Saturday, December 09, 2006

ISG: Iraqi Study Group, or Incontinent Senile Geezers?

Yes, I have seen the list of names, and I have seen the resumes of the Grumpy Old Men on the ISG, and I am not impressed. Yes, they are all successful in their fields, they are all (former) leaders of government, and involved in deep and weighty issues of importance to the American people. But none have been in uniform since I was born. Their perspective militarily was fixed in Vietnam, and thus their prism for understanding the present conflict is colored to see the insurgents wearing black pajamas and broad straw hats. That is, if they can remember that far back.

Let's be honest. This groups has told us that the situation in Iraq is "grave and deteriorating". What next? "The Pope is Catholic", "The Sky is Blue", "Snoop Dogg smokes dope", "Bears crap in the woods". Their recommendations are equally stunning. My favorite, still, is inviting Iran and Syria, two of the biggest supporters of terrorism in the region (now that Saddam is gone), to the table to talk. Wow, we can commit violence against America and her allies, and we get invited to take part in shaping the future of a fledgling democracy! Brilliant! Maybe the Christians in the Sudan should blow up a few American holdings, if only to get us to talk to them.

However, I am too harsh. I can only assume that these inept offerings come as a result of the inability to concentrate on the part of these venerable folks for any period of time, because they were more worried about making it to the toilet before they made in their pants. Or perhaps they were under pressure to make to the early bird special at Denny's. I understand you can get good mileage out of your AARP card there.

I realize I should have greater respect for the wisdom of my elders. But I have to question if they in fact have any. The term senate comes from the word senex, meaning old man. The senate in Rome was the body of old men who were to be the advisors for the kings, and later the consuls. The idea was that they brought with them a measure of wisdom, due to their age. I suppose that is the assumption in this case as well. But if a tree is known by its fruit, as they say, then this group is dumber than a Massachusetts liberal (how hard is it to figure out the brake from the gas?).

Perhaps the issue is one of age. Or rather, of mindset. I don't advocate youth for the simple reason that youth brings benefits, but that there may be a change in mindset, not necessarily hampered by the assumptions of previous phases of American foreign policy history.

One example of this mindset shift can be found in the biography Boyd, about an Air Force officer who developed a set of briefings on strategic thinking that were truly revolutionary, and have affected the thinking of a generation of soldiers and Marines. Unfortunately, this generation still remains below the general grade, so their influence at the White House level remains slim. But this group would be the ones to turn to for a new solution. They specialize in finding the way to shift the strategic moment to their advantage, and that is what we need right now, not the help of terrorist dictatorships.

This shouldn't be taken to mean that diplomacy has no place, simply that diplomacy should be considered one tool among others that may be used to achieve our final objective. And that is the first question to ask: What is our objective in Iraq? Is it victory, or stasis? What is victory? We toppled Saddam, and have assisted in several free elections, but is there a further step to define victory? Stable government, an eradication of terrorism world wide, cheap oil? What are our obstacles? Are the Iraqis a help or a hindrance? Who are our enemies?

It strikes me that the ISG hasn't taken these questions into account. They don't ask what is needed to achieve victory, nor what victory can be considered to be. If we want to make a comprehensive review, these are questions that must be asked.

Unless of course this panel is not meant to be taken seriously, by either side. This may be another example of Washington political theater, and a way to keep some senior citizens busy. They should have rented a bus and taken them to Atlantic City. The results probably would have been more worthwhile.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

JRR Tolkein as a prophet?

As I have been reading The Lord of the Rings to my children, it is dawning on me that JRR Tolkein was a prophet. Beyond the simple themes of concern for the green spaces of the world, and his desire to write an epic for the English people, he wove prophecy into his story. A common (and incorrect) assumption many have concerning Tolkein is that he wrote LOTR as an allegory of the Second World War. While elements from that war wend their way through the story, World War One exercised a greater influence on his development as a writer. Hence his emphasis on the green spaces, his fear of industrialism and centralization. He created a world entering the shadows of an age, a time when all that is beautiful is in danger of being lost, and those called to act are too weak to meet the challenge. A ring is found, that promised power to its possessor. Men crave it, the elves fear it, and a hobbit carries it. The enemy who seeks this ring resides in the east, and calls allies from further east to meet the powers of the west: the elves, who are aloof to the sufferings of mortals, the men, whose once noble blood has degenerated, leaving valiant but weaker scions of once noble houses, and the hobbits, who desire nothing more than to reside in their quiet green bit of land far away from the concerns of men. All races come to the call, and face the growing threat in the east, and ultimately destroy it. And here we are. A rising threat from the east: Islam. The nations of the west, called to act in defense of civilization, but too weak to do so. The nobility of the European soul is spent. The nations of Churchill and Montgomery, LeClerc and DeGaulle are gone. America, home of Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton, is gone. In their places are lesser sons of greater fathers. Our generations would not have faced the Nazi threat. Our generations would not have taken Surabachi. But here we are, faced with a greater challenge than our fathers. In this challenge to civilization, there is also a loss of the green spaces on earth. There is a loss of the things that make nations, states, shires, different from one another. Globalization has taken the neighborhood pub, replacing it with a TGI RubyMcChiligans. Untrammeled building expand the suburbs farther and farther out, bringing down trees, destroying open fields, dirtying streams and rivers. "No one cares for the trees anymore," laments Treebeard. He could have been speaking about our times. So what is there to do? We must fight an enemy, Islam, with poor weapons. Our world is coming down around us, our civilization is entering the shadows. It seems apparent that Tolkein saw this, so perhaps we can turn to him again for advice. We fear the times that we face, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." And so it is. Do we choose to hide from the looming danger, or to face it? The comforting thought in all of this is that, at least in The Lord of the Rings, good triumphs, and a new golden age begins. So it comes to us. What will we do with the time that is given us?