The Order of Saint William

Got an email recently that argued - actually
SHOUTED - the reason I am able to write the "tripe" that I do
is because of the people like John McCain.

My correspondent had a few other choice words for me
too, which essentially implied that I owed my very life - not to my
Creator or my parents - but to the god of mars.

It's hard to know how to respond that kind of jingoism.

Never mind the millennia-old biblical tradition in
Christianity that sees this kind of all-hail-the-military sentiment idolatrous
worship of the state. People who are not willing to consider the huge
difference between critiquing soldiers and the policies of their civilian
bosses; folks who blur the important distinction between defense and
pre-emptive offense; people who confuse "way of life" with Life
Itself aren't interested in an intellectually honest exchange of
anything, much less a serious discussion about the complexities of conflict and

And people who do not understand that, short of
genocide, there are NO military solutions to guerrilla insurgencies -- that,
short of total annihilation, occupying armies always lose to the native rebels
-- aren't familiar with the history of guerrilla warfare. So why bother?
I've long stopped trying to convert true believers.

Of course, there's a nugget of truth in what my
letter-writer is talking about, in so far as the military can, and does,
protect all of us from real danger. And though I consider myself a violent
person reaching for the Gandhi ideal, I'm not calling for unilateral

On a more down-to-earth level, the real problem with
the letter-writer's assertion is: laying aside the debate about whether
Japan and Germany had the ability to "take over" America and make
us all speak Japanese or German, the last time the U.S. military fought a truly
defensive war - one that involved an actual existential threat to the
Union - was the Civil War. Every other war I can think of has been waged
for ideological reasons justified on "moral" grounds.

But, if before the altar of warrior worship we must
bow, then I nominate Lt. Gen. William Odom for saintly status.

He died in May but was buried last week in the Arlington National Cemetery.
A Vietnam
veteran, Odom was considered one of this nation's leading Sovietologists,
serving on President Carter's National Security Council and as head of
the National Security Agency under President Reagan. He's authored a
number of highly-acclaimed books on intelligence and the Soviet military during
his academic career at Yale

Over the last years of his life, he made a name for
himself for being one of the most strident insider-critics of the war in Iraq,
which he first aired in the Washington Post
in the weeks before the invasion.

As noted by David Froomkin, deputy editor of the Nieman
Watchdog Project and columnist for, NPR aired an interview
with Zbigniew Brzezinski right after Odom died that offered a concise insight
on the Lt. General's career.

"I think what was decisive for him was his own
experience as a soldier, as an officer fighting the Vietnamese war. I think he
came to realize that there are some wars that are not winnable in the
conventional sense unless a democracy like the United States embarks on total
national mobilization and then engages in total national annihilation of the
enemy. And he knew that is the kind of thing a democracy would not do. And he
saw some real parallels between his own experience in Vietnam, which made him increasingly critical of
our war efforts, and the recent war, the ongoing war in Iraq, which he
felt very strongly ought to be terminated as soon as possible," Brzezinski

Odom's unsentimental clarity and reality-based
thinking I challenge any supporter of the U.S.
occupation of Iraq
to defy. Here's a sample:

April 2004. When
Odom was calling for U.S.
withdrawal from Iraq,
CNN's Lou Dobbs asked him about the people who would be
"shocked" to hear him say "it's time to withdraw from Iraq. Why have
you - how have you come to that conclusion?"

Odom: "Well, I reached the conclusion before we
went in that it was not in the U.S.
interest...the issue wasn't whether we would be greeted as liberators
when we came in, but how we would be treated six months after we're
there. And the idea that we could create a constitutional regime that would be
pro-U.S. in a short period of time there struck me as pure

November 2005. In an
essay he wrote for Nieman Watchdog, Odom argued that only way to achieve the
goal of bringing democracy and stability to the Greater Middle East (assuming
that's the real goal).

He wrote: "I believe that stabilizing the region
from the Eastern Mediterranean to Afghanistan
is very much an American interest, one we share with all our allies as well as
with several other countries, especially, China,
Russia, and India.
But the ill will created by our unilateral invasion and occupation of Iraq...has
shattered our ability to create a cooperative approach to stabilizing this
region. Only a U.S.
withdrawal from Iraq could
win back the support of our allies and a few others for a joint approach to the
region...The invasion of Iraq
may well turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in American history. In
any event, the longer we stay, the worse it will be. Until that is understood,
we will make no progress with our allies or in devising a promising alternative

March 2006. Odom wrote
about the lessons we should have learned in Vietnam. "Will Phase Three in
Iraq end with helicopters
flying out of the 'green zone' in Baghdad? It all sounds so familiar. The
difference lies in the consequences. Vietnam
did not have the devastating effects on U.S.
power that Iraq
is already having."

July 2006. He wrote:
"We should have learned a number of things from the Vietnam War, but most
of all that unintended consequences are often the most significant outcomes.
Our well-intended policies in Vietnam
soon rendered the United
States incapable of accomplishing anything
positive in the region. Massive use of American combat power justified all of
the extremism that North Vietnam
used in pursuing its course, and most important, it removed all doubt about who
could claim the banner of 'national liberation' in Vietnam. The
Saigon government was soon seen as no more than America's lackey."

Now, we have Iraqi Prime Minister Mal-lackey.

"Withdrawal from Vietnam actually improved
America's strategic position for turning the tide against the Soviet
Union, beginning during the Carter administration and accelerating during the
Reagan administration....The domino theory, invoked to avoid 'tactical
defeats,' can easily obscure the wisdom of a strategic withdrawal and
instead pave the way to 'strategic defeat.'"

May 2008. In his
final piece for the Post he
sounded an alarm about the Bush vision on Iran; a vision shared by McSame -
ooops, I mean, McCain.

"Current U.S. policy toward the regime in Tehran
will almost certainly result in an Iran with nuclear weapons....The United
States would have a better chance of success if the White House abandoned its
threats of military action and its calls for regime change...A successful
approach to Iran has to accommodate its security interests and ours. Neither a
U.S. air attack on Iranian nuclear facilities nor a less effective Israeli one
could do more than merely set back Iran's nuclear program."

Either way, Odom argued, the U.S. "would
have to pay the price resulting from likely Iranian reactions. These would
almost certainly involve destabilizing the Middle East, as well as Afghanistan,
and serious efforts to disrupt the flow of oil, at the very least generating a
massive increase in its already high cost."

If before the altar of warrior
worship we must bow, consider me part of the order of Saint William.

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