Its a minor point

June 19, 2006 3:40 pm

It’s a minor point, all things considered. But like a number of readers I can’t help but flag White House spokesman Tony Snow’s witless comparison of ‘staying the course’ in Iraq to WWII’s Battle of the Bulge.

The president understands people’s impatience — not impatience but how a war can wear on a nation. He understands that. If somebody had taken a poll in the Battle of the Bulge, I dare say people would have said, ‘Wow, my goodness, what are we doing here?’ But you cannot conduct a war based on polls.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the reference, the Battle of the Bulge took place as the Allies were moving across France and Belgium several months after D-Day. The Germans launched a counter-offensive the strategic objective of which was to force the allies to give up their goal of unconditional German surrender and force them to come to some sort of negotiated peace. The German effort was initially successful, opening up a large salient or ‘bulge’ within the allied lines. But the allies eventually recovered the lost ground. And I believe the general consensus is that the whole battle greatly accelerated the Nazis’ eventual collapse because they lost a lot of armor and other resources in the effort.

In any case, you don’t need to know those details to understand one key fact. The Battle of the Bulge began in the middle of December 1944. And it was over by the end of January 1945. So the whole thing lasted less than six weeks. It must have been an eternity for the American and British soldiers in this incredibly hard-fought battle in sub-zero temperatures. But in terms of time, or what Snow terms ‘impatience’, it’s simply not comparable to the last three years in Iraq.

As for polls, I don’t know about public polls. But the US government kept very detailed tabs on public opinion and war morale through the war. So I suspect something at least analogous to Snow’s hypothetical poll was done. And I’m confident that it showed very few if anyone saying anything like that.

Snow’s point isn’t just historically silly, it’s morally obtuse and cynical. It shows as much contempt for the public as the White House seems to have for our soldiers in the field. For the United States, the situation in Iraq is close to unprecedented in the last century in terms of the duration of time an American president has left a war policy on autopilot while more and more evidence comes in that it’s simply not working. Even in Vietnam, for all the mistakes the US made there, Richard Nixon kept escalating the conflict. There’s at least some strategic movement on the policy brain scan. I’m not saying that’s preferable. And I don’t want to get into an argument about bombing Cambodia. But it is at least different from letting a flawed policy grind through money and men for three years because you don’t have the moral courage to rethink it or adjust course. It’s denial elevated to the level of high principle.

Remember what the president said: getting out of Iraq is something that’s going to be up to the next president. He or she can get started in 2009.

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