The debilitating dream that never dies

Look at this comment by Deroy Murdock, at the Scripps Howard website:

As the world awaits Gen. David Petraeus’ progress report on President Bush’s troop surge, even war critics concede that deploying 30,000 additional GIs has improved Iraq’s security.

Was there any rational war critic, on the left or right, who said that assigning 30,000 additional GIs would not improve Iraq’s security? The issue is not whether a temporary increase in U.S. troop levels will lead to an improvement in security, the issue is whether this short term improvement in security changes anything fundamental about Iraq. Our goal—that is, our goal when we’re not lying through our teeth about seeking “victory” over our enemies—is the creation of an Iraqi government that can sustain its own existence against al Qaeda and other anti-U.S. forces and protect the people of Iraq from violence, enabling our forces to leave. But since the creation of a pro-U.S. Iraqi government that can sustain its own existence is not within our power, our goal is not obtainable. Yes, through some astonishing luck it could happen. But it is not likely to happen, and we cannot make it happen. Without an acknowledgment by us of these basic realities, our entire Iraq debate remains a debilitating exercise in fantasy and escapism, as it has been for the last four years.

* * *

Let me add this. The surge from the start has been touted as a break with past thinking in Iraq; for example, in the surge we would leave our forces in place in a given area after driving out the enemy, instead of pulling our troops out and allowing the enemy to return. But despite these positive difference from our past mindless operations, the assumption underlying the surge is exactly the same as our fallacious underlying assumption in the past, namely that by some military operation we can create a viable Iraqi government. An example is Ralph Peters’s column in December 2004 where he said that our imminent victory in Fallujah represented the dawn of a new Iraq.

There is some impenetrable American blindness at work here. On one hand, we want to achieve a certain objective, a viable Iraqi government. On the other hand, we have no ability to create a viable government in Iraq or any Muslim country. We are, however, very good at doing certain other things, such as killing enemies and repairing schools and building sewage facilities. So what do we do? We focus all our formidable energies and skills on the jobs that we are good at (killing enemies, fixing water systems), and imagine that our doing the jobs that we can do will somehow lead to the successful completion of the job that we cannot do. It is, in the precise meaning of the term, magical thinking. In magical thinking, a person believes that the performance of an act that is analogous to or representative of a thing that he wants to happen will make that thing happen. For the last four years, the greatest nation on earth has been pouring its spirit, its energy, its treasure, its reputation, and the lives and limbs of its young men into an endeavor based on magic.

- end of initial entry -

Jason S. writes:

Regarding your posting today “The debilitating dream that never dies,” I have been listening to the hearings since they commenced today and your posting had it nailed before the hearings even started: the entire charade is, indeed, “a debilitating exercise in fantasy and escapism.”

I was reminded, watching the star witnesses testify, of Shelby Foote’s description of Jefferson Davis in his third volume of “The Civil War, Red River to Appomattox.” The Confederacy had all but collapsed; Lee had surrendered to Grant; the Southern government was literally fleeing one step ahead of the Union calvary; and yet Davis continued to confidently talk about fighting on with the only two generals left in the field actually commanding troops within reach of his orders (Johnston & Beauregard): “the important question first to be solved is what point of concentration should be made”—as if the problem was only one requiring renewed persistence, as opposed to an honest assessment of reality on the ground.

Foote says that the Generals no doubt found this surreal conference with Davis “something like being closeted with a dreamy madman.”

Watching the General and the Ambassador peddle further silliness on behalf of this lost cause (i.e., establishing a “reconciled Iraqi government” and all that happy horsecrap), I feel much like Johnston & Beauregard must have felt: like I’m listening to dreamy madmen.

Excellent site, your point of view is much appreciated!

LA replies:

Thank you.

The hell of it is, this situation goes on year after year, with no change in the dream. At least with Davis’s dream as described by Foote, that only lasted a few weeks or days before reality caught up.

Terry M. writes:

Just wanted to say that those two paragraphs you added since I last read this entry are great; they add a lot of weight to your argument because what you say about our focusing on doing what we do well, building infrastructure, killing enemies and such, and fantasizing that this is going to result in our success of democratizing Iraq, makes a lot of sense. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that argument before.

LA replies:

I don’t think I had ever said it like that before, though I’ve been writing about this for years.

The idea is the same as in the famous Sufi story about Mulla Nasrudin.

A man was walking home late one night when he saw the Mulla Nasrudin searching under a street light on hands and knees for something on the ground. “Mulla, what have you lost?” he asked.

“The key to my house,” Nasrudin said.

“I’ll help you look,” the man said.

Soon, both men were down on their knees, looking for the key.

After a number of minutes, the man asked, “Where exactly did you drop it?”

Nasrudin waved his arm back toward the darkness. “Over there, in my house.”

The first man jumped up. “Then why are you looking for it here?”

“Because there is more light here than inside my house.”

We can’t really do the thing we want to do, create a viable Iraq government, so we keep trying to do the things we can do, killing enemies, building infrastructure, winning hearts and minds, which gives us the feeling we’re accomplishing what we want to do, even though we are not.

LA writes:

Chris Roach last March also described the administration as engaged in magical thinking.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 10, 2007 10:52 AM | Send

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