Boca Raton—translated, “rat’s mouth”—Florida. The Republican candidates met at Boca Raton for another in the long series of debates agreeing to not disagree. In fact they fell over each other praising ‘Ol Two-Cows’ vying for the right to carry the party standard unadulterated by either reason or inconvenient truth. Marshall McCain led the pack declaring success in Iraq thereby committing his party, through nomination, and his country, through election, to an open ended commitment to endless war. Openly declaring that not a single general has found fault with the present military campaign, the good Marshall of Tombstone called for vigorous military operations. Not to be outdone, Huckleberry Mike looked into the camera and with a straight face told us bluntly that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, we just didn’t find them. Having hid them like Easter eggs on the White House lawn, he spirited them away to ‘Jordan’ as we invaded the country. This was a complete revelation to the intelligence community, not to mention King Abdul of Jordan—a staunch ally of ours—who is either rolling in laughter or terrified beyond imagination at the prospect of radical groups harboring such weapons, heretofore unbeknownst to him, within his own borders. No one present challenged such boldface assertions. Romney simply nodded and Giuliani muttered ‘ditto’ into an open mike.
“I can see by your eyes you must be lying
When you think I don’t have a clue
Baby you’re crazy
If you think that you can fool me
Because I’ve seen that movie too”
Flashback to 1966-67. General Westmoreland assuring the President and the nation that there is ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. The President lifts these statements uncritically from the General’s remarks and repeats them to a wary nation desperately wanting to believe that the worst had passed. Then, in early 1968, came the Tet Offensive shattering the illusions of war and forcing the nation to realize that we had not taken the first step toward a solution. So much wasted life, so much wasted treasure, so very far to go.
Historically this country has not done well when dealing with insurrections. It took decades and, by some estimates, over a million lives to establish some kind of stability in the Philippines. Nor were we a marked success in Nicaragua or Cuba. We are not alone. The British experience in Iraq, Israel, and elsewhere; the French experience in Algeria and Indochina; the Belgian experience in the Congo, reveal the long and bitter struggles of the Western powers to impose their will by force. These wars exhibit surprisingly similar characteristics: low intensity urban conflict, unconventional warfare, political and economic destabilization, immense loss of life—especially to the civilian populations—and they go on for very long periods of time.
The military has now been stretched, by some Pentagon estimates, to the ‘breaking point’. All know, including our adversaries, that this escalation—this so-called ‘surge’—cannot be sustained. Troop strength must be reduced to pre-surge levels by the fourth quarter of this year. It remains to be seen what will happen when our force level is reduced. Will the Iraqi government step up and take our place? Will we be able to ‘stand-down’ as they ‘stand-up? Our experience in Indo-China, Afghanistan and elsewhere is not encouraging for we have not, historically, been very good at counterinsurgency—at least not since the days of Kit Carson.
What is troubling about Marshall McCain is that he leaves no room for diplomacy; no room for negotiation. Historically the British ended up negotiating with Collins and the IRA; the Israeli’s ended up negotiating with Arafat and the PLO; the French ended up negotiating with the insurgents in Algeria; and both the French and the Americans ended up negotiating with Ho Chi Minh, and the Viet Minh, in Viet Nam. There are no military solutions to our quagmire in the Middle East; there are only political solutions. In the absence of supporting or establishing a genuine regime enjoying popular support we must talk with our adversaries. Instead, Marshall McCain—who has never met a war he didn’t like—led the republican pack in the blood-lust for continued war.
Meanwhile, ‘Ol Two-Cows’ made the predictable pilgrimage to the Middle East, in an erstwhile effort to establish some kind of ‘legacy’ by searching for the ‘Holy Grail’—that ever elusive peace accord. His trip was cut short as he rushed back to Washington to soothe a jittery investment community. It was announced last week that an agreement had been reached with Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on a 150 billion dollar stimulus package. All the Republican candidates expressed support, except Congressman Ron Paul who was a Libertarian in a former incarnation. Indeed most of them called for greater spending to head off an impending economic downturn. Romney headed this discussion but the most telling and perceptive comment of the night came, perhaps, from Huckleberry. Pointing out that we will probably end up borrowing the 150 billion dollars from China and spending the 150 billion dollars on Chinese imports, the Arkansan rightly asked “whose economy is going to be stimulated”? A very prescient point once again demonstrating that out of the mouth of babes comes an occasional word of wisdom; for such is our present predicament.
And such was the high-point of the Republican understanding of our economic troubles. Romney held the stage with long digressions on his economic experience genuflecting before the free market and chanting the Republican tax cut mantra promising that if Hillary is elected she will raise taxes and spending. This is red meat to the party faithful but does nothing to further the conversation about precisely how one gets out of this woeful economic mess. It does nothing to explain how more corporate tax cuts are going to help the struggling middle class. It did, however, give Romney a chance to hold the stage, demonstrate superior mastery of conservative economic misunderstandings and look presidential. He also got a chance to lead the Republican pack in savaging the Clintons who are not contestants in this race. This latest audition, straight from the rat’s mouth, left me empty-handed. Romney and McCain looked slick, Huck played the court jester, and Giuliani looked like he wanted to be back in the swamps.
“So keep your auditions for somebody
Who hasn’t got so much to lose
‘Cause you can tell by the lines I’m reciting
That I’ve seen that movie too.” ----Elton John, “I’ve Seen That Movie Too”.