Jewish World Review Sept. 9, 2010 / 29 Elul, 5770
No Drums, No Bugles: None Dare Call It Victory
By Paul Greenberg
Not for the first time, a president and commander-in-chief has proclaimed the end of America's combat role in
"Admiral Kelly, Captain Card, officers and sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln, my fellow Americans: Major combat operations in
"So tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in
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
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
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
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
It was an American general,
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
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
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
We were told shortly after
The president gave credit where it was due -- to the armed forces of
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
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.
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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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© 2006 Tribune Media Services, Inc.