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Saving face, losing a war

by Harley Davidson Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2003 at 8:59 AM

"Bring 'em on," the man said. He is not a brave man, but he plays one on television. When it came his turn to fight in a war, he hid behind Daddy. Then he had another drink and hid from the National Guard. Then he had another drink.

Saving face, losing a war


Harley Sorensen, Special to SF Gate

Monday, August 25, 2003

©2003 SF Gate


"Bring 'em on," the man said. He is not a brave man, but he plays one on television.

When it came his turn to fight in a war, he hid behind Daddy. Then he had another drink and hid from the National Guard. Then he had another drink.

When our nation was attacked on Sept. 11, he hid in an airplane, flying to and fro around the country. While our nation was crying for leadership, he was making sure the coast was clear.

He later had his minions blame the Secret Service.

"Bring 'em on," the man said, puffing up his chest. And they did bring 'em on, one bomb at a time, one rocket-propelled grenade at a time, one rifle shot at a time, so terrifying to a relative of mine that she cried herself to sleep every night she was there.

(Welcome home, baby. They can't get you here.)

And the planes fly into Dover Air Force Base in Delaware (sometimes sneaking in at midnight), where we have the people and the equipment to make dead young people look almost like they are sleeping.

Then we send the dead young people home to their parents and brothers and sisters and grandparents and other relatives and friends, and we send pretty flags with them, and handsome men in uniform, and we call the dead young people heroes.

We call them heroes because they're dead. If they were still alive, we'd be angling to reduce their combat pay and trying to figure out a way to close the hospitals they'll be entitled to use if they survive.

"Bring 'em on," the man said, and a nation of sheep baaed in unison and said what a good boy is Georgie, and how thankful we can be that we have a regular guy like him at the helm instead of that wimpy Al Gore.

A couple generations ago, we used to kid about "Georgie Porgie puddin' and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry," but we had no idea then that there really was a Georgie Porgie, who was just waiting for his chance to show us how brave a coward can appear if he wears a tailored flight uniform.

Our brilliant generals were outsmarted by the clever Saddam Hussein, the wily sadist who fancies himself the reincarnation of Joe Stalin. We wondered at the time why the elite Republican Guard failed to stand up and fight. Now we know.

You may recall reading about the Battle of Stalingrad in World War II. The advancing Germans were met by a thin line of Soviet troops encircling the city. The Germans pushed through that line easily enough, but then they met a second line, a little tougher than the first one and reinforced by troops that retreated from the first line.

Then there was a third line, a fourth line and so forth, and eventually the overextended Germans, who had outrun their supply lines and were freezing in the Russian winter, were ripe for a counterattack. The Soviets encircled them, trapped them and killed many. Tens of thousands more were taken prisoner and died in captivity.

Going into the battle, the Germans were the superior force, but the Soviets outsmarted them.

The Republican Guard in Iraq was no match for our airplanes and bombs and rockets, so, in a trick right out of Joe Stalin's playbook, it melted away in civilian clothes to fight another day. Now it's picking off our troops one by one, reinforced by volunteers from neighboring nations who knew exactly what to do when our president said, "Bring 'em on."

He invited, they came. And the morticians at Dover stay busy.

Nobody doubted that America's frontal attack on Iraq would succeed, but most of the world had doubts about what would happen next. Unfortunately for our boys and girls in Iraq, few of the doubters were residents or regular visitors of our White House.

Other than Israel, nobody in the Middle East wants us to control the flow of oil out of Iraq. Why would they? We're the 800-pound gorilla. We're violent and unpredictable. Nobody knows what we'll do next. Mr. Bring-'em-On has already threatened Iran and, on the other side of the world, North Korea.

Can you imagine Mr. Bring-'em-On in a street fight? Try to picture him lipping off in a bar: "Hey, buddy, keep it up, and my bodyguards will pound the snot out of you." He's the personification of the "let's you and him fight" syndrome.

His crony, the aging Donald Rumsfeld, who could in his day fight his own battles, now dreams of the past. He dreams of a "fleet" and "swift" and "agile" military machine. Fleet and swift and agile were personal qualities of a younger Donald Rumsfeld, but now they exist only in his fantasies.

Rumsfeld's dream team in Iraq is in over its head, so now the talk is of sending in more troops, or, as the Iraqis call them, targets.

Can you say "Vietnam," boys and girls? When do we start engraving names into a stark black wall?

The war is unwinnable. As in Vietnam, we are the invaders, invaders of a country that presented no threat to us. As with Vietnam, we lied to the world as to our motives. We said we wanted to destroy Saddam's weapons of mass destruction (done) and get rid of Saddam (done).

So why are will still there?

Besides stealing Iraqi oil, our politicians want to save face. If they pull our troops out now, they reason, the rest of the world will laugh at them. "Ha-ha-ha," the world will say. "Silly Americans."

Can't have that. Better to continue repressing the 25 million people of Iraq, who will continue to respond by picking off our troops, one by one.

Can't have a red face.

Little do those egomaniacs realize that the rest of the world will stand and applaud if we leave Iraq. "Finally," the world will say. "Finally, the Americans are using good sense. Bully for you, Americans."

But admitting our mistake and leaving Iraq is not likely to happen. Even if we elect a new president next year, we voters can't win. The new guy, whoever he is, will be afraid to pull out of Iraq for fear the opposition party will label him "soft on terrorism" or "weak on national defense."

We've seen all this before, with Vietnam. Presidents of both parties kept the war going because none wanted to be "the first American president to lose a war."

Ego. Hundreds of thousands died so that a handful of men would not (in least in their opinion) lose face.

The solution to the Iraq problem is to get out. Now. Today. Let the Iraqis rule themselves. Meanwhile, go to the U.N. and offer as much assistance as humanly possible to help the Iraqis rebuild their country.

Bush and his minions used to tell us that we had no quarrel with the Iraqi people, that it was Saddam we were after.

Well, Saddam has vanished. Who is our enemy now?

Harley Sorensen is a longtime journalist. His column appears Mondays. E-mail him at

©2003 SF Gate  

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