Category: US in Iraq.archive
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
I appreciate the Gardener's post below in which he featured a post from Wizbang: "A few random thoughts about the war in Iraq, and warfare in general." However, while the post is instructive in many places and well-argued, the analysis is too rosy.

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Category: US in Iraq.archive
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Defining terms (and defining the opposition) has long been a key to victory in political conflict. Just ask the Anti-Federalists or "Know-Nothings." The battle for meaning is so vital, it tends to frenzy partisans during times of a closely divided electorate and consistently razor-thin margins of victory. As we draw closer to the midterm election, this contest over language will likely grow even more overheated.

At the moment, the opponents of the President (with the complicity of the mainstream media) seem to have secured the high ground in defining the boundaries of political debate. Last week, with very little success, the President and his men attempted to push back on the war in Iraq (employing such words as "appeasement" and "fascism"). The President and his supporters attempted to label advocates of withdrawing the troops and admitting what seems obvious to them, victory in Iraq is no longer possible or worth the cost, "defeatist." The opposition cried foul: "Don't question our patriotism!" On the other hand, who says you cannot be a "defeatist" and a patriot? Perhaps caution is the better part of valor.

Other battles in the politics of meaning:

It is a long held article of faith in the mainstream media that "911 and Iraq were not connected." This is nonsense. What they mean to say is that Saddam and his regime were not complicit in the terrorist attacks of 911. Those two statements are not the same. However, there is very little patience for a nuanced discussion of Saddam and the dangers he posed in the Middle East.

Review in a nutshell: Saddam was our sworn enemy. We know that he supported terrorist networks in the Middle East, and he may or may not have been harboring al Qaeda operatives (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi); either way, his regime, inarguably, contributed to the continuing turmoil in the region. More importantly, we were in a state of war with Saddam's Iraq, and the continued vendetta with him presented an insurmountable obstacle to progress in the region.

The relationship between Saddam's Iraq and the cauldron of discontent that produced 911 was so obvious and internalized for so many of us that public opinion polls have consistently revealed a significant portion of Americans who connect Saddam and 911. Of course, many have taken those numbers as evidence that the Bush administration merely deceived the simple-minded. But that conclusion, once again, flows from the mistaken but foundational premise that 911 and Iraq cannot be connected; therefore, any person who makes that connection is: 1) wrong; 2) deficient in intelligence and 3) under the spell of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney.

Another statement that has long rankled the President's opponents: "Iraq is the central front in the War on Terror."

Note: The label "war on terror" is in itself problematic (one of the many mistakes for which the President and his team deserve blame). Please see this previous post for a brief discussion concerning the lack of clarity in this terminology.

Presuming the "war on terror" has a concrete and agreed-upon meaning, identifying Iraq as the "central front" causes great consternation for many. First off, one can construe the statement as an admission that Iraq is connected to the war on terror, which some reject, preferring to cast the war as an unprovoked invasion followed by a brutal occupation, which inspired a natural and justified insurgency. While almost everyone admits that al Qaeda terrorists and other networks have played a role in the three-year post-war war, opponents of the war counter that the terrorists came as a result of the invasion and occupation and have drawn strength as a result of the American action (which is mostly true).

Are we fighting terrorists in Iraq? Was the invasion of Iraq an attack on Islamic terrorism? Does the "war on terror" hang in the balance depending on the results in Iraq? Yes and No and Yes. The answer to that set of questions is complicated. Consider the American Civil War. The North attacked the newly formed Confederacy, for the most part, to preserve the Union. While many Southerners fought to protect slavery, most Unionists took great pains initially to assert that the war had nothing to do with slavery. But by 1865, all could see that the Civil War would end forever the institution of slavery in America. To paraphrase Lincoln (and thinking in terms of Iraq), we did not expect a war of the "magnitude or the duration which it has already attained." We absolutely "looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding," but, nevertheless, here we are. If we lose in Iraq, it will be a defeat that echoes around the world. If we win, we turn a corner.

"Mission Accomplished." For many, nothing better epitomizes the putrid combination of sinister motives and naiveté within the Bush administration than the carefully choreographed incident in which the President landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln in the co-pilot's seat of a Navy S-3B Viking. After emerging from the aircraft, the President excitedly swaggered around the flight deck in his flight suit, and, later that day, dressed in civilian clothes, delivered a speech of congratulation with the famous banner displayed prominently in the background: "Mission Accomplished."

It is very easy to point to the thousands of dead Americans, killed after that celebration, and sneer at the ineptitude of the Bush gang. In truth, the more complicated explanation is that we have fought two wars. We won the first one against Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi state, in exemplary fashion. Our quick victory vindicated Donald Rumsfeld and the new lighter, more nimble army ("mission accomplished").

Of course, even as the words of self-congratulation were still lingering in the heady air of the White House and the Pentagon, the second war was already underway. A war that would take us far too long to understand, and a war in which we are still struggling to gain the initiative.

Currently, we continue our struggle to discern more than define who we are fighting: is the conflict today in Iraq against dead-enders, nationalistic insurgents or jihadists? Or are we in the middle of a sectarian civil war (low-grade or otherwise)? YES.

The battle rages in Iraq. What happens in Iraq is determinative of our future and the most important task of our generation. What we do in the next forty-eight months is incredibly significant. We need an honest and nuanced debate. I hope we get one.
Category: US in Iraq.archive
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The United States must succeed in Iraq, for failure means an unacceptable loss of prestige and freedom for us--and a much less-secure world for everybody else. Our success in Iraq will establish a foothold for modernity in the Middle East and deal a stinging defeat to Islamism, which will increase our credibility in the region (and beyond) and offer the model for improvement. It follows, ultimate success vindicates the decision to invade and remake Iraq.
Last Thursday (July 20), Real Clear Politics ran a Victor Davis Hanson essay entitled, "Patience is Wearing Thin," in which VDH argued that the West was running out of civilized choices in the Middle East and hinted that we might soon resort to massive retaliation against terrorists and their benefactors.

VDH reasons that despite the "conventional wisdom" against an additional American military mission aimed at Iran or Syria, the United States (and the West) may come to realize that "diplomacy, aid, support for democracy, multiculturalism, and [partial] withdrawal" does not satisfy the troublesome Islamists. At which point, once our patience is exhausted, we will "opt for hard and quick retaliation" and eschew our historic concerns for humanity, local sensibilities and world opinion.

I could not disagree more.

An aside: This VDH essay reflects the rapidly accumulating frustration and mounting dejection even among stout-hearted, intelligent, patriotic Americans.

The ugly truth: the conventional wisdom that our hands are tied, unfortunately, is absolutely right. If you are Iran (or North Korea), there is very little peril in disdaining the United States right now. Syria is a bit more vulnerable, because of internal uncertainty and weakness, but they might ask as well: what is the United States going to do?

There is no military option.

There is one insurmountable obstacle to another military expedition in the region: American public opinion.

Presently, the American people are in no mood to support any unprovoked aggressive military action anywhere in the world. Americans are no longer convinced that our invasion of Iraq was necessary. Much worse, they are thoroughly unimpressed with our government's administration of Iraq and increasingly pessimistic about our ability to remake the Middle East.

Because the President has lost the American people, he has lost the "loyal" opposition in Congress and is beginning to lose politicians on the periphery of his own party. In addition, the President's inner circle of advisors is in the midst of extended acrimonious hostilities with large parts of the executive bureaucracy. And the media and academia, also at odds with this President from the outset, now emboldened by his weakness, bombards him with derision and destabilizing accusations continuously. The President cannot go on the offensive in the Middle East because he cannot get off the defensive at home. This president does not have the time or the standing to prepare the nation for a greater war in the Middle East. We are stuck.

In the end, I agree with VDH's concluding statement, if not with his reasoning that undergirds the sentiment:

"So in the meantime, let us hope that democracy prevails in Iraq, that our massive aid is actually appreciated by the Middle East, that diplomacy ultimately works with Iran, that Syria quits supporting terrorists, and that Hamas and Hezbollah cease their rocket attacks against Israel -- more for all their sakes than ours."

What happens when our patience wears thin? We go home. We leave rather meekly (see Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia), and we are unlikely to blow up the place on the way out.

For more on this from me, please review: "The War on Terror and the Middle East Dilemma."
The President's initiative in the Middle East has never been a sure thing. But I have argued, and still believe, that it was a calculated risk worth taking and continues to be a calculated risk worth supporting. But what if it does not work? What are our options, if for whatever reasons, the attempt to remake the Middle East fails?

Some background: why is it so important that our project for "renewal in Iraq" and beyond succeed? After 9/11, it was apparent to any observer that the status quo in the Middle East was no longer tenable for the United States. Our Cold-War era, "pragmatic" policy of accommodating and facilitating tyrannical regimes, for reasons of vital national interest, wrought a generation of jihadists intent on Islamic revolution. The Islamists hated their own exploitative and corrupt governments, they hated Israel, and they hated us for enabling the two primary objects of their enmity. 9/11 illustrated in the most horrific manner that our great island fortress could be penetrated by these jihadists, and likely would be again. America was under attack.

The project to remake the Middle East into a more just and safer place for its own people, and more friendly in general to the United States and the rest of Western civilization, was an attempt to "drain the swamp." A freer, more democratic Middle East, so the theory went, would take responsibility for itself and be consumed with self-improvement, looking inward instead of outward, which would drastically reduce the threat of terrorism. We would become brothers, bonded by our mutual love for self-determination, amelioration and peace.

Frankly, the Bush administration vastly underestimated how hard this would be. While some academics tossed around the Philippine precedent and laid out timetables of four, five, six years and beyond, I do not think that is what Washington believed. I fear that the Bush administration really thought, with a little luck, this thing might go fairly quickly and easily, and then we could move on to the next outlaw. We did not fully understand the challenge. Perhaps that was a blessing. In any event, to the surprise of some, we encountered a great battle in Iraq. But that doesn't mean that we are cooked. We need to stay tough and win. Iraq is the key. If we can stabilize Iraq, our aspiration for a safer Middle East is well on the way to success.

What happens if Iraq never gets better, and circumstances force the US to abandon the project to reform the Middle East? Are we back to square one? No. If we leave Iraq in defeat and disarray, we are actually much worse off than we were the day after 9/11. The world will no longer be a safe place for Americans to travel or do business. What will that mean? It will inaugurate a radical transformation of American life.

I have never accepted the President's explanation that the Islamists hate us because of our liberty (at least not in the commonly accepted sense of that word). That is, I don't believe that the jihadists' detestation for our freedom impels them to go out of their way to kill us. Osama doesn't hate us because we are free; he hates us because we are powerful and play a dominant role in his world.

Undoubtedly, Osama et al view American culture as corrupt and corrosive, and they are right (see Part I). If the President means liberty in the libertine sense, then maybe he touches on part of what Osama and his ilk have against us. But that in itself does not explain the existence of al Qaeda.

The complicated terror network organized to humble the United States exists to break the American hegemony on their side of the world so that the jihadists can foment a revolution over there unhindered. In that way too, 9/11 is similar to Pearl Harbor: Japan attempted to obliterate the US naval presence in the Pacific not to conquer the United States, but to give Japan free reign to conquer the Pacific. Like our presence in the Pacific during the 1930s and 40s, we have myriad self-interested reasons to be in the Middle East, but we also play a stabilizing role in the region.

To an extent, and there is deep irony here for the neo-traditionalists, this project is a war to make the world safe for economic globalization. Some of the least imaginative of the anti-war protesters have called Iraq a "war for oil." Three-dollar per gallon gas takes a bit of the wind out of that conspiracy slogan, but it survives nevertheless. But in truth, our mission to remake the Middle East is consistent with American policy since the dawning of American imperialism: we strive for influence and power in the world in order to protect American business interests.

Can we do something that will make the Islamists leave us alone? Yes. We can pack up and go home. We can fold our tent and leave the Middle East to the Arabs. In the early moments of the national crisis following 9/11, I believed that the safest course would be complete retreat, a return to isolationism. President Bush offered a different course, which was bold and risky, but, if successful, preserves our way of life. I credit him for his strength and courage in that moment, and I have supported him completely.

However, if Bushism does not work, returning to the pre-9/11 realities is not an option. The remaining option is Buchanism: neo-isolationism. We will leave our friends in the Middle East to fend for themselves, and pull-up stakes as the key player in, and international protector of, the global economy. Failure will force us into an involuntary retreat.

Therefore, if we fail in Iraq, we leave American business interests in the Middle East unprotected and irresistible targets for Islamist revolutionaries. If our ability to protect our interests abroad collapses, then our economic empire necessarily disintegrates as well.

What then?

We turn the clock back one hundred years and return to the insular republic of the nineteenth century. It will mean that our culture will need fewer academics, poets, entertainers and service providers. More of us will need to work for a living, making things and growing things. Our lives will change dramatically.
Category: US in Iraq.archive
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The "War on Terror" is winnable.

I am currently watching Eric Alterman on C-SPAN this morning. If you don't know him, Alterman makes the case that the mainstream media is not "liberal." His assertion: rightwing propagandists manufactured the "liberal media" myth to give the conservative media (which does exist) a raison d'etre. He also makes the point (not original to him), among myriad others--coming, seemingly, at the speed of light, that a "war on terror" is impossible. That is, the word "terror" describes a phenomenon, which makes prosecuting a war on terror unlike fighting a war with England, Mexico, Spain, Germany or Japan--all nations with seats of government and conventional armies.

Actually, Alterman's point is not completely incompatible with the conservative complaint that "terrorism" is an unhelpful euphemism for "Islamofascism." Okie Gardener has argued that this "sloppy terminology relates to sloppy thinking: and we must be clear-headed" in this all-important appointment with destiny.

However, I am not nearly as disturbed by the imprecise terminology. As long as we know what we mean, we are fine. (Of course, whether we know what we mean is an entirely different question.) Notwithstanding, I have written privately, even if we don't call an Islamofascist an Islamofascist, their rotting corpses will smell just as putrid by any other name. But that assumes that we can kill all the terrorists, which is impractical (and not in keeping with the American personality). We are an evangelical and evangelistic people. We prefer to convert rather than eliminate. We generally have the stomach to strike out in anger against an offensive dictator or an "axis of evil," but, once our blood cools, we prefer to make peace with our enemies and convert them to our point of view. As a people, we have never demonstrated stamina for war or an ability to maintain a protracted vendetta against a malefactor.

How will we win the war on terror? By that I mean, how will we put out the fire in the Middle East that threatens American lives and interests? Perhaps the cruelest component of the President's War on Terror is that, ultimately, we must infect the world with the disease that is killing us, consumerism and indulgence and self absorption. Once the potential Islamofascists get a "whiff of the free markets" (a phrase our President was fond of using during the campaign of 2000), the erstwhile Islamic fundamentalists will be too busy paying off credit cards and watching MTV to kill us.

I still believe we can win the war on terror. It will be a long journey. As I have argued recently, Iraq must be pacified quickly (the clock on Iraq is running out). But the greater Middle East project is attainable in the same way that the Cold War was achievable, with a bipartisan concerted effort over a series of presidential administrations.

However, the President's initiative in the Middle East has always been a gamble. What if this does not work? What are our options?

Part II & III.
Category: US in Iraq.archive
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Yesterday, David Ignatius, op-ed columnist for the Washington Post, offered an excellent piece, "A Road Map Home," in praise of the realism and diplomatic efforts of Ambassador Khalilzad and the Bush adminstration in working toward an endgame in Iraq.

Ignatius highlights:

"Reconciliation sounds fine in principle, but in practice it can be agonizing. I asked Khalilzad how he would answer members of Congress who are indignant that insurgents who opposed the U.S. occupation might be pardoned by the Iraqi government."

'"Ending a war is as difficult as fighting a war," Khalilzad went on. He noted that many conflicts in American history have ended with a general or partial amnesty -- from the Whiskey Rebellion to the Civil War to the U.S. Army's battle against insurgents in the Philippines. "To end a war, you must balance the requirements of reconciliation with the requirements of justice," he explained."

Ignatius asserts that the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a key victory in "[t]he political-military strategy embraced by Khalilzad and Casey over the past year [that] has combined aggressive military operations against die-hard insurgent groups with outreach to elements of the Sunni insurgency that (in theory) can be co-opted."

After the death of Zarqawi, the ambassador claims significant progress toward that end, reports Ignatius.

Ignatius in conclusion:

"Listening to America's ultra-realist ambassador, it's obvious that the buzzwords of the Washington political debate...don't have much relevance for what the generals and diplomats are trying to achieve. This messy war won't end with a victory parade but with a process that is messy itself -- slow, precarious, ambiguous. But the alternative is an open-ended U.S. military occupation of Iraq that nobody wants. As Khalilzad put it: "If you don't want reconciliation, it means you must fight on.'"

In addition to Ignatius's analysis, I will add some of my own thoughts:

Recently, the word "timetable" has claimed center stage in any discussion of Iraq. Does the President have a timetable? YES. Although the WH denies a timetable, any serious reading of the situation in Iraq and Washington leads to only one conclusion:

Iraq must be wrapped-up by January 20, 2009. The Bush braintrust is big on presidential history (especially that of Bush-41). They have taken great pains to avoid the missteps of the father, and they understand that unfinished business is risky business (for example: see Saddam and Somalia).

Prediction: President Bush will not leave Iraq in the lurch. The coming congressional campaign season will see quiet progress on the civil side of things, which will allow for moderate draw-downs of US troops.

Then, in the weeks and months after the election, President Bush and the USA will "get bloody." In a similar move to the assault on Fallujah in November of 2004 after the presidential election, I expect the President to make one final push for military supremacy in Iraq.

The President is never going to face another American election. This is an advantage for him. His legacy depends on victory in Iraq. All he needs to do is win. On the other hand, President Bush's moment is drawing to a close. After the Congressional election, the remainder of his term will be measured in months.

He must defeat the insurgency before they (the insurgents) come to view him as a lame duck. The USA may have won the war in Iraq with the re-election of President Bush in 2004. An insurgency is hard-pressed to wait-out an American president for four years. But if the USA does not deliver the knock-out punch early on in 2007, the insurgency will see a light at the end of the tunnel.

What goes without saying, of course, is that no future president, Republican or Democrat, will be invested in this war like George Bush. No successor to Bush will feel the press of history in the same way that the President copes with that oppressive sense of urgency and necessity every day of his administration.

08/06: Today in Iraq

Zarqawi killed; Iraqi government completed:

From the Washington Post:

"BAGHDAD, June 8 --Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the mastermind behind hundreds of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings in Iraq, was killed early Wednesday by an air strike -north of Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Thursday."

(The Post story in full.)

And, the Post also reports:

"BAGHDAD, June 8 -- The Iraqi parliament agreed upon candidates to lead the country's three top security ministries Thursday, ending a weeks-long stalemate among the country's largest political factions.

"The selection of an interior minister, a defense minister and a national security adviser gives Iraq a complete government for the first time since elections in December 2005 and it provides a key opportunity to promote political reconciliation between members of the country's Sunni Muslim minority and the Shiite-dominated government."

(The Post story in full.)

What Does it Mean?

The fight continues. Today's confluence of these two major storylines in Iraq reminds us that the resolution of the Iraq struggle is incredibly complex and multi-faceted.

The death of Zarqawi will not precipitate sanguine predictions that the end of the battle is at hand, as the deaths of Uday and Qusay and the capture of Saddam evinced. We are much more hardened by reality now than we were then.

The progress in the formation of civil government will not elicit buoyant claims that the opposition to a peaceful, pluralistic and self-determining Iraqi state is in its "last throes."

Rumsfeld had it right years ago when he said, "we are in for a long hard slog." Our mission in Iraq has been a long and exhausting journey, and we are clearly no where near the end of our campaign.

What today means is that we are relentless. It means that as long as George Bush is President of the United States terrorists are in mortal danger. As long as George Bush is President of the United States our nation is committed to supporting a transformative government in Iraq.

We cannot say for certain today that the projection of US power is an irresistible force, but we can say for certain that the person of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is not an immovable object.

May God Bless the United States and the people of Iraq.

Category: US in Iraq.archive
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The purpose of Memorial Day is to take a collective, national pause to consider and celebrate those brave dead who gave their “last full measure of devotion…so that this nation [might] not perish from the earth.”

In that vein, Victor Davis Hanson’s Memorial Day analytical tribute, “Looking Back to Iraq: A War to be Proud of,” is a must read.

What went right?

Hanson asserts:
1. Saddam is gone and that is good. A malevolent actor is no longer atop one of the most potentially powerful states in the world, roiling an already turbulent and troublesome region, held in check only through a leaky sanctions regime, which was dependent upon European resolve, Russian morality and Chinese altruism.

2. US action gave Iraq an honest opportunity for democracy.

3. The fight with Islamism in Iraq has shed moral clarity on the vital war with Islamic extremism.

Manifest reasons why we didn’t go to war (Hanson enumerates):
1. Cheap gasoline.
2. Halliburton.
3. Imperialism (some of the President’s strongest critics call for more troops—not less, and it is clear that no one in the USA wants us to stay in Iraq one minute more than necessary).

Hanson touches on the debate over casus belli. He does well to remind us that the pre-war case for action was not mono-causal—but laced with multiple motives. One of my colleagues wrote critically, before the fighting commenced, that President Bush seemed unable to articulate one clear reason for war; he bemoaned the Bush approach of multiple rationales, seeing such variety as a signal that the case was not well made.

However, I believed then and now that criticism of that nature was misplaced. I have criticized the President for the exact opposite mistake: President Bush relied too heavily on WMD as a casus belli. There were myriad imperatives why Saddam’s removal was crucial: the shaky sanctions regime; the fact that we were flying combat missions (and taking hostile fire) over Iraq every day; our presence in Saudi Arabia, a result of the ongoing “state of war” with Iraq, was highly offensive to the Muslim world; and, most importantly, the Middle East is a bad neighborhood with a lot of bad guys and the presence of Saddam exacerbated that precarious balance between threatening and less-threatening entities. Every day Saddam was in power made the United States and the world less safe. Transforming Iraq would be a watershed moment in remaking the Middle East.

Notwithstanding, President Bush, Tony Blair and Colin Powell pinned the case for war on WMD. Why did they do it? It was a sure thing. In the words of George Tenant, it was a “slam dunk.” We know now that the slam dunk was the sure thing that wasn’t.

Almost immediately, even before the full realization that there would be no smoking WMD, the Bush administration began to emphasize the other reasons for toppling Saddam and building a democratic government in Iraq friendly to the United States, which continues to bring criticism from various quarters.

Fluid rationales for wars are not unprecedented in American history. Oftentimes Presidents have had trouble articulating our real reasons for making war. James K. Polk’s War Message to Congress asking for a declaration of hostilities against Mexico is perhaps the most infamous. President Polk charged the Mexicans with rudeness to an American diplomat, primarily, and, as an after thought, an unprovoked attack on American forces (after Polk had moved General Zachary Taylor and company into a position finally so provocative that it engendered an attack).

What Polk could not bring himself to say was this: the United States needed the Great Southwest for our experiment in liberty. Polk was clearly under the spell of “Manifest Destiny” (although you will not find that term in the Message or any of his public utterances; the familiar terms comes from a contemporary Democratic newspaper editor).

Sometimes the unvarnished truth is impossible to articulate. Polk knew what Washington, Jefferson and Jackson had known from the very beginning of the American Republic: to reach our full potential as an emerging nation dedicated to a system of self government, we needed a transcontinental “empire for liberty” fueled by a robust economy and westward-moving culture.

Even now the “manifest” truth of that need is hard to articulate, defend and rationalize, but in our hearts we all seem to understand that the Southwest was necessary to our survival and success. Would any of us give it back? We are limited by language and idealism. Our need for pure motives is one of the conundrums of politics in the United States, wherein vital national interests must be tempered with just war doctrine and an acutely American sense of fair play.

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A few weeks ago Arthur Schlesinger attempted to frame the War in Iraq and the actions of President Bush in an historical perspective. In addition to unfavorable comparisons to four modern presidents, Professor Schlesinger cited Congressman Abraham Lincoln’s 1848 opposition to James K. Polk’s War with Mexico to inveigh against the evils of "preventative war" and the Bush doctrine of preemption.

The day before, Thomas Bray, attempting to associate Bush with Lincoln in a positive formulation, told the story of the Civil War president, who made miscalculations based on faulty prewar intelligence, faced down unstinting criticism of his cantankerous secretary of war, curtailed civil liberties and outlasted “embittered Democrats, [who claimed that] the war had been an utter failure [and] demanded that the administration bring the troops home.”

Most American wars have compelling parallels, for they all exist within the the same basic political framework. The title of Bray’s essay, “President Lincoln Lied Us into War Too,” is instructive. Presidents carry the burden, in our democratic-republic, of making the case for war ("selling the war") and convincing Congress and the American people that war is in our vital national interest and the only rational alternative.

For this reason, American presidents have tended to manipulate and exaggerate the threats posed by our intended enemies and taken great latitude in outlining the casus belli when they call us to war. This is true of Polk prior to the Mexican-American War, both Wilson and Roosevelt during the extended preludes to American entry into the two World Wars, and Bush 41 in the run-up to the first Gulf War (to cite a few examples).

And it gets worse. Once committed, the president also has an especially onerous but critical burden during a time of hostilities: maintaining popular support for “his” war. One obvious key: keeping the struggle brief and securing overwhelming and indisputable victory. Win big and win fast.

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