And it's 1, 2, 3, for what are we fighting?


I've got a new "Think Again" column here called "Investigating an Outsourced War."

Alterman, Lt. Col. Kathy L. Johnson, and General Petraeus: Together Again What do the general, the (one-time) lieutenant colonel, and yours truly all have in common? We all tried to figure out what lessons the military had learned in Vietnam. Petraeus did so in his Ph.D dissertation, which Brian Beutler found to be vapid and unimpressive. Johnson did so in this paper, which I found trying to find out when I had written my paper, which I did as a graduate-school assignment in 1985 for either Paul Kennedy, Don Kagan, or Bruce Russett -- I can't remember who -- and appeared in The Fletcher Forum. It was called "Thinking Twice: The Weinberger Doctrine and the Lessons of Vietnam" and appeared there in the winter of 1986, according to Ms. Johnson's endnote.

Beutler's raising of the issue reminds me of something that's been nagging at me for five years now, which is this: Why in the world did the military let Iraq happen? Ronald Reagan and his cronies were almost as crazy about wanting to fight wars in Central America as Bush and Co. were about Iraq, but the military wanted none of it, and in my view, was able to prevent it by pointing out, over and over, that El Salvador and Nicaragua's problems were political, not military, and that once in, there was no way out. The military's lessons of Vietnam, in other words, were what kept our troops from fighting a ground war in Central America. Colin Powell made it difficult as hell for Clinton to commit troops to Bosnia, and we ended up with a mission that lost not a single life on the ground. (Though Republicans refused to support even that.)

So why did they roll over for Iraq? The problems were no less predictable, as Gen. Anthony Zinni kept trying to warn us. And yet Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld met with little resistance from almost anyone on active duty. Now the military is under enormous stress from a million directions at once; budgetary, manpower, respect, recruitment, equipment, and challenged by the fact of privatization of so much of this war by capitalist contractors. (See my "Think Again" column cited above.) And to the degree that people like Tommy Franks and others refused to stand up to Bush, Cheney, Rummy, Feith, and Wolfowitz, they let down their soldiers and must assume much of the blame.

Anyway, I've not had much to say about Bush's idiotic analogizing of Iraq with Vietnam as a reason we should be staying. My life is annoying enough without going into that right now.

Correspondence Corner

Name: Bill Metcalfe
Hometown: Arlington, VA

Sen. Craig's arrest proves that Idaho is more liberal than we give them credit for. Here is a state that admittedly does not permit gay-gay marriages, but does permit gay-straight marriages. I would say that they are half way there.

Name: Bill
Hometown: NY

Letter-writer Jim Carlile, among others, wonders what Senator Craig did that was so wrong. Come on, people, think about it just a little bit. Imagine you are in a stall in a public bathroom. Your pants are down and you are in the middle of what is probably the most private function of any human being's life. Then the guy in the next stall starts tapping your foot and reaching under the divider. Is that OK with you? Do you recognize the guy's right to pursue his happiness at the expense of your privacy? Or do you feel just a little put upon? I would be effin' outraged. Craig is a menace and needs to have his hand slapped hard.

Name: Dale
Hometown: Cleveland, Tenn

I realize it's instrumental music, but Intrada has recently released Jerry Goldsmith's complete score to The Wind and the Lion. The movie, which some might term a guilty pleasure with its imperialistic/jingoistic plot, has remained one of my favorite from the '70s and the score remains one of the late Goldsmith's best.

Name: Merrill R. Frank
Hometown: Jackson Heights, NYC

Let me get this straight. Not much reportage and an Emily Litella-like "oh never mind" from a conservative commentator when a crazed, washed up '70s rocker waves two assault weapons around on stage and openly threatens: a former 1st lady/senator/presidential candidate; a senator/presidential candidate as well as both senators from California.

Yet they went into full-bore faux outrage when the Dixie Chicks made their innocuous comments or when Bruce performed his poignant story-song "41 Shots."

Name: Zack
Hometown: Berkeley Heights, NJ


So it went from "no chance to make the playoffs" to "no chance of winning its division." If they make the playoffs, will you declare they have "no chance of advancing" or "no chance at the championship"?

Cripes, man, get over it. Your team is the best team in the *ahem* NL. Quit worrying about what the Yankees are doing or the press you think the Mets aren't getting. Mets fans' inferiority complex is getting to be as bad as Red Sox fans'. I hope you don't become as bitter and fatalistic as Red Sox fans.

Eric replies: Dude, watch it. I am also a Sox fan. They are, after all, Literature's Team ...

Name: Nicholas Sinisi
Hometown: Fair Lawn, NJ

And, of course, the Mets losing a heartbreaker on the road in Philly (thus allowing a negative article to be generated) automatically gets top-of-front-page coverage in the 8/20 edition, whereas a routine win over this division rival would have been buried deep within. If they're indeed playing by The Steingrabber Rules, that strikes me as consistent treatment. After all, bad Mets news equals good Yankee news ...

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