Thursday, October 29, 2009

Eags Goes Snarky

More praise rolls in for Matthew Hoh, former Marine Captain and up-and-coming foreign service officer, who refused to drink the Kool-Aid of the Bright Shining Lie in Afghanistan by resigning from the Foreign Service. Eags (Timothy Egan) is an innocent abroad in Paris at the moment and a visit to Napoleon's Tomb brought forth some sensible insight about our Twin Quagmires: Iraq and Afghanistan. Out Now! Not one more drop of blood shed in either of those hellish places. Build a fleet of drones and rain missiles on all Shi'ite, Sunni, Ba'athist, Taliban, or Al-Qaeda malefactors until they are quiet. If a drone is fired upon by a ground-to-air weapon, the response must be doubled. Send wave after wave of drones, but shed not another drop of blood from our armed forces. Call it Operation Dyno-MITE! If this is (fair & balanced) robotic bloodlust, so be it.

PS: The POTUS (44) traveled to Dover, DE this AM to become the first president to honor the dead (18) returning from Afghanistan.

[x NY Fishwrap]
Napoleon’s Dynamite
By Timothy Egan

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PARIS — He’s in there somewhere, under the gilded dome of Les Invalides in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. The Emperor of the French, Napoleon Bonaparte, is entombed by six coffins in what has to be the most spectacular sarcophagus in all the City of Light.

I stared at this extravagance of marble and mortality not long ago, thought about Napoleon’s campaigns in Russia, Italy and Prussia, the wars that briefly remade Europe, and realized that I owed a considerable part of my heritage as a citizen of the American West to the Little Corporal in the coffin.

Distracted as he was in trying to build an empire, Napoleon looked across the Atlantic and decided he had little use for the mid-section of a distant continent. Needing cash for conquest, he then sold the French holdings for a pittance to the fledgling United States.

Putting aside the fact that these lands had Native Americans living on them, with deep attachments and rights of sovereignty of their own, the United States got one of the greatest real estate deals of all time from the French.

For barely 5 cents an acre, the U.S. picked up more than 800,000 square miles in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. With the stroke of a pen at Thomas Jefferson’s behest, and without the loss of a single life, America doubled in size.

We were wary, following the advice of Jefferson and others, of ceaseless and senseless overseas wars. Wars for territory. Wars for defense. Wars for revenge. Wars because one religion was better than another. This was not our way. We didn’t meddle. We fought “good wars,” against imperial occupiers like Great Britain and, much later, the Nazis.

And we were slow to rouse, intervening only when called to the rescue. That was — perhaps still is — our narrative as a people.

From that peaceful triumph with France, you pivot to the present day, and wonder how we will fit what are likely to be our two longest wars into this story. The United States has been in Afghanistan coming up on a decade. Iraq is not far behind.

In Iraq, some Sunnis have always hated some Shiites, and vice-versa, for more years than the United States has been a country, and they will continue to dismember each other and their children whether we are there or not. I suspect most historians will judge the Iraq War an epic mistake. Already, most of our efforts in blood and capital have been spent trying to clean up the mess of the initial hubristic invasion, an ill-planned act from the shallows of a light-thinking president. (Now moonlighting as a motivational speaker — go figure! See Jon Stewart’s take.)

The never-ending quality of that war was reinforced over the weekend, with the worst bomb blast in a year, a bloodbath at the heart of Iraqi government buildings.

Afghanistan is more difficult, of course. The jihadists who killed American citizens on September 11, 2001, had their base in that seemingly ungovernable mountain country. It is the graveyard of empires — Soviet, British — for good reason, as most Americans have come to understand. Progress is not yet a word that can be used with any credibility after eight years of war. And this month was the deadliest for U.S. forces since troops arrived, a danger heightened by Wednesday’s bombing in Peshawar.

Now comes the first United States official known to resign in protest of American strategy in Afghanistan. Matthew Hoh, former Marine Captain and up-and-coming foreign service officer, says American presence has thus far only fueled the insurgency.

Yet, to leave now, we are told, would be to abandon a country to people who live 8th century lives with 21st century weapons. And they have a hatred warped by religion — making for the worst kind of enemy.

There is little advice floating around, and much that is bad. Chief among the latter was the suggestion of Dick Cheney, co-architect of the present disasters, that the president quit “dithering.” This is particularly galling coming from a man with five draft deferments during the Vietnam War. His dithering kept him out of combat.

For the president, if thoughtful dithering produces a more enlightened policy, he will be well served by stretching time.

The rest of us can look at Napoleon’s tomb, holding the body of the man who led so many men to war, trying repeatedly to do with military might what the French could usually only do with their cultural exports.

Americans have never been empire builders. Napoleon, who was dynamite in a small package, even though he reigned before it was invented, had dreams of flying le tricolor over distant lands.

In a fit of historic distraction, this emperor gave us Montana and Missouri among many fine places. We paid less than $15 million, thanks to one leader who dithered until the right moment presented itself, and another who let his army slow bleed to collapse. Ω

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan is the author of four other books, in addition to The Worst Hard TimeThe Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest, Lasso the Wind: Away to the New West, Breaking Blue, and The Winemaker's Daughter. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

Copyright © 2009 The New York Times Company

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