Thursday, September 11, 2014

Reverse Barometers and Perpetual War

General Custer to officer:  Anything that man tells me will be a lie.  Therefore, he will be perfect reverse barometer. . . .
Custer to Jack Crabb:  What should I do, mule skinner? . . . . Should I go down there, or withdraw? . . .  What's your answer, mule skinner?
Crabb:  General, you go down there.
Custer: You're saying, go into the coulee?
Crabb:  Yes, sir. 
Custer:  There are no Indians there, I suppose?
Crabb:  I didn't say that. There are thousands of Indians down there, and when they get done with you, there won't be nothing left but a greasy spot. . . . You go down there if you got the nerve.
Custer:  Still trying to outsmart me, aren't you, mule skinner? You want me to think that you don't want me to go down there, but the subtle truth is you really don't want me to go down there. . . Men of the Seventh! The hour of victory is at hand!  Onward to Little Bighorn and glory!

* * *
Near the close of the movie Little Big Man, General Custer (played by Richard Mulligan) realizes that Jack Crabb aka Little Big Man (Dustin Hoffman) who he hired as a scout, hates him so much that he will purposely give Custer the wrong advice.  Custer therefore treats Crabb as a "reverse barometer," doing the opposite of whatever Crabb tells him.  As the passage above shows, Crabb gets Custer completely flustered to the point where he is able to trick him into making the disastrous decision to attack at Little Bighorn. 

Dick Cheney, John McCain and their fellow War Mongers have much in common with Custer, as he was portrayed in this movie -- arrogant, unfettered by facts, unshakably stubborn and unable or unwilling to reverse a decision or admit a mistake.  They have been wrong about everything, particularly when it comes to terrorism and the Middle East.  But rather than being shamed into silence and appropriately shunned, they continue to seize center stage.  They plague us with their latest ideas for the latest crisis which, invariably, is the same wrong advice that got us into these messes in the first place: perpetual war.

In this way they should provide a useful service as reverse barometers.  Whatever they say, President Obama should enact the reverse.  When they insist that we stay in Iraq, rely less on diplomacy, employ troops on the ground and more bombs from the air in more places, we should do the opposite.  But it seems that, as in the movie, the reverse barometer can sow confusion.  And so after being relentlessly bombarded with the need to act quickly, decisively and, above all, militarily, the President, as William Greider puts it, "is embarking on another Long War in the Middle East."

The fact that we are only committed (for the time being) to air strikes with a limited amount of advisers on the ground is far from comforting.  Greider explains:  "President Obama’s vague assurances are doubtless sincere, but he has left a lot of open space to revise and reinterpret his intentions. If everything does not go well in Iraq, Obama will be pressured to escalate. War enthusiasts in the reserve army of pundits are already clamoring for him to do so. White House sources are already assuring reporters that Islamic State targets in Syria will be bombed. What happens if they don’t fold? The president will be pressed to send more troops—if not in regular uniforms, then as Special Forces, who will use clandestine methods."

Similarly, David Corn notes why it is difficult to "put the case for war back in the box" after commiting us to renewed military action even with a more nuanced approach than his predecessors:  "If US air strikes can make a difference, if other nations join in, if the Iraqi government gets it acts together, if the Iraqi military can do its job, then the United States will use its military might in a limited way to vanquish ISIS. A conditional case for war does not easily sync up with the stark nature of such an enterprise. If any of these ifs don't come to be, will Obama be cornered and forced by his rhetoric to do something? After depicting ISIS as a peril warranting a US military response—and with much of the American public convinced of that—can he then shrug his shoulders and say, "Never mind"? Will he provide the hawks an opening for political attacks and demands for greater military intervention? In his speech, the man who ran for president with the pledge to end the Iraq War declared, "We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq." But what if all else fails?"

Onward to Little Bighorn and glory!


Joel said...

I think I'm beginning to see Obama as Allardyce Meriweather (played beautifully by Martin Balsam)

Jack Crabb:
"When I joined him, his left hand and his left ear were already gone.
Meriweather was one of the smartest men I ever knowed, but he tended to lose parts of himself.

It didn't faze him, though. Deception was his life's blood, even if it caused him to get whittled down kind of gradual like."

...and so it goes.

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