Jewish World Review Dec. 15, 2004 / 3 Teves 5765

Paul Greenberg

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Give up, Americans! | It's starting to feel a little like - no, not Christmas, though it does that, too - but like the Cold War. Remember those times? The constant tension between freedom and slavery, how we dared not hope for victory but just survival? And the constant, wearing fear of nuclear Armageddon?

At least the nukes aren't being rattled (not yet, and pray not ever) but Vladimir Putin has started to sound a lot like the old KGB man he is. Especially when he tells us freedom doesn't stand a chance in Iraq:

"Honestly speaking," said the Russian leader - in the way people who don't ordinarily speak honestly have to let you know that this time is an exception - "I cannot imagine how it is possible to organize elections under the conditions of occupation by foreign forces."

Of course Comrade Putin - excuse me, I know it's Mr. Putin now, but it's an understandable slip - hasn't been able to imagine free elections elsewhere, either. In neighboring Ukraine, for example, where his candidate is about to be forced into an honest election. And therefore an honest loss.

An inability to imagine free elections may testify mainly to a limited imagination. Who could have imagined, three years ago, in the immediate aftermath of September 11th, that there would be free elections in Afghanistan? Or picture a freely elected Hamid Karzai taking the presidential oath of office in Kabul - as he just did - after two decades of war and chaos?

Weren't we told again and again that hopes for freedom in that war-ravaged country ranged from little to none? To begin with, the war in Afghanistan wasn't going to be won without a massive infusion of American ground troops. In the U.S. Senate, John McCain said the combination of American air power and a few Special Forces, plus Northern Alliance foot soldiers, wouldn't be enough. It was time to dispatch whole divisions to Afghanistan.

The estimable Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post seconded the motion, and so did the boys at The Weekly Standard. Boots on the ground! That was the only way to win this war.

If it could be won at all. "This is a war in trouble," warned Daniel Schorr - and just about everybody else one heard on NPR.

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Ditto, said Veteran Reporter R.W. Apple Jr. of The New York Times, who was comparing Afghanistan to, of course, Vietnam. Quagmire!

Nothing that was actually happening on the ground could affect the pundits' predetermined line. Maureen Dowd, the Times' well-known gossip columnist and military analyst, summed up the whole geopolitical crux of the matter in her own scholarly way:

Now, like the British and Russians before him, (George W. Bush) is facing the most brutish, corrupt, wily and patient warriors in the world...

In short, there was only one viable option: Give up, Americans!

By mid-November of 2001, just as the most brutish, corrupt, wily and patient warriors in the world were about to fall apart, Jacob Heilbrun of the Los Angeles Times scanned the horizon and saw no hope: "There does not appear to be a political force capable of replacing the Taliban," he warned the week before Mazar-e-Sharif fell to the advancing Northern Alliance. "The United States is not headed into a quagmire," he concluded, "it is already in one."

Others were just as pessimistic. "Of all the proxies the United States has enlisted over the past half-century, the Northern Alliance may be least prepared to attain America's battlefield objectives." - The New Republic, Nov. 19, 2001. By the time my copy of that issue arrived in the mail, Kabul had already fallen to the woefully unprepared Northern Alliance.

When the news from Iraq appears particularly dispiriting, I like to go back and read those old clips from November of 2001, and remember how many prophecies of defeat preceded victory.

In the intervening years, Iraq has taken Afghanistan's place as the focus of American pessimism. Free elections that would usher in a relatively stable new regime? Any such vision was dismissed as a delusion. Well, the delusion became reality the other day as Hamid Karzai was sworn in as the freely elected president of the new Afghanistan.

One day soon, a freely elected leader of Iraq may be taking the presidential oath of office with due pomp and circumstance. Just as Hamid Karzai did in Afghanistan last week. Whenever it happens, we'll want to remember how today's Deep Thinkers assured us it couldn't be done in Iraq, either.

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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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