Thursday, December 07, 2006

The President's Analyst?

One of the vogue definitions of insanity is repeatedly performing the same task and expecting a different result. George W. Bush needs a psychiatrist. He appears to be the only guy in the world who actually thinks "victory" is possible in Iraq. And he refuses to follow the sage advice of a non-partisan blue ribbon investigatory committee joining those who say that it is time to get out of Iraq. Bush appears to be getting truly desperate, employing an old Vietnam era trick designed to convince the skeptics that the war is winable: the body count.

Standing in front of the joint chiefs in the Pentagon press room, Bush announced that during a ten-week period from October, 2006, until the second week of December, some 5,900 enemy had been killed. He did not say who had killed them -- U.S. troops, Iraqi forces, Shiite militiamen, or Baghdad's pathetic police. This is critical in that without knowing the political alliances of those who died and who, exactly, pulled the trigger, there is no way for us to know whether the feckless Iraqi government played any part soever in the kill. As any trial attorney knows, sometimes a half truth is the worst form of lie.

Worse, body counts proved counterproductive in Vietnam. For one thing, as the My Lai massacre demonstrated, soldiers saddled with a phoney goal of wiping out just so many enemy troops are much more likely to shoot first and find out who's been killed later on. Routinely, collaterals are counted right along with the insurgents and al-Quaida types, just to satisfy the quota. The tendency of Vietnam officers to inflate the figures became almost legendary. Fibbing about the kill was the norm rather than the exception.

It also spawned perhaps the only levity to come from the Vietnam war, the spoofing of the military leadership by merry jesters who'd turn up at sit-in's, peace rallies, and even Renaissance Pleasure Faires. I personally met two of these Dadaist clowns: "Gen. Wastemoreland" and "General Hersheybar," after the commanding officer in Vietnam (Westmoreland) and the chief draft architect (Hershey), respectively. Dressed up like South American dictators bearing so many ribbons and medals you wondered how they walked, they would show up at any gathering where they could expect to boost the morale of the anti-war forces. At first, the latter were mostly dope-smoking longhairs, peaceniks. Later, though, especially after the Kent State "police riot" and, later still, Walter Cronkite's reports on what he'd seen overseas, the numbers included all manner of consciencious citizens. It was a genuine pleasure, and a great honor, to meet these generals poseurs.

But the falsifying of numbers is also redolent in a way of another, earlier ugly episode in our policitical history: the McCarthy era. Will Bush be telling the press tomorrow that, during the same period, "over 6,000 enemy were killed," and, in January, that during the same period "9,000 enemy were killed" -- during the same ten weeks? There's no sure way to "prove" that exactly 5,900 "enemy" were killed, nor do we know, from Bush, who is or is not an "enemy." In the kind of civil war going on now in Iraq, everyone would seem to be an "enemy" under a given set of circumstances.

As for Bush, I say the guy's a certifiable looney. I might advocate having him committed to a mental institution were I not more eager to see Congress bringing articles of impeachment. Among the grounds they might allege, I would certainly include the fact that he has failed to learn the lessons of history, for by such willful ignorance, Bush has condemned the American people to relive it.

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