Thursday, June 26, 2003

Dedicated, with Amazement, to the Man I Used to Be

The wonderful thing about the past is that is always better than it was. This is true of nations and individuals, but particularly true of journalists. Especially those who warn darkly of a "quagmire" or a "spiral" in Iraq. Turn back the clock ten years and what do we see? One third of the entire United States Navy routinely deployed to the Persian Gulf: ten and twenty thousand men at a time -- the manpower equivalent of two infantry divisions -- plus an equivalent number in transit and another in training, deployed year, after year, after year. Then there was the "No Fly Zone" of which there were two, in which hundreds of aircraft operated out of hideously expensive rented facilities in Turkey and Kuwait to patrol designated boxes of Iraqi airspace. And there were casualties, too, in those days of peace.

  • 1995, attack on U.S. military advisors in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 7 deaths, 42 injured
  • 1996, Khobar Towers USAF barracks bombing, Saudi Arabia, 19 deaths, 500 injured
  • 1998, bombing of U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya 291 deaths, 5000 injured
  • 2000, bombing of U.S.S. Cole, Aden, Yemen 17 deaths, 39 injured

And more, if we count the Islamic Jihad bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1982 which resulted in 291 deaths. And of course, September 11, 2001. Back in the days of peace.

The entire strategic thinking of the United States, in those halcyon days, was called the Two Major Regional Conflict Strategy, which basically meant that half the US Armed Forces was tied down waiting for trouble in Arabia, while the other half was tied down waiting for trouble in the Korean Peninsula. Quagmires did not exist  back then, when the most effective US military response was to salvo hundreds of cruise missiles, each costing more than a million dollars, into the hills of Afghanistan.

Today, the United States Armed Forces are still taking casualties, but they are taken in the act of tearing the heart out of the Arab system; the jihadist system, the terrorist system. There are special teams, like Task Force 20, which are hunting out the terrorists all over Arabia. There are American advisers who are molding a new Arab army in a different image. There is plain security work. There is reconstruction work and a educational system in the bowels of the enemy. The past is a beguiling thing, but it is the press and not the United States Armed Forces, that is stuck in it. For many journalists the world over, the clocked stopped at the bar of the Caravelle Hotel, in Saigon, 1969.