Friday | April 11, 2003
Quagmire? Yes, Quagmire
RonK, Seattle, here with my opening guest shot across the coffee table.
Itinerant hawks have been flapping by, cackling "QUAGMIRE? HA!", as if the question answers itself. Not so fast! [Hawks don't cackle, you say? One subspecies does ... but I digress.]
How do you know you've walked into a quagmire? And when? The first few steps give you no clue. Later, if your boot seams are poorly sealed, you'll notice a wet sock or two. You pick up the pace, eager to get to the other side, but the going gets heavier.
At some point your left boot is stuck in the muck ... you plant your right boot on the firmest spot you can find and push as hard as possible extract the left ... and now the right one is stuck deeper. You twist around looking for a way out, and every direction looks the same. Desolate ground. Quagmire.
Not "quagmire" in 1954 when France was defeated at Dienbienphu, and our ventriloquist's dummy (Diem) beat up France's marionette (Bao Dai) in a rigged election ... or was it? [IIRC, this was the year Eisenhower introduced the "domino" analogy ... not yet a full-fledged "domino theory".]
Not "quagmire" in 1960 when Nixon proudly declared "taking the strong stand that we did, the civil war there was ended ... the Communists have moved out and we do have a strong, free bastion" ... or was it?
Not "quagmire" in 1963 when we terminated the Diem brothers (with extreme prefudice), and rescripted the whole "free bastion" puppet show around series of corrupt warlords and their comical gangster sidekicks (9 cast changes in 19 months) ... or was it? [That same year, CIA's Kuwait station used a promising young fellow on their indirect payroll to eliminate hundreds -- probably thousands -- of inconvenient Iraqi political activists. What ever became of him, anyway?]
Vietnam wasn't officially "quagmire" twenty years into the regime-management era, in 1965 when Clark Clifford wrote his now-famous cautionary note to LBJ, and Air Marshal Ky solidified control of the puppet theater, but the Q-word had caught on by 1967 when Ky's longtime tag-team partner (and nemesis) General Thieu was "elected".
Vietnam was unquestionably "quagmire" in 1968 when LBJ elected not to seek re-election, and Nixon told us he saw a way out ... but each step took us deeper in, and most of the dying had not been done yet.
Vietnam was still "quagmire" in 1971 when Thieu won unanimous re-election (rivals Ky and Minh having withdrawn when they saw how the dice were loaded) ... and in 1973 when the last regular US combat troops pulled out. It remained so until 1975 when the last helicopter lifted the last puppet off the roof of the last US compound. Some of our reputation and national self-esteem is still stuck in the muck back there.
The candidates most available and attractive to puppet-masters are hustlers, schemers, faith-healers, toadies, profiteers, freeloaders, con artists, men who can be bought, bullies too disorganized to hold turf of their own. Tested leaders, realists, men of integrity well-grounded in their own communities ... these get crowded out.
So among other complications, there's a turnover problem. Sic semper doofus. Remember America's first Afghan Messiah, the hapless Abd al-Haq?
More clearly now than 30 days ago, I look at Iraq and think "quagmire" ... a national security debacle. Maybe you see the same picture and think "this is what democracy looks like" (despite early exit polls from the Najaf and Basra primaries). Or there's that old American standby, the Afghan solution -- "flip the channel and see what else is on". I'd enjoy a detailed exposition of the "win and GFO" model ... is New Iraq a train wreck we can turn our backs on and walk away whistling a happy tune?
As it stands now -- to paraphrase a great thinker -- "It's a bastion, but it's our bastion".
Is there something special about the way moonlight glistens on quagmire? Can we recognize it and know where to step? And after 24 days in-country, can anyone credibly assert "QUAGMIRE? HA!"?
RonK, SeattlePosted April 11, 2003 07:45 AM | Comments (205)