Juan Cole: Bush's Abuse of History





The president of the United States is in some ways the nation's leading public historian. More people hear about American history from him than from virtually any other source, with the possible exception of Hollywood.

It has therefore been dispiriting to witness the falsehoods about American history consistently purveyed by the Bush administration. Bush and his officials have repeatedly made allegations that simply are not true, but they sin most grievously against the muse of Clio with their flat-footed and implausible analogies.

On Sunday, the most prominent among Bush's spokesmen from the ranks of Fox Cable News anchors, Tony Snow, did it again. He compared our current situation in Iraq to the Battle of the Bulge. This battle began in mid-December, 1944, a little over 3 years after the US entered the war. Snow also suggested that the American public was ready to throw in the towel at that point in the war!

Is the only way this tawdry administration can make itself feel good to defame the Greatest Generation? My late uncle used to tell us stories of how he fought at the Battle of the Bulge. Is Tony Snow saying he was a coward? That the Americans back at the homefront were?

From CNN on Sunday:

BLITZER:"Let's talk a little bit about troop withdrawal potentials for the U.S. military, about 130,000 U.S. forces in Iraq right now.

In our most recent CNN poll that came out this week, should the U.S. set a timetable to eventually withdraw troops from Iraq, 53 percent said yes; 41 percent said no.

Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote a piece in the San Francisco Chronicle today. She's going to be on this show, coming up.

She wrote this:"We have now been in Iraq for more than three years. And we believe that the time has come for that phased redeployment to begin. It is also time for the Bush administration to provide a schedule and timetable for the structured downsizing and redeployment of U.S. forces in Iraq."

"Does that make sense?"

SNOW:"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. And you can't conduct this kind of activity. What you have to do -- and the president's been clear about this -- is take a look at the conditions on the ground. Let's think for a moment of the alternative.

If the United States pulls out -- and what's been interesting is that most people realize that simply pulling out would be an absolute, unmitigated disaster, not merely for the people of Iraq but the larger war on terror."



On the question of American faintheartedness in the face of the Ardennes assault by the Germans, here is what was on the front page of the New York Times on December 20, 1944:

"nothing but confidence in our ability to deal with . . .""It has long been foreseen that the enemy might make some such counter-stroke . . .""the risks of powerful armies closing in on his flanks seem even greater . . ." Oh, yeah, we were obviously petrified! Why, it is amazing that Gen. Patton didn't just slink away for very shame at our pusillanimity!

Not only were the Americans determined in the face of the Nazi assault, but the NYT reported that the Belgian resisters to the Nazis urgently requested permission to line up to fight the German army, a request that Gen. Erskine declined. Ragtag Belgian irregulars weren't afraid, much less the public and military of the United States of America!

And here is the concluding para. of the NYT editorial on Jan. 13, 1945:

So let me get this straight. The NYT editorial says,"This state of affairs calls not merely for watchfulness on the part of the allies but also for the recovery of the general control of strategy as soon as possible."

So Tony Snow thinks a poll would have shown that the US public was shaking in its booties at the Battle of the Bulge? He thinks the New York liberal press was calling for an abandonment of the war? What a steaming crock!

So his premise is just not true. But neither is his analogy on the mark. We are not at the Battle of the Bulge in Iraq. We are at the beginning of 1983 and we are the Soviets in Afghanistan. Here is what wikipedia says about that era:

"1983

The Muslim insurgency remains locked in military stalemate against Soviet and Afghan troops. The government controls the cities, while the guerrillas control the countryside. There are conflicting reports on the success of the regime in either neutralizing the insurgency movement or crushing it with the aid of some 110,000 Soviet troops. Reports on the war are sketchy and probably biased, since they are based on accounts given either by Pakistan-based rebel groups or by journalists taken on conducted tours by the government. President Karmal is firmly in command of the ruling PDPA. Infighting between the Parcham and Khalq factions of the party is less evident in 1983 than in previous years, and it appears that the Soviets have succeeded in bringing them under control. Afghanistan continues to depend on the Soviet Union for economic aid and food assistance."

Three years later, Soviet documents show, Gorbachev had decided he could not win in Afghanistan, and that he would have to withdraw. Shortly thereafter, the CIA gave Stinger shoulder-held missiles to the Mujahidin (including to our then ally Gulbuddin Hikmatyar), and Gorbachev had to accelerate his plans. In 1988 the Soviets withdrew. A year later the Soviet empire lost its Eastern European satellites, and in 1991 it collapsed.

Would the Soviets have been better off getting out of Afghanistan in 1983? Without any doubt whatsoever. Would the chaos in the country have been worse than what eventually happened, in the 1990s? Highly unlikely.

As for Snow's contention that for the US to get out of Iraq would be a defeat in the war on terror, it is exactly the opposite. The US occupation of Iraq is now reviving the terror movement among Muslim radicals. This is the conclusion of experts such as Fawaz Gerges and Steven Simon and Daniel Benjamin. The quicker we end the miltiary occupation, the sooner we will stop inadvertently training the next generation of terrorists who want to hit us.

And, anyway, as the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi demonstrates, there is no real need to worry about terrorism flourishing in western Iraq. The neighbors-- Jordan, Syria and Turkey-- would never put up with it, for fear it would spill over onto them. And as that operation showed, the Jordanians are better at tracking down Arab terrorists than the US military (yes, it soes help to know Arabic fluently).

Moreover, there is some danger of Bush's imperial over-stretch imperiling our republic. Our budget deficits, enormous indebtedness, the sinking dollar, and other effects of imperial overstretch and Republican Party irresponsibility could lead to a crisis of epochal proportions.

Everything Snow said was wrong, and most of it was insulting-- whether to my late uncle, to the greatest generation in general, or just to our intelligence.




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Philip B. Plowe - 6/20/2006

Of course comparing American attitudes at the time of the Battle of the Bulge to the current U.S. position in Iraq to is utter nonsense.

Thank you Mr Cole for shooting down another misdirection.

This administration does so love to play the WWII card even when it is absolutely comical.

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