The Fish
for 26 January 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
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Rolling Blunder

I agree with you that
the United States has
yet to define a workable
method for dealing
successfully with Saddam in
the postwar environment.
However, in sharp contrast to
Vietnam, I think the Gulf War
was as "successful" as a war
gets ... our primary
objectives in that conflict
were to oust the Iraqis from
Kuwait, prevent an Iraqi
foray into Saudi Arabia, and
effectively pull the teeth
from Iraq's military. We
accomplished all of these
goals with a minimum of
American casualties
(actually, a record minimum
... more US soldiers were
lost to accidents than enemy
fire). And we did so with the
full support of our allies
and of the American people.
The Gulf War was not an
undeclared war of ideology
... it was a sanctioned war
against unlawful aggression
(somewhat stimulated by the
fact that the war zone
occupied some prime
oil-producing real estate). I
think the only real mistake
made by US planners was
waging the war without a
clear view of the desired
postwar environment ... which
is a timeless and
oft-repeated mistake in
history. I think the planners
may have succumbed to some
wishful thinking in this
department, hoping that the
Iraqi people would blame
Saddam for the debacle that
befell them and produce a
coup. As you have already
pointed out, the bombings and
embargoes probably produced
just the opposite result,
especially in a country where
the government controls the
media completely. The
situation is much muddier
now, and the current
administration is handling it
badly, but I can think of few
constructive alternatives.
Can you? My point is not to
criticize your article, which
was very well written and
thought out and very true in
most respects. I simply
wanted to point out that,
from a military standpoint,
the operations have been very
well handled, which was not
at all true of the Vietnam
War, and that the analogy to
the bombings of Vietnam
(great title, BTW) is not
entirely accurate. The
bombing campaign (during the
war) in Iraq had clear-cut
military goals (to knock out
Iraqi air defenses and
communications, demoralize
their troops, and reduce
Iraqi war-making capacity),
and it largely fulfilled
them. Our failure was one of
political foresight and a
lack of understanding of a
vastly different culture. And
in that, you are correct, can
be heard the echo of guns of
wars past.

Happy New Year

Barry Munden

Hard to disagree with most of
this. The Iraqi invasion of
Kuwait was clearly
unacceptable and Desert Storm
was clearly successful at
liberating Kuwait with
minimum US (and allied)
casualties. Won't get into
the US role in helping Saddam
Hussein's armed forces gather
strength while Iraq and the
United States were allies, because of
course it doesn't make the
invasion OK.

But, as you put it, "waging
the war without a clear view
of the desired postwar
environment" I think gives a
great deal of that victory
back. As for constructive
alternatives, ending the
embargo removes the
United States as a
bogeyman that Saddam Hussein
can use on his own people and
the rest of the world - it's
backfiring badly on us and
needs to be abandoned. The
Cuban embargo didn't exactly
force Castro out in a big
hurry. And then? The Soviet
Union was far, far more
dangerous - far better armed
- than the Iraqis,
and the US
contained that threat for
decades with clear,
delineated counterthreats: If
you do X, we do Y. In
Afghanistan, the
United States armed the
hell out of the forces
fighting Soviet aggression,
just as China armed the hell
out of the Viet Cong; I'm not
saying we should do that, but
I am saying that the notion
that political and military
objectives can be obtained at
a low cost - witness the way
we backed into Vietnam, then
accelerated, then tried to
fight at just the right pitch
to keep China from becoming
involved - leads to
escalation and defeat. It's
necessary to choose a path.
Finally - not finally as in
"that's all there is to say
on this subject," but
"finally for this message,
which I'm trying to avoid
turning into a book" - it
would help if the folks
leading the effort
in the United States
would stop contradicting
themselves, and lying in such
spectacularly obvious ways,
to their own constituency.
The Tet Offensive exacted
such a huge cost not because
it was a victory in military
terms for the VC, but because
it exposed William
Westmoreland and Lyndon
Johnson as frauds.

And so on. But in any case,
thanks for a thoughtful

Ambrose Beers

Fish With Letter Icon

All Canadian kidding aside,
today's story on American
arrogance in world affairs
simply proves that generals
are poor learners,
politicians great
illusionists, and
that the United States
has a lot to come to terms
with - beyond Monica.

Would Canada be equally
asinine if it could be? I am
sure we would be just as
ruthless - luckily we can
escape that burden because we
are impotent to do more than
clean up other people's
messes in "peacekeeping."

As one who opposed Vietnam, I
am encouraged to see you
standing up vigorously for
what is right by exposing
lies and deceptions.

Stephen van Beek

Never put Canadian kidding
aside - it can be a powerful
weapon. Just look what it did
to, uh ... well, you get the
point. I tend to suspect that
Canada would be equally
asinine, if it could be, and
so would every other country
on earth - just as the United States
would be just as nuts as
Iraq, or any other country,
in a similar position. Folks
is folks, and your view
depends on where you're
standing. What this does for
the notion of the
"international community" as
final arbiter of justice, I
have no idea....

Ambrose Beers

Fish With Letter Icon

Once again you've proven
yourself a genuine journalist
and a clear thinker. The US
media has been parroting the
administration line that
chemical weapons exist in
Iraq and have been found by
the UN weapons inspectors,
even though their actual
reports, er, don't actually
confirm any of this.

So, let's review. The Clinton
administration (1) adamantly
denies using the UN weapons
inspectors as spies, until
proven otherwise; (2)
vehemently insists the UN
inspectors have discovered
chemical and/or biological
weapons, despite the
inspectors' own actual
reports; (3) blows up
pharmaceutical plants in
north Africa based on "firm"
evidence that ends up being a
fistful of dirt showing trace
elements of chemicals that
are either undeniably linked
with weapons manufacturing or
undeniably aren't, depending
on which press conference you
were watching that week; (4)
kills maybe a million Iraqi
civilians with an embargo
while castigating Saddam
Hussein for manufacturing
"weapons of mass destruction,"
which haven't been found for
eight and a half years; (5)
sends three Jewish officials
to Ohio State to try to
convince Arabs around the
world that this is not a
racist or a strictly
pro-Israel war (oops); and
most tellingly, (6) promises
Hussein an end to the embargo
if no weapons are found, and
when none are found, insists
that they must be there
somewhere and, regardless,
the embargo stays until
Hussein is overthrown.

It's not that Hussein is a
decent person or a legitimate
leader, which of course he
isn't. It's just a little sad
to see our leaders sink to
his levels of dishonesty and
inconsistency, but with less
brains and longevity, all the
while antagonizing a couple
billion Muslims around the

Which I guess is pretty much
what you just said. Anyway,
good job.

Tom Castle

You know, you've hit on the
thing that really gets me,
here: The unrelenting
antagonism directed at those
couple billion - I'll go
along with the number, what
the hell? - Muslims. It's
like: What are you gonna do,
dumb-ass, shoot me? Go ahead,
pull the trigger, asshole - I
dare ya! You gonna just
point that frickin' gun, or
do you have the balls to
really pull the trigger? Hey,
I'm talking to you. Hey,
asshole! What are you waiting
for? Afraid to ...


Ambrose Beers

Fish With Letter Icon

Rolling Blunder

FWIW, I mostly agreed with
"Rolling Blunder" ... except
for one point.

You wrote, "Mercifully true to
the era, it's the
low-casualty version, so far"
... which is only correct for
the United States and its allies.

Although the United States and its
allies have done their best
to avoid discussion of the
issue, tens of thousands of
Iraqis died during the Gulf
War ... 150,000 soldiers,
I've read ... many as sitting
ducks during the retreat to
Baghdad ... and thousands
more have been killed during
the subsequent attacks.


Jim Cook


Yet again, you have declaimed
sense and wisdom to a deaf
and gleefully pig-ignorant

One quibble. The description
"low casualty" applies, of
course, only to our side. The
hundreds of thousands of
Iraqis dead from starvation
and other war-related causes
may be deemed "acceptable
losses" by their government,
but I don't share that view.
Call me nutty.

Looking forward to your next

Rob Seulowitz

Yep, the "low-casualty"
sentence ended too soon, or
at least was missing a word
or two. Big difference if you
happen to be, say, an Iraqi -
although, of course, one
could make the argument that
it's their own damn fault for
not being American.

But, really, you're right -
kind of a lazy sentence I
wrote, there. Good call.

gleefully pig-ignorant,

Ambrose Beers

Fish With Letter Icon

I suppose the fundamental
mistake of US military policy
is that Saddam Hussein is not
Adolph Hitler, he's Ho Chi
Minh. To update an older
joke: Either way, the French
rolled over.

By the way, was Tet regarded
as a military success for the
VC? My knowledge is lacking,
but I thought I had read it
was not.

Ned Kittlitz

Tet was very much not
considered a military success
for the Hanoi regime. But,
after the US military command
in Vietnam, and the political
leadership back in the
States, had spent all of 1967
telling the people whose sons
and husbands were being
killed in the war that it was
almost wrapped up, that the
communist forces had been
"attrited" well beyond
effectiveness, the size of
the offensive made it
instantly, embarrassingly
clear that Westmoreland and
Co. had been lying, horribly,
to its own people. It
ended the fiction that had
sustained support for the
war. An implausibly
fascinating book about
Vietnam is War of Numbers: An
Intelligence Memoir,
details a long struggle
between the military machine
and a few of the people
within it who understood what
was going on over the "order
of battle," or estimate of
enemy strength. From page
147, this describes the reaction
to the Tet Offensive back in

"How could the communists
have mounted such a big
attack with only 225,346 men,
the number carried in MACV's
(Military Area Command,
Vietnam) latest order of

"I put that question on
Monday morning to the (CIA's)
VC Branch chief Ron Smith
... he said, 'It's obvious
they couldn't. They've got
double that figure, and
probably a lot more. The main
question is whether the
higher numbers are acceptable
to the chain of command.'"

(Here's a link for more info
on the book.)

It was a victory
strictly speaking, but a
victory that exposed a fraud.
Oh, and it also raised the
question: If the people
running the war were so smart,
why didn't they see such an
enormous attack coming or
at least a hint of it? How
could such a clever and
powerful war machine get
caught so completely unaware?

Ambrose Beers

Fish With Letter Icon

Excellent piece today. I did
some research into the
success of bombing campaigns
during the Gulf War, and
after presenting it to a
large body of academics at my
university, was surprised to
see how many among the elite
had totally bought into
American military propaganda.


Michael K Vance

Hey, did you publish that
research somewhere? Or, if
not, would you be willing to
let us have a look? Or even
just email a list of sources
you used ...

Ambrose Beers

Fish With Letter Icon

I'm a fairly new reader of
Suck, but I keep coming back.
Anyhow, I couldn't agree with
you more. Is it really so
necessary to use the
military's weapons and people
that they must find an enemy
to (try to) kill? I suppose
if you don't use it, you lose
it, and that would make some
people very poor, er, unhappy,

Keep at it,

BC, Canada


(Excellent place to live,

You know, I seem to remember
a news story, a while back,
about one of these
interminable US airstrikes
being a good opportunity to
get rid of some cruise
missiles that were becoming
obsolete. Like, you know,
we've got to sell off the '96
models before the
manufacturer loads up the lot
with the new '97s. Fire-sale
prices for qualified third-
world countries, this month

War: Not a bad business

Ambrose Beers

Fish With Letter Icon

Dissent of Man

Subject: Neanderthal Thyroid

I enjoyed your spoof of my
findings regarding iodine
deficiency in Neanderthals.
However, I do not agree that
"physiques of Neanderthal
fossils are not part of the
natural story of evolution."
My paper emphasizes the role
of iodine in evolution and
offers a genetic option as
well as a pathological option
to solve the Neanderthal
mystery. One genetic
difference affecting the
thyroid gland may have caused
modern humans to be more
efficient in extracting iodine
from food. That's much
simpler than the traditional
hypothesis that many genetic
changes affected many
individual bones, muscles,
tissues, etc.

Jerry Dobson


Thanks for the kind words,
Professor. That line about
"not part of the natural
story" was sort of an effort
to state succinctly the idea
that Neanderthals weren't a
developmental stage on the
way to Cro-Magnons (I realize
stating it this way is itself
an oversimplification to the
point of wrongness), but the
result of a specific dietary
event. There's only so much
detail we can get into, as I
suspect our readers are
always on the prowl for any
excuse to stop reading
anyway. Please accept my
apologies if that resulted in
an accidental
misrepresentation of your
views. More a result of my
infelicitous writing style
than anything else.

Best wishes to you, and for
God's sake, make sure you're
getting enough iodine!


Fish With Letter Icon

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