It was close one, but last week, the U.S. lost the war in Iraq.
I only have this stack of Brit mags and newspapers to go by, but apparently, what happened is that what Dominique de Villepin began describing as a “spiral of violence” has now turned into a maelstrom of mayhem, with the U.S. military flailing wildly and ineffectively against a brave cadre of rebels in Iraq, while in Washington, Bush is taking the advice of the French, who know how to handle this kind of situation, and running for cover to insure his reelection. Meanwhile, according to Max Hastings in The Spectator, the British are “furious” at America for not being smart enough to be British.
The brave rebels bit I picked up in The Observer, where the headline “US turns wrath on resistance fighters” definitely gives terrorists a new social cache. France, I think, had “resistance fighters.” They fought Nazis. I’m told by a correspondent that NPR’s Baghdad reports use the same term–”resistance fighters”–to describe really bad truck drivers carrying serious hazmat.
To paraphrase Bill Clinton, words sometimes have meaning. That’s why the press is habitually shy about calling a terrorist a terrorist. After all, one man’s terrorist is another man’s resistance fighter, especially if the man works for the Observer.
May I digress? (It’s the weekend, after all.) Reuters is the pioneer of this kind of well-mannered nomenclature, but the news pages of the Wall Street Journal are not far behind. For years–and for all I know, to this very day–the editor of the WSJ’s “World Briefs” column refused to use the word “terrorist” to describe a terrorist. Wherever car bombs went off outside public buildings or suicide bombers mingled with casual diners, the felons were described in “World Briefs” as “rebels”, “militants” and “activists”–kind of like James Dean, Gandhi and Martin Luther King. And this all went on long after 9/11, when people described in “World Briefs” as “fundamentalists” rode planes into the World Trade Center. Hmmm. That Billy Graham character. He’s kind of fundamental, isn’t he?
Even as the Journal’s editorial page lambasted Reuters for its own whitewashing lingo, the only time I can recall seeing terrorists described as terrorists on the Journal’s front page was when one of the paper’s executives issued a statement following the murder by activists of Daniel Pearl. The exec used the T-word. The Journal quoted him, thus putting the word safely behind quotation marks, but the news side of the Journal couldn’t quite bring itself to follow suit. In the news pages of the WSJ, as in most of the European press, there may be a war on terrorism, but, fortunately, there are no terrorists. Instead, there are Americans waging war on resistance fighters.
Anyway, where were we? Right, we were discussing defeat and retreat. To learn about Bush’s desperate search for an acceptable way to say oncle!, I relied of course on the BBC, whose Paul Reynolds explained that the US is no longer looking for victory in rebuilding Iraq, but anxiously seeking to put “a viable exit strategy in place before the presidential campaign gets under way properly next year.” Of course, that is a blueprint for defeat with and political disgrace all in one neat package. But it will capture the Kucinich cohort, for sure.
As I was going through all this, I had a houseguest, a chap who had just left his prestigious, babe-magnet of a job at the San Francisco Chronicle to take up the more honorable business of writing a book about grandmothers. We discussed how America lost the war in Iraq and concluded that, really, a school bus filled with militants could defeat the United States on the ground, so long as they had a sufficient supply of landmines, rocket- and grenade-launchers and demo-derby vehicles. We figured all it takes is media-savvy sensibility, a largely hysterical press corps, and an atrocity every day or two. If you’re a rebel or militant or whatever, and you get a Hummer to roll past your bomb, you have a global PR machine primed and more than ready to promote your product–that would be the explosion–until it was a full-fledged “spiral of violence.” If you can pull that off, in a few weeks, you’ll have POTUS diving for cover.
Actually, a few days was all it took. You can follow along on the Guardian’s helpful “Timeline: Iraq” feature. There’s the morning of October 27, when a bunch of–there they are again!–”resistance fighters” launched a rocket at Baghdad’s Rashid hotel. And there’s the downing of a Chinook near Fallujah on November 2, in which 16 U.S. soldiers died. And there’s a Black Hawk down, just like in the movies. And of course the demolition of the Italian military complex in Nassiriyah, only days ago. That brings us up to now, practically, with today’s Guardian announcing a “radical rethink” by the U.S. Of course, there’s always the chance that the “rethink” might be to stop trying to win the war in the newspapers, where all quagmires live, thrive and grow big and strong–until they inevitably become defeats.
I mention all this, because this represents, more or less, the way the British public is being led to understand the war their own forces are fighting with us. That understanding will be tested in a few days when George Bush comes to visit Tony Blair. As David Frum has already noted here, sending Bush to Britain is the diplomatic equivalent of buying Enron because you think your Tyco shares might tank.
There are only a few things worse than losing in Iraq. I think one of them is losing Britain as America’s traditional ally. A few days of angry street demos and U.S. flag burnings will help further that cause enormously. To do his part, Sidney Blumenthal, the Tom Boswell of the Clinton administration, appeared in the Guardian’s pages to help Britons understand better what American honor really means:
Tony Blair, about to welcome George Bush to London with pomp and circumstance, has assumed the mantle of tutor to the unlearned president.
Bush originally came to Blair determined to go to war in Iraq, but without a strategy. Blair instructed him that the casus belli was Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, urged him to make the case before the UN, and–when the effort to obtain a UN resolution failed–convinced him to revive the Middle East peace process, which the president had abandoned. The road map for peace was the principal concession Blair wrested from him.
The prime minister argued that renewing the negotiations was essential to the long-term credibility of the coalition goals in Iraq and the whole region. But within the Bush administration that initiative was systematically undermined. Now Blair welcomes a president who has taught him a lesson in statecraft that he refuses to acknowledge.
Blumenthal then lays out the details of Bush’s betrayal of Blair. His conclusion:
Blair provided Bush with a reason for the war in Iraq, and led him to express his plan for peace for the Middle East, preventing Bush from appearing a reckless and isolated leader. In return, the teacher’s seminar on the Middle East has been dropped.
Harold Macmillan remarked that after empire the British would act towards the Americans as the Greeks to the Romans. Though the Greeks were often tutors to the Romans, Macmillan neglected to mention that the Greeks were slaves.
Blumenthal neglected to mention that the Greeks so valued what Rome had given them that they insisted on calling themselves “Romans” centuries after the fall of Rome.
The Italian job. The bombing of the Italian military police compound in southern Iraq–a deadly but enormously successful publicity stunt–quite naturally dominated the Italian papers. Most were like this piece in Il Giornale, reporting the news somberly, announcing a national day of mourning, conveying the sympathies of the American president and other U.S. government officials, and reporting Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s insistence that Italy will stay in the fight. Almost every major paper in the country front-paged this remarkable AP photo showing an Italian soldier in front of the ruin left by the terrorists. In La Repubblica, Khaled Fouad Allam sees more complexity behind the attack, eccentrically viewing it as a symptom of alliances and rivalries turned upside-down by war.
Mephisto Waltz. The troubled expansion of the EU is driving the French and the Germans so close together they’re going to need an EU protocol on swapping spit. Papers in France were filled with reports–like this one in Le Monde and this one in the IHT–explaining that France was fearful that annoying newcomers, like Poland and Hungary and the Czech Republic, might not toe the Chirac-Schroeder line. The good news: Chirac had come up with a plan. The bad news: the plan was to shack up with Gerhard. The obvious result: Turning France and Germany into Greater Belgium. Oddly, the German press missed the story. However, the anonymous bloggers at EURSOC do a magnificent job of capturing the whole sordid tale. Meanwhile, a new EU survey was released last week showing that almost nobody in Europe has a clue about the new constitution patched together by EU bureaucrats and politicians. In the U.K., the vast majority of Britons didn’t even know there was a proposed constitution. “Wha’?” said one. “Huh?” said another. “The majority of EU citizens remain utterly unaware that a body of 105 top politicians gathered in Brussels, over a period of 15 months to draw up a new Constitution,” said the EU Observer in summarizing the report, which is a humongous .pdf file. You have been warned.
Cannonball! Run! According to an item in Le Monde, the ongoing effort to cleanse France of American influence has hit a speed bump. It seems that the pick-up truck–what American men use for totin’, instead of those little Euro-purses–is making inroads in France. Maybe if they can just get all those good old garçons to put Confederate flags in their windows, the Democrats’ll come on over and chase ‘em down the autoroute until they promise to vote for Howard Dean.
Dress to kilt. After a full-length struggle by the sporran crowd, the BBC reports that the EU has decided that kilts are not women swear after all–something that will make the Scots happy, but might disappoint the English. The dispute threatened to treat kilt-makers like some sort of EU-defying greengrocers. Try the link: The BBC’s report shows movie star Vin Diesel in a basic little black kilt.
Straw Dogs. Because I make bundles of money staying up late writing these little squibs then selling the film rights to Miramax and Universal, I have lots of free time. My favorite hobby? Crafts! I love making straw men for agitated columnists like Adam Nicolson who alleged in a Daily Telegraph piece, that I called Europeans “cockroaches” in a recent column here. I object–mostly because I’m tired of getting lots of cranky notes from people who didn’t read what I wrote, either. I tried to shrug this off in an aside last week, but subtlety didn’t hack it. The e-mail kept coming. So: What I clearly said is that after a century of murder, mayhem and Marxism, “nihilism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Americanism, [are] the three knee-jerk, irrational sentiments…that inform the modern intellectual life of Europe.” I described those ersatz-ideas as “cockroaches,” since they seem to be able to survive anything, including a century of European wars and genocides. I did not describe European humans as “cockroaches,” however. (And besides, unlike the British prime minister, I don’t consider Britons to be Europeans, yet.) I must have made this plain enough, since I received no angry e-mail from cockroaches.
–Denis Boyles, an NRO contributor, is based in France.