Note: As the post script details below, the rightwing blogger who is the subject of this post now claims that his post was a “thought experiment”, though I’m not entirely sure how appropriate either of those words are in regards to any Republican.
What in the hell is the matter with the video game industry that they haven’t given us the proper games to sate our violence-starved wingnuts? I’m speaking now of Red State co-founder Joshua “Tacitus” Trevino, who clearly doesn’t have enough adventure and depravity in his life. But as I’ll show below, I suspect that beyond the excitement of planning such a thing, the real point of this exercise is nothing more than to give Joshua rhetorical cover for why the Iraq war would have been a good idea, if only we’d done what we needed to do.
In this recent post (via Sadly, No!) Joshua cites the example of the British Empire’s attack on the Boers as tactics we should emulate in order to defeat the Iraqis. But he’s totally full of shit and his ideas are absurd and entirely immoral. Good tactics for a sophisticated video game maybe, but clearly nothing that we could actually use. And even then, if the game was sophisticated enough, these tactics would fail as surely as they would in the real Iraq. So even with the moral dimensions removed, they’d fail. And in real life, they’d lead to a failure much graver than anything a basic withdrawal would lead to.
His plan is to put Iraqi women and children into concentration camps, before turning Iraq into a giant concentration camp. Specifically, by setting up garrisons in blockhouses throughout Iraq and stretching wires between all the blockhouses. And when any Iraqi breaches the wires, we bomb the shit out of them, and then repair the wires for the next Iraqi. Thus turning all of Iraq into a grouping of small concentration camps surrounded by a large death camp. And who ever said brown-skinned people couldn’t self-govern?
Frankly, I’m a bit confused as to how this would actually work, as he seems to be suggesting that we’d need a garrison for each 20 sq km of Iraq. And that would require awfully long wires and would be a very large space for the kind of quick reaction he mentions against the “presumed insurgents”. But for the sake of argument, we’ll pretend that this somehow makes sense, and it’s even possible that it does. Joshua says the British had each blockhouse within visual contact with one another, and I can’t really see how this works otherwise. But whatever.
As Joshua says referring to the Boer War, “Absent women and children, the rules of engagement were lax.” And that’s clearly code for Anything Goes. Nobody could go anywhere without our permission and we’d kill a lot of stray dogs and innocent people; and possible quite a few of our own soldiers.
And then there’s the problem of people getting food or going to work or anything. But that’s just the price you’ve got to pay when you don’t depose your evil dictator for yourself, I suppose. Perhaps Joshua’s taking this into account in some way oblivious to me, but he never says and I suspect he doesn’t really care.
But in a video game, this could be a great idea. And if this war was truly necessary to win for our survival, and no other course of action would prevail, I suppose I would support these means. But those are two impossible if’s that we shouldn’t be concerned with outside of video games. He even gives us a back of the envelope bullshit estimate on how many troops would be needed to do this, and needless to say, it’s a number of troops that we wouldn’t be sending there short of a draft.
And that was assuming a garrison can handle a 20 sq km area, which I still can’t quite fathom. I suspect a more realistic number pushed his troop needs even further into the impossible; so he just had to invent a number that worked better. Why not? His enemies will be too busy attacking him for his immorality and his readers (both of them) will support him no matter what he wrote. Besides, if you’re bullshitting anyway, why not make the bullshit more paletable?
Needless to say, he gives us no estimates on the costs of these troops, the equipment needed for the task (particularly of all that wire), or of building the blockhouses; which would be an odd omission from the once fiscally-serious conservatives, were they not to have already shown us what unprinicipled liars they were in that regard.
Just to be clear, I’ll outline a few of the obvious reasons why this would be bad. First off, I’m not so sure how many people outside of the region supported the Boers, but needless to say, there would probably be a few Muslims a bit upset at us for turning Iraq into a concentration camp. And when I say “a few Muslims” and “a bit upset”, I mean that we would be in deep doodoo in large parts of the world that already aren’t so happy with us.
And I suspect that the non-Muslim parts of the world might be a bit shocked at our tactics too. I’m not sure if this would be on the scale of us nuking Iraq, but surely this would be widely condemned by the entire planet; thus losing us any moral authority that Bush has left us. And rightly so. There is such a thing as right and wrong in this world, notwithstanding the conservatives need for eternal victory. Even the British had serious qualms about these tactics during the Boer War, and they generally liked that kind of thing.
And for what end? I’m not sure. Why do this? Because we must. We started a war, and now we have to win it. That’s all that’s important at this point. Joshua denounces anyone who thinks that defeat in Iraq is “palatable”; even if that’s the only option left to us. But what would we really win, if we won this way? Would we be keeping the concentration camps and blockhouses forever? I’m sure that’s not part of Joshua’s plan. But he doesn’t really seem to tell us what outcome we are to expect from this, beyond victory.
Surely we’d eventually want to turn the country back over to the Iraqis, but wouldn’t they sort of resent what we did to them? Wouldn’t they, in fact, totally hate us forever and ever? Of course they would. So what exactly would we achieve? The British wanted to keep control of the country in order to rape it of its natural resources. But do we really want Iraq? I don’t know about you, but I don’t. And I betcha that Joshua doesn’t either. He just wants a win. And as I mention below, it’s not really the Iraqis he needs the win against, but us.
The Moral Plane
And that leads us into one of the oddest statements in his very odd-statement-filled post. He writes (emphasis added):
What was good about the President’s speech? He remains committed to victory. Whether he will achieve it or not is a separate matter; the mere fact that he seeks it sets him on a moral plane above the mass of the American left that thinks defeat a wholly palatable option.
Being committed to victory is a higher moral plane?? What?!? Who the hell is Mr. Concentration Camp to be talking about morality? I’m so boggled by this statement that I have nothing more to say about it, other than to suggest that this is the entire point. Conservatives have long ago mastered the art of the mind-boggling statements, which are intended to stifle debate and place rhetorical hurtles over any kind of serious discussion. You’re supposed to shake your head in amazement at the huge gulf between your side and theirs.
And at this point, Joshua is totally talking through his ass. He needs victory at any cost and is feeling desperate. So desperate, in fact, that he needs to offend liberals by stating this entirely stupid plan. It’s all he’s got left. He knows we won’t do it. It’s unlikely he’d truly want to if he could. He’s left with nothing more than feel-good toughguy talk. Everything else has fallen through, and if he can’t hang-on to some level of “Victory at All Costs” then he’s got nothing left and would have to stop blogging about the war.
Because this really isn’t about Iraq at all. This is about his personal victory over his enemies in this country: Us. Liberals. So he’s pulling out all the stops and refuses to admit defeat to us. He refuses to admit that this war was a crushingly huge mistake, just as we had been warning him it would be. So anything short of total victory is entirely unacceptable to him.
Just like McCain and his once hypothetical surge, Joshua is forced to escalate his rhetoric further and further into batshit crazy territory, or be forced to admit defeat. But the further they go, the more rhetorical territory the cede to us, and that just makes them crazier. But they don’t really believe this stuff. They won’t do what they want to do. Hell, even McCain himself is shitting bricks now that Bush is implementing his plan, and is forced to push deeper into fantasyland; so as to not be stuck taking the blame for Bush’s doomed plans.
So Joshua pushes the envelope in ways that a mainstream guy like McCain only dreams he could, but it all amounts to the same thing: Rhetorical victory at all costs. Were they to believe they could vanish the Iraq war and put Saddam back in power, they surely would. But they can’t. They once saw this war as a way of defeating us politically forever, and now they’re stuck escalating their war rhetoric to higher and higher absurdities; desperately searching history for some cruelty that would finally give them the weapons they need for victory.
And long after the defeat in Iraq is finalized, they’ll continue to hold onto their statements that they could have won the war, if only they had been allowed to. Just as they refuse to admit that Vietnam was a lost cause or that Nixon truly deserved to be impeached. It’s really all they’ve got. In their heart of hearts, they don’t really believe it; but when it comes to real-life political victories, it’s all they’ve got.
Post Script: I had written most of this early this morning, but before posting it this evening, I looked back over Joshua’s post and saw he gave an update. He says his post was merely a “thought experiment” (I had to reread that first word, as I wasn’t sure that conservatives were capable of such things), and wasn’t intended as a policy prescription.
He accuses his critics of poor reading comprehension because they didn’t notice that in the second sentence of the fourth paragraph he was saying that we should consider the Boer War because it maximized efficacy per soldier, thus yielding a more plausible figure for soldiery. I guess I have poor reading comprehension, as I did read that line, but didn’t take it to mean that his entire post was meant to be hypothetical. Perhaps he might want to actually say upfront what he’s doing next time, rather than leaving it to one line in the fourth paragraph. I thought he was just trying to outdo Bush, to give him a rhetorical highground, and that’s still what I think he’s doing.
Of course, even if we take his update as being honest, he’s still a fairly big fool. Because his example of a totally different type of war in a totally different type of country using completely different technology doesn’t mean a damn thing. Even as it was, he had to invent his 20 sq km rule just to make his numbers reasonable. Yet I didn’t see it as such, and thought his entire plan was utterly absurd. As you read above, I never took him seriously anyone, and thought he was just trying to sound tough. I still think that’s the case.
Oh, and I liked this quote from his update: “suffice it to say that genocide and murder are the last items on any sane wartime agenda.” This, from the guy who also wrote of the Boer War: “Make no mistake: those means were cruel. I have stated previously that I endorse cruel things in war — to eschew them is folly.”
So he’s suggesting that something that is the last item would be folly to eschew?? I suspect what he was saying was the “last item” would be the Nazi-style genocide, rather than the Boer techniques, which I strongly suspect he supports. He never said that, but he never explicitly condemned them either. But then again, I’ve never quite understood the big difference between war and murder. In either case, you’re dead. Necessary war leads to unfortunate but necessary death; but this war in Iraq was always far from necessary. It was a wrong war which led to wrongful deaths (ie, murder), and so I’m having trouble with the distinction that these people make.
Oh, and I also like how he says that none of us were upset at the immorality of his post; that we were just trying to score points. I suppose that might apply to me, as I didn’t think he was serious about this and did, in fact, use this to score points against him. But I suspect that this really applies far better to Joshua than any of us. Because none of this is really about Iraq, but rather about “points-scoring”, and that this is a bit of projection on his part. As is his “implacable opposition to the genocide-minded murderers and indiscriminate killers whom we fight in Iraq.” Would it be rude to suggest that we didn’t need to worry about those killers until doofuses like Joshua got involved?
Oh, and as a final note: It really and truly sounds like Joshua is admitting that we can’t win in Iraq. He says we’d need a lot more troops just to do his idea, which he says requires the fewest number of troops possible. And that number is clearly not going to happen. And if we assume that he isn’t proposing that we do this Boer plan, then we’d need even more troops; thus making this war unwinnable for us. He never says that and clearly denounces anyone who would say it, but that would seem an extremely obvious position from what he said. I think poor Joshua is confused. I already thought he was talking through his ass, and if he’s not suggesting that defeat is almost assured, I can’t imagine what he thought he was saying. It doesn’t seem that he knows either.