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April 29, 2013
Poland's new Jewish museum celebrates life, doesn't revisit Holocaust
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April 26, 2013
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April 24, 2013
Admit it: No one has any idea what's going on
April 22, 2013
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April 19, 2013
Caroline B. Glick:
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April 15, 2013
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April 12, 2013
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Jonathan Tobin: What Part of No Preconditions Do American Jews Not Get?
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Jewish World Review
Sept. 9, 2010
/ 29 Elul, 5770
No Drums, No Bugles: None Dare Call It Victory
Not for the first time, a president and commander-in-chief has proclaimed the end of America's combat role in Iraq:
"Admiral Kelly, Captain Card, officers and sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln, my fellow Americans: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country." --George W. Bush, May 1, 2003.
"So tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country." --Barack Obama, speaking from the Oval Office, August 31, 2010.
That makes two presidents, two phases of one extended war. How will the next phase go? For this may not be the last time an American president makes such an announcement. Some 50,000 American troops remain in Iraq. Their mission now: to advise and assist the Iraqi forces still struggling to establish that country's independence from terrorist violence. And to support the Iraqis, as the president put it, in "targeted counter-terrorism missions." That is, in making war.
Not long after the president made his dramatic announcement, American troops were in combat again, helping stave off an attack Sunday on an Iraqi military headquarters in the middle of Baghdad. Neither the war nor the American role in it has ended.
Saying a war has ended doesn't mean it has; this one will churn on, in one form or another, in one part of the world or another, under one name or another. Call it what you will: the global war on terror, the long war, major combat operations, the American combat mission. Whatever the polite phrase for it these days, it is still war. But euphemism has become the handmaiden of modern warfare, as it long has been the mainstay of diplomacy.
Lest we forget, the Korean War was a "police action," while the long, twilight struggle that was the Cold War regularly turned hot, and the vast majority of America's wars have never been formally declared. Reality has a way of trumping formality every time. It's called the law of necessity.
This latest twilight struggle may last at least as long as the Cold War did in the last century. It was labeled the War on Terror in the immediate aftermath of September 11th. But that name was adjudged politically incorrect by this still new and naive, maybe ever new and naive, administration.
For an awkward (and mercifully brief) while, this wide-ranging conflict was officially referred to as Overseas Contingency Operations. But not even those Senior Administration Officials who are always being quoted in the papers without being identified could use such an awkward phrase with a straight face. And that tag has been abandoned. It won't be missed.
If this conflict has become a war without a name, it's a war nevertheless. With all a war's blood and sacrifice and uncertainty, and, yes, with its heroism and hope and moments of triumph, too. This president's tone was victorious as he took his turn announcing the end of "the American combat mission in Iraq," for want of a better term, but he studiously avoided the word "victory."
It was an American general, Douglas MacArthur, who told us that in war there is no substitute for victory. But apparently there are many substitutes for the word itself. Yet none of them satisfy. When our leaders dare not speak of victory, or even name the enemy that threatens us (terrorism? Islamofascism? jihadism? only al-Qaida or the Taliban?) how clear can their war aims be?
We may not be able to settle on a name for such wars, but one number remains the same: 50,000. That's the number of American troops being left to guard Iraq. It's the same number of American troops that for so long were left to guard South Korea as that war wound down. Many Americans may not realize there are still tens of thousands of them stationed on the Korean peninsula half a century after a truce was declared there. The Forgotten War, it seems, has left behind a forgotten contingent. May the 50,000 American troops now in Iraq dwindle down just as peacefully in time to come. And may those in Korea have no reason to make the headlines again. But in war, as in life, there are no guarantees.
Peace, like war, is a sometime thing. It's part of the human condition, not an exception to it. And only the strong and resolute, the eternally vigilant, may be able to win the peace and then keep it. This president was admirably direct on that point Tuesday night: "We will disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida," he promised, this time in Afghanistan. His words were clearly chosen to assure both Americans and our allies. Much depends on whether he succeeds in that effort. Morale is all-important in this struggle, as it was in Korea, in Vietnam, in the air campaign against Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia, and in the two wars against Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
The central front in this long war is now shifting, but it's the same war against much the same enemy. And victory in it remains as imperative. Even if our leader, and the free world's, cannot seem to say the word. But he's come a way. At least now he's able to applaud the Surge he opposed as a senator, and even speak of it as a model for what must be done in the next stage of this conflict in Afghanistan. They say power corrupts; it can also mature.
We were told shortly after September 11th what this long war would be like: It would be like no other. It would not be concluded with formal ceremonies aboard a battleship, or by generals and statesmen signing on the dotted line. It would be fought in the open and in secret, in engagements that make headlines around the world and in operations that had better be kept covert. This president and commander-in-chief repeated that message in his own words and with his own variations last week. But it is the same long struggle, and it will require the same persistence and devotion to duty.
The president gave credit where it was due -- to the armed forces of the United States, who have done everything asked of them and more. Their commander-in-chief also found a good word to say for his predecessor in the White House -- a long overdue act of simple courtesy, needed continuity and national unity. Our president is indeed maturing in office, not just growing older. The challenges of that office would age anyone; they season only the wise.
It was a good enough speech the president gave last week, or rather most of one. Because at about the halfway mark, he veered off into domestic policies and the usual domestic politics. You could almost hear the gears grind as he changed subjects. As if he'd decided it was time to be a politician again instead of a statesman.
You'd think so skilled a rhetorician would have a greater respect for his art, and not suddenly switch both the substance and tenor of his remarks in mid-speech. It was as if, after crafting a careful and dignified presentation, he'd invited all his aides to throw something into the mix. And they did, more's the pity.
So the president leapt from discussing this war in the Middle East to the economy at home in a single, awkward bound. As too many cooks spoil the broth, too many contributors spoil the speech. But it was still half a creditable performance, which is nothing to sneer at in these impoverished times for American rhetoric.
Now the central front in this long war, whatever it's finally called in the history books, shifts to another theater. May it be marked by other victories, whether a president dares call them that or not.
Paul Greenberg Archives
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