The September Report
by Robert Merkin
General David Petraeus' job this week -- the September Report all Washington had dreaded, the September Report all America had thought would never come -- is to play footsie with the War Middle. His job is to say whatever he has to say to assure anybody begging to be reassured that the war in Iraq will stay frozen, or maybe wiggle a little like Jello, but will not end, or authentically start to end, in any future anyone can actually see or point to specifically on a calendar.
The war must go on.
Petraeus is our New Age Westmoreland, whose job was clearly not to win, winning never having been ours to choose, but to be the Command Figurehead -- the theater commander piece on the chessboard -- who would go through the motions of a superpower at war against third-world Asian farmers indefinitely. The war would end, but not his way, and not through American military forces he could marshall.
Westmoreland and now Petraeus are Zugzwang generals, moving pieces around the board, moving troops through airports, making inspections via helicopter, presiding at parades and ceremonies, stretching the game out for years, toward everything except winning. Because winning is not ours to achieve, and Petraeus knows it as Westmoreland knew it.
All we can do is lose, and like the Soviets in Afghanistan, eventually pick the day, hopefully a day without heavy rain, to march out. But Petraeus has the American might to delay that from happening now, on Bush's gasping, fizzling, coughing watch, and that is the mission he has accepted: To keep it from happening on Bush's watch.
When a new Gerald Ford steps in, of either party -- the luckless fool now trying to become the next president -- Petraeus will hand over command in Iraq to a more ordinary administrative general, who will preside over the inevitable march out of Iraq, and pray to the god of failure and flunkies that it won't be another desperate clinging-to-skids helicopter evacuation from the embassy roof.
Some of the luckless fools now trying to become the next president claim in their speeches that they can save something from this disaster that will answer, however tortuously, to the name of Winning. They're lying, of course. They perceive that's where the vote edge is, mining the desperation of badly educated and pathetically informed voters begging to be lied to with flags and the fanfare of pride and triumph.
The America Can Choose Victory candidates are appealing not to the marginalized Fox crowd, but to the confused short-attention-span CNN crowd, who gaze at the Iraq war stunned and uncritically, and are bounced from upbeat, heartwarming little story, in Baghdad, at Walter Reed, to upbeat, optimistic little news developments from Capitol Hill or the campaign trail. Even a White House proclamation, from Bush's Homeland Security adviser Frances Townsend, that Osama bin Laden is impotent and al-Qaeda has collapsed fills some network air and newspaper inches this week. We want to hear it so badly, we keep watching and then go out and buy the tooth whitener.
In between, with no connection or context, another car bomb goes off in a crowded market in another city of the insurgents' choosing, and another day will see six more American uniform casualties. This is the raw material from which CNN and the "legit" networks can, for the moment, tuck us in with fairy tales about the Victory of 2011.
The future, after all, is a plastic, malleable place where Anything might happen. The past is set in stone, the Confederacy continues to have lost the Civil War (though more and more often, and brazenly louder and louder, the right-wing Think Tanks hold seminars on C-Span insisting that America defeated the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese and won the Vietnam War).
Today, while General Petraeus testifies, the tough-talking TV star and lobbyist, determination and glory etched on a Reagan face, can make us a speech about a future, just a few years down the road, just a few thousand more flag-draped coffins from now, in which America can bring Victory home from Iraq and Afghanistan proudly, on the backs of Flying Pigs. This is the stuff dreams, and big contribution checks, are made of.
Another candidate for Victory, who never served, explains with a boyish grin that his five sons, who never served, are speeding America to Victory by stumping for the best Commander-in-Chief America could hope to have.
Please, General Petraeus -- just tell us anything except that we're going to fuck this one up again like we fucked up in Vietnam. Send a few thousand troops home for those screaming to bring the troops home. Call for a few thousand more troops for the Veterans of Foreign Wars who demand that America stay the course. Extend some tours past a family's endurance. Then, two weeks before Christmas, throw some families a bone with surprise shortened tours. The Film at 11 opportunities at the air base -- not a dry eye in the hangar, Santa shaking hands and welcoming the duffel bag boys and girls home.
Don't make us build another of those black wall monuments. Don't make us hold a competition to design another black wall. Build us statues of raising the flag in Sadr City that will rival Iwo Jima. The war must go on.
And the Flying Pigs Victory is, for the moment, cheap: Dead soldiers and dead Marines, cheaper than they were in Vietnam, because now they're all Volunteers. Enlistments are plummeting, recruiters have the Pentagon green light to scrape the bottom of the barrel with dropouts and drug convictions, but we have enough Volunteers to Keep 'Em Dying while the Pigs might yet sprout wings and start to fly, and our brave Iraqi legislators, ministers and commanders might yet stamp out corruption, end sectarian massacres, whip up safety and stability, and lock in parliamentary democracy.
We want it so bad; it could happen. On the side, another squadron of Flying Pigs can crush the Taliban and eradicate the poppy fields forever, and drag Osama bin Laden down Pennsylvania Avenue chained naked in a cage. Osama bin Laden is crushed and powerless. Momentarily we will capture him in the Pakistani mountains, and have him back in time to drag past the new president's inaugural reviewing stand.
We're America. That's what we do: Triumph, Victory, V-E Day, V-J Day, jubilation in the streets.
Choose Victory. Lie to us. Please. We'll pay for lies with the blood of other peoples' kids. We have years of Volunteer blood and miles of flag-draped Volunteer coffins, if you'll just promise us Victory. Or something, anything, which isn't certain and obvious defeat and failure yet.
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Copyright (c) 2007 by Robert Merkin, All Rights Reserved.