than 120 days after Pearl Harbor. No territory lost to the Japanese is actually regained until Guadalcanal landings in August of that year.

In the European/North African theater, it takes almost a year before the US attacks the Nazis, landing in North Africa in November 1942. 100 days later, the Americans got their notorious introduction to world warfare by getting shellacked at Kasserine Pass. Americans stumble through until springtime before finally winning a major battle.

In World War I, after the initial offensive by Germany stalls out at the Battle of the Marne in 1915, neither side achieves any breakthrough for years, fighting along entrenched positions and unable to dislodge the other.

Korean War: The North invades the South on June 25, 1950. For most of the first 100 days, US and UN forces fall back as the North Koreans win battle after battle. At the end of 100 days, the momentum swings dramatically after the Inchon landings. On October 9th, the UN forces push the NoKos all the way back across the 38th parallel and invade the North. However, the Chinese jump into the fray, which results in the three-year fight to a stalemate at the 38th Parallel.

Far from being an indication of success or failure, the first 100 days of a war tell you practically nothing about its eventual conclusion, at least for the past century. In the case of this war, however, Cohen fails to note that both the Taliban and the Saddam regime fell far sooner than 100 days after initial military engagement. In fact, these two phases of the war on terror have been unprecedented for their success -- 50 million people liberated from tyrannies with the loss of less than 1,000 battle casualties.

For a solution to our supposedly unwinnable predicament, what does Cohen recommend? He doesn't. Instead, he busies himself explaining all the drawbacks of the three options he sees open to us, which are to leave the Iraqis to entirely fend for themselves by next year, have the UN take over, or stay and fight the insurgents. The option which draws the least amount of Cohen's attention is the UN, whose ruined credibility in the face of the rampant corruption of the Oil-For-Food Program Cohen never bothers to mention. In fact, for an example of systemic abuse of the entire Iraqi people, UNSCAM cannot be topped; it propped up Saddam Hussein and stuffed the pockets of the people running the program, all while selling out the very people the program was intended to help. If Abu Ghraib was an American Waterloo in Cohen's mind, then OFF should convince Cohen to shut down Turtle Bay altogether.

Cohen's article joins a number of shrill cries for surrender to atone for the handful of idiots at Abu Ghraib. Let the processes we have built for criminals take care of the issue as designed. No one claimed America or Americans were perfect; the difference is in how we handle those who abuse others. Instead of defeatism, we can use this opportunity to show the world our real strengths.

UPDATE: Correction: Battle of the Marne was the high-water mark of Germany, not Verdun as I had mistakenly wrote initially. Thanks to Mitch, who noted it in the comments.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 8, 2004 7:17 PM

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