Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2005-6

It's a measure of how rotten Katrina was that talking about Iraq is a welcome distraction.
Especially if it's Morrie the Critic leading the discussion …



Alexis Gilliland

"What ought the Democrats to do about the war in Iraq?" I asked. "Advocating a pullout ASAP looks like admitting defeat, and we can hardly advocate doing more than Bush is doing to win the damn thing." We were sitting in a booth overlooking the parking lot beside La Cantina Salvadorena.

"As the opposition party you guys don't have to do anything," Morrie declared, resting his elbows on the yellow formica table. "And, in fact, you couldn't if you were dumb enough to try - the Republicans wouldn't let you get to square one. What you need to do is oppose, and the best way to do that is to tell the truth with bad intent."

I took a sip of beer. "What do you mean?"

"Partisan politics, Max. Remember how old Newt went after President Clinton? No suspicion was left unaired, and the Newtser never quit until Clinton was impeached. After Clinton's acquittal, then he quit. You Democrats, you don't need suspicions, because you have the public record, all the facts you need in cold print and hot videotape, but it will still be partisan politics. What you need to do is go on the attack and make political hay out of the fact that this war is Bush's War, it was his choice, his legacy, his gift to the American people. It was what he wanted to do, and he pulled out all the stops to make it happen. Inconvenient facts that would have aborted the war were ignored, and the people presenting them were fired, like Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki; or discredited, like Joseph Wilson, the husband of Valerie Plame, the CIA agent who was outed by Karl Rove; or ignored, like Tony Blair, who signed on early but was still unable to make himself heard."

"One thing at a time," I said, putting down my glass. "Valerie Plame I remember, but what was the problem with her husband, again?"

Morrie sort of smiled and sat back from the table. "In the run up to the war, Bush gave 23 reasons for invading Iraq, and prominent among them were those alleged WMDs, the Weapons of Mass Destruction which the evil Hussein had stashed around his country. We went in, but we never found them, and the explanation for that was, well, yes, we were mistaken, but it was a reasonable mistake, given our intelligence at the time." He crunched a corn chip. "One of the supporting assertions for those WMDs - a subplot if you will - was that Hussein had tried to buy yellowcake - uranium oxide - from Nigeria, so Joe Wilson was sent over to Nigeria to check out if this had ever happened, and he reported back that no, it had not. At which point the White House, not wishing to hear the message, moved to discredit the messenger. Was this an isolated instance? No. Dick Cheney used to go over to CIA headquarters to badger the mid-level analysts into supporting the official line instead of reality, which goes a long way towards explaining why our intelligence was so crappy."

"Okay, if Cheney and Rove were out massaging the intelligence, they probably weren't the only ones, and a case can be made that Bush was given the intelligence he wanted to see, but General Shinseki wasn't fired," I replied. "He retired after 38 years, a long and distinguished career."

Morrie refilled his plastic glass from the plastic pitcher. "Testifying on the impending Iraq war, the general told Congress that the occupation and pacification of Iraq would take several hundred thousand troops, when the plan called for only 100,000. The Pentagon sent in their heavy hitters, Paul Wolfowitz (who had been advocating the overthrow of Saddam Hussein for years) and Donald Rumsfeld, to rebut and refute him. You could look it up, but I think that was when Dick Cheney, the man who lent gravitas to the ticket, declared we would be welcomed with open arms as liberators and the occupation would be a piece of cake. There is all sorts of evidence that this optimism was pervasive."

"What sort of evidence?"

"Early on, some fool went on record saying the war would pay for itself because of Iraq's oil, and the Pentagon was talking about cutting the ground forces to 50,000 by the end of the first year. More tangibly, there were the spoils the victors expected to disburse; all those billions of dollars of contracts awarded to well-connected companies that were unable to honor them because of the continuing - and unexpected - fighting. Congress voted the money, yes, but most of it never got spent. Anyway, after all that vigorous rebuttal, came the announcement that Shinseki would be retiring in November. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said he had put in for retirement, but Shinseki said he was forced to retire when he was on the short list to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Why? Because if Congress had believed him, if they were going to act on his highly professional advice, Bush would have needed a bigger army to invade Iraq than he had available, and therefore the invasion would have had to be deferred if not cancelled."

"How big is our army, anyway?"

"Umm, you could look it up - about 500,000 regular Army and 700,000 reservists, I think. Given our world-wide commitments, those guys are stretched real thin with the 130,000 troops presently committed to Iraq. So a deployment of 3 or 400,000 would have been out of the question, unless you built up the size of the army first."

I ate a corn chip. "Could that have even been done?"

"As a volunteer army? Maybe." Morrie considered the question. "Only it would have taken time. Figure that after 9/11 Bush had a window of opportunity when he could have said we needed to increase the size of our army by maybe a third, back up to the size it had been before Clinton balanced the budget by cutting back on defense spending. Because the public felt we were at war, it wouldn't have taken a big push to get it done, and Bush could have shown he was serious by raising taxes to pay for it. It would have involved the public with the so-called war on terror, and by the time we had taken Afghanistan, you would have had all these warm bodies in the pipeline. The raw recruits would have been available to replace the fully trained soldiers going to the front while they continued their own training in the rear."

"Play differently, lose differently," I agreed. "Bush wasn't going to raise taxes, he never asked the public to make sacrifices, and Rumsfeld said you got to go to war with the army you have. Anyway, over at the State Department, all the fuss they made about policing post-invasion Iraq was ignored for the same reason they fired Shinseki?"

"It was ignored, certainly. The Army didn't want to do it because it was hard, and the Bushies were too caught up in the fun of invading Iraq to worry about the aftermath. After taking Afghanistan, Iraq was overreaching, because Bush didn't have the manpower to police Iraq after successfully invading it. But he ignored the experts at State, just like he ignored Shinseki, because he was hell bent to invade Iraq."

"And when Tony Blair tried to tell him the same thing, Bush had already decided he wasn't going to hear anything that meant he couldn't invade? That makes sense. But why did Bush want to invade so badly?"

A long sigh. "One of my editors in New York, a very intelligent lady, even if she is a New York liberal, suggested penis envy, that Bush wanted to show that he had a bigger cock than his father, who had had the righteous opportunity to invade Iraq and shamefully failed to take advantage of it."

"That's ridiculous," I laughed.

"Well, yes. And I said the same thing, only at somewhat greater length," Morrie replied, taking a sip of beer. "To which her rebuttal was that I was defending the male sex in general, but not Bush in particular, and I had to concede that she was right about my argument, even though I still disagreed with her. So then she asked me if I had a better explanation to offer, and I couldn't think of anything at the time. Nor later, neither, as it happens. See, the problem is that if good old Dubya had been rationally motivated he wouldn't have rejected the rational argument that America didn't have a big enough army to occupy and pacify the post-invasion Iraq - a necessary condition for making a successful invasion. Which means that rationally he shouldn't have gone to war. From which it logically follows that he went to war for an irrational - a crazy reason, only for some other crazy reason than what my editor gave."

"You don't think it could have been euphoria induced by the prospect of fighting an easily won war against a hated enemy?"

Morrie shook his head. "Probably not, no. We should assume that the euphoria inducing optimism induced by Bush's inner circle was the effect rather than the cause for his decision to go to war."

"Going to war is a very emotional business," I conceded. "Nobody goes to war thinking they are going to lose, and once the die is cast hoping for the best is natural."

"So it is, Max, so it is. When Bush went prancing around on that aircraft carrier in front of the 'Mission Accomplished' sign the White House had sent along, he thought it had been, because that was as far as he'd bothered thinking," he continued. "Anyway, Bush did what he wanted to do, even if it turned out that his war wasn't going to be over until the enemy said it was over.

"So now he has to go around the country making speeches trying to drum up support for a war - his war - when support for the war is way down." He mopped some spilled beer off the formica tabletop with a couple of napkins, and set his glass on a dry napkin. "Like about 60 percent are opposed, and only 22 percent think we should stay in Iraq for as long as it takes. The people can see the war is going nowhere because that's what it's been doing since the first month or so. Speeches to friendly audiences may comfort those audiences, but do not necessarily persuade them, let alone move the rest of the country."

"Has Bush said what his objective there was? What we had to get done before we could go home?"

"Ah, Max. What the paper said was that he would never settle for 'less than total victory over the terrorists and their hateful ideology'," Morrie replied at last. "To me it looks like he is as disconnected with reality coming out of Iraq as he was going in. How can we even know when that thing happens? He also cited the number of our war dead, and compared them with the heroic dead of World War II."

I smiled and took a sip of beer. "But not to the poor bastards that got themselves killed in Vietnam, eh?"

He spread his hands and shrugged. "Well, now, in their hearts even the Republicans know Iraq isn't going to have a happy ending, and GOP Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nam veteran, has come out and said that Iraq is starting to look an awful lot like Vietnam. So maybe Bush can ignore the Vietnam analogy when the Democrats make it, but he can't ignore it when Hagel does."

"Fine fellow that Hagel is, the White House disagrees with his analysis. "I washed a corn chip down with a swallow of beer. "Hagel is from Nebraska, which is about as red a state as you can find. But he looks to be going with the numbers, and I expect he has a lot of support in the GOP for that reason."

Morrie nodded. "The GOP has good reason to be antsy, because the Democrats can hardly avoid making the 2006 election a referendum on Bush's War, and maybe Bush doesn't have to sweat re-election, but the GOP has to worry about losing a few seats here and there."

"Maybe more than a few, but what would we Democrats do if we took control of the Senate and/or the House?"

He sat back and laughed. "Rejoice of course. But that's putting the cart before the horse. First you need to oppose. You were worried that an ASAP pullout would make the US look bad? We already look bad, and acting belatedly sensible wouldn't make us look worse. Anyway, the main argument against a pullout is inertia, that we have to stay in Iraq because we're already there. Or maybe you think a pullout would be admitting defeat?" I put down my empty glass and nodded. "No. What we would be declaring is that our beloved President, inside that bubble of his, where was heard a discouraging word, he made a boo-boo. Bush gave the army a job to do, but he never gave them the resources they needed to do it."

"We already discussed resources," I said. "At this point, it isn't possible to lay hold of them. Not with a volunteer army, anyway, and Bush has already ruled out the draft. The problem is that any pullout, whether ASAP or to some close-in deadline would damage US interests."

"For the sake of argument I will concede that point," he replied coolly, "although the US has many interests, and some of them would clearly benefit from a withdrawal. The rebuttal is that remaining in place also damages US interests. So you have to weigh the net losses from pulling out against the losses from staying. My sense is that the losses from pulling out are pretty much fixed, while the losses from staying will get bigger as time goes by, like that half trillion dollars the war has cost so far."

"Bush has made a career combining heroic tax cuts with incontinent spending, Morrie," I told him. "So far it seems to have worked just fine."

I got his reluctant nod of agreement. "There is also the rising death toll, currently above 2,000."

"That death toll is demographically insignificant, right?"

"Oy gevalt! You sound like a Republican, Maxele. The death toll is not insignificant to the people doing the dying, the soldiers who volunteered for the damn duty. Right?"

Puzzled, I looked at him. "And your point is?"

"It has to do with morale, with esprit de corps. Retired General Barry McCaffey came back from a fact-finding tour with a warning the Army Reserve is in danger of a meltdown within two years time." Morrie finished his glass of beer. "Why? Abuse is why, abuse and overuse. Some reserve units have been sent to Iraq on 48 hours notice instead of the 30 days they were supposed to have, and others have pulled 18 months duty in the last two years instead of the 9 to 12 months over five years they ought to be pulling. And it isn't just the reserves. In the regular army the noncoms, the sergeants and corporals who keep things running, when they finally have a chance to get out after all those repeated stop loss orders that were keeping them in after their enlistments had expired, maybe ninety percent of them are not re-enlisting, and they aren't joining the reserves, either."

"Well, they've been overworked, maybe, but it's only temporary."

"Do you think so? Try keeping that army in place until we get the total victory over terrorists that Bush says he wants, and you won't have an army. At least you won't have a volunteer army, because the soldiers, eventually they won't put up with it. Well hell, they already aren't putting up with it. As Kipling wrote, 'We had a kettle, we let it leak, our not repairing it made it worse. We haven't had any tea for a week, the bottom is out of the Universe.' Our army is leaking volunteers faster than replacements can be recruited, and if we let things go on the numbers will go down so far that the US will have to pull out of Iraq because we won't have enough warm bodies to stay in place." He caught the waitress' eye and gestured for the check. "Actually, I don't think the generals are going to let that happen, Max. Bush told them to go in, and they went in, but when they tell him the US has to pull out of Iraq for the good of the army, Bush is going to declare victory and pull us the hell out."

I left a dollar for the tip and stood up. "At which point telling the truth with bad intent would be seriously unpatriotic, but we're probably going to do it anyway."


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