Thomas L. Knapp

Tom Knapp is the publisher of Rational Review.


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Credit and credulity
by Thomas L. Knapp

Like most of you, I've spent the last week flitting back and forth between the "real world" and the world of the idiot box, attempting to figure out just what is going on halfway around the world in Iraq. I've also been fortunate enough to be able to configure my "real world" around putting out Rational Review, and then additionally fortunate enough to be able to bend that schedule a bit and take to the streets in the anti-war demonstrations. Think of this as a situation report.

For many weeks, you've listened as the War Party has cautioned you that the conquest of Iraq wouldn't be as "easy" as Desert Storm was. You didn't believe them. They didn't believe themselves. It was "wink, nudge, let's indulge in a little tingly worry about this now, and celebrate when Baghdad folds after 24 hours." Even my own natural skepticism gave way to a belief that, however criminal and immoral this little jaunt might be, the military "front end" of it would be nasty, brutish and short.

What a difference four days makes.

The fog of war has descended. Even in an age of "embedded" correspondents with videophones, it's difficult to get a clear picture of the battlefield. We can't believe anything the Iraqis say. We can't believe anything the American media says. We can't believe anything the U.S. government says.

This isn't just because all three sources are composed of confirmed congenital liars, true as that may be. It's also because the two governments would be remiss, from a tactical point of view, if they didn't engage in a certain amount of disinformation to enhance the effectiveness of their military forces; and, for all its positive aspects -- real time coverage, on-the-spot footage, etc. -- the "embedding" of journalists in military units creates a de facto sort of censorship.

Those journalists rely on those units for their care, feeding and safety. Being human, they cannot fail to develop a certain identification with the troops whose fighting holes they share. It's natural -- and beyond the natural, each of these journalists knows that if he or she endangers the unit's mission in any way, he or she may very well have ... well, let's just call it an "accident."

It all has to be taken with a grain of salt.

That said, we can engage in some reasonable speculation. It's not going as planned, and it's not going as well as planned.

Umm Qasr, which was supposed to fall on the first day of ground operations, is finally secure -- but somebody seems to have neglected to tell the Iraqis about it.

On Thursday, US Marines and British Special Boat Service troops began fighting to secure landing zones near Basra so that that city -- Iraq's second largest, with a population of 1.2 million -- could serve as an Iraqi Paris, with cheering crowds welcoming their "liberators." On Friday, Umm Qasr mysteriously became "the gateway to Basra." On Saturday, it was announced that Basra would be isolated and bypassed, rather than conquered.

The US forces seem to have changed their strategy from one of conquest and "liberation" to one of "get Saddam and hope the resistance falls apart without him." The problem with that is that they may have killed him already, and the resistance seems to be growing, not dissipating. Who knows if Saddam is dead or alive? The Iraqi troops have their orders. They seem, for the most part, to be following them, without regard to the personal status of their leader. Saddam's cult of personality, it turns out, looms larger in the American mind than in the Iraqi mind.

"Operation Iraqi Freedom" is going south on its planners in a big way.

While there's no chance that Iraq can prevail in this phase of head-to-head military conflict, they're making that conflict more expensive than anyone believed, deep down, that it would be. And so begins the blame game.

Prior to March 19th, the War Party was able to ignore the reality of American soldiers coming home in flag-draped coffins, or not coming home at all. They could hope for a short, sharp shock, a few regrettable body bags and a ticker-tape parade, and those hopes were not unreasonable given the way things played out in 1991.

Now that that reality is here, the attempt is on to award credit for it -- not to the people who foisted this war on the world, but to those who objected!

"Defeatism at home" is to blame for the spectacle of American Prisoners of War parading across the screen on al-Jazeera.

The people who put those prisoners in harm's way? They're guiltless.

Calling for the troops to be brought home and be used pursuant to their oath -- to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States -- instead of remaining halfway around the world fighting an illegal war of conquest on behalf of an outlaw administration is "anti-Americanism" or even "treason."

Demanding that their lives continue to be wasted? That's "patriotism." That's "supporting the troops."

The War Party wants its war -- but it wants someone else to be responsible for the consequences of that war. Its strategy, of course, is to blame its opponents for the consequences of its own actions.

This strategy is proving even less successful than the one playing out along the Euphrates, the Tigris and the Shatt Al-Arab.

Clint Black, Travis Tritt and Charlie Daniels -- three men who, according to the biographies I can find, never bothered to put down their fiddles and gitboxes, pick up a rifle and stand a night watch -- can caterwaul about the virtues of war and the necessity of "uniting" behind a bad decision all they like, but people don't seem to be buying it. Four days into this war, it's already as unpopular, and its opponents as radicalized, as Vietnam and its opponents took four years from the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution to get.

Organizers in New York expected 20,000 protesters to respond to their call on Saturday. Even the most conservative estimates put the response at ten times that.

In my own city of St. Louis, the number of protesters was deeply affected by the call to support the troops -- it went up from 300-500 to more than a thousand overnight.

The illusion of overwhelming support is in tatters. The War Party is exposed for what it has always been: an ambitious clique, hijacking America's foreign policy on the premise that they could have their little production in the can before anyone noticed, and then use that production as a teaser to get support for more like it.

The struggle is by no means over. Only an extreme naivete could support the delusion that the War Party might willingly pack it in -- bring the troops home, apologize and desist from further intrigues against the nation it infests.

There is room for hope, however. The blood on the War Party's hands -- the blood of the young Americans illegally co-opted into the service of their plots -- may yet be of service to the nation. It cannot wash away the War Party's sins, but it can serve as a modern equivalent of the Mark of Cain, identifying those whose schemes must be rejected and who must ultimately be deposed if the vision that is America is to be redeemed.