A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Bard on Troop Strength in Baghdad


President Bush addressed the American people last night to take responsibility for the continuing bloodshed in Iraq, and to announce a new policy involving increased troop strength in Baghdad devoted to the pacification of that benighted city. This time, the President seems to be asserting, we mean business; we mean to enforce our will:

Duke: “We have strict statutes and most biting laws…
Which for this fourteen years we have let slip;
E’en like an o’ergrown lion in a cave
That goes not out to prey…”

Well, for three years in the President’s case, and not fourteen, has the U.S. military been bedeviled by insufficient troop strength and hobbled by oddly Vietnamesque rules of engagement that did not permit robust assertion of its authority, with the result that furtive groups of young men, known full well by the military to be IED-planting teams, can be spotted at night but not engaged unless seen with a bomb in their hands.

Duke: “….so our decrees,
Dead to infliction, to themselves are dead;
And Liberty plucks Justice by the nose,
The baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart
Goes all decorum.”

Happily, the President also announced that the rules of engagement will be changed, allowing out troops to unsheathe their might. It seems, though, that three years was much too long a time to recognize the need for this change in strategy. Three thousand honored dead call to our political leaders for clearer leadership. Timidity over casualties in the short term will only lead to greater casualties overall, or to the collapse of will and retreat that has ever been longed for by the Democratic Party.

Here Lady Percy, Hotspur’s widow, scolds her father-in-law, Northumberland, for failing to provide requested reinforcements to his own son Hotspur (also know as Percy, and Harry – aristocrats held multiple names back then) to aid in his rebellion against the falsely installed Henry IV:

Lady Percy: “The time was, Father, when you broke your word,
When your own Percy, when my dear heart’s Harry,
Threw many a northward look to see his father
Bring up his powers; but he did long in vain.
Who then persuaded you to stay at home?”

It may seem churlish to criticize the initiator of the overthrow of Saddam and the rebuilding of Iraq for insufficient zeal, and I do appreciate the President’s muscular assertion of our military against the Islamists, and note in more than passing that the Democratic alternative – defeat, humiliation, and the bowing of American independence before the UN – remains not only worse, but unthinkable.

But in war it is not enough to take the right side; one must win. And the former hobbling of our military, even if it occurred as the result of following the advice of timid pentagon generals who were averse to urban-patrol counter-insurgency efforts, is what has placed us in the currently precarious position. Our soldiers deserve better. In that respect, Lady Percy’s hot words fall on our civilian leaders and timid generals today no less than on her father-in-law then:

“Lady Percy: “…Him did you leave,
Second to none, unseconded by you,
To look upon the hideous god of war
In disadvantage, to abide a field
Where nothing but the sound of Hotspur’s name
Did seem defensible. So you left him…”.

Of course, American patriots read this criticism of an imperfect war strategy with sorrow, while American liberals read this criticism with a glee borne of their hope for American defeat. And as for what may become of the long-suffering Iraqi people in the aftermath of such a defeat; well, nothing could be further from a liberal’s thoughts.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Romeo & Juliet & the AP & Reuters


Bardseye returns today from a second baby-related hiatus (our little Shakespearean thrives; his powers daily grow) to marry a slice of Romeo and Juliet to the captivating conflict in Iraq.

As the gentle reader will recall, for killing Paris (not the city, which hardly needs to be murdered given its current cultural suicide, but rather Juliet’s undesired fiancé) Romeo was banished to Mantua. His servant Balthasar rode hence in Act V with news of events in Verona, news which put quite a crimp in Romeo’s oddly happy mood:

Rom: “If I may trust the flattering truth of sleep,
My dreams presage some joyful news at hand.
My bosom’s lord sits lightly in his throne,
And all this day an unaccustomed spirit
Lifts me above the ground with cheerful thoughts.”

Enter Romeo’s man, Balthasar.

“News from Verona! How now, Balthasar?

Dost thou not bring me letters from the friar?
How doth my lady?.…”

Bal: “Her body sleeps in Capels’ monument,
And her immortal part with angels lives.
I saw her laid low in her kindred’s vault,
And presently took post to tell it you.
O, pardon me for bringing these ill news.”

Obviously, Shakespeare was warning us in this passage about the Associated Press, our modern-day Balthasar, who rides – too soon! – from Baghdad with front page news of mosques destroyed and civilians set fire to in the streets, news that is later, in quieter pages folded well inside, and just like Balthasar’s news of Juliet’s death, discredited.

Blog readers will already be aware that the sole source for the atrocity described above, and nearly the sole source for sixty news stories detailing Shia attacks on Sunni civilians, is a Baghdad police captain whose existence the AP was for some weeks unable to confirm. He has since been confirmed as a real person, but his sixty stories have not fared as well. The destroyed mosques are standing; no confirmation for the bodies burned in the street – an act that even in today’s Baghdad could be expected to stand out. (Whoops - the latest information now is that the AP story confirming the captain's identity was itself discredited; his existence remains still unconfirmed).

First Senator: “This cannot be,
By no assay of reason: ‘tis a pageant,
To keep us in false gaze.”

Othello, Act I, scene iii

The kafuffle over the captain, however it may be resolved, has revealed a fearful reliance of Western news organizations (whose reporters fear to tread outside the protected green zone) on local Iraqi stringers, who tend to be partisan, and whose reports tend to remain unconfirmed. The longstanding anti-American track record of the major wire services, AP and Reuters, required of news consumers another layer of suspicion.

Meanwhile, the war in Iraq remains a complex, fascinating struggle, one where the US has achieved signal successes alongside the more loudly amplified failures. From Al Qaida’s standpoint, the public relations effort is critical; with outright military success unlikely, their strategy must focus on demoralizing the US voter and taxpayer in order to cause the American effort to be called off by the civilians back home. The willingness AP and Reuters to print whatever their Iraqi stringers tell them is therefore extremely useful to Al Qaida.

It’s worth remembering that Balthasar’s false report is what caused Romeo and Juliet to grasp defeat from the jaws of romantic victory.

Rom: “…Eyes, look your last!
Arms, take your last embrace! And, lips, O you
The doors of breath seal with a righteous kiss
A dateless bargain to engrossing death!”

Obviously, Al Qaida for serious, fascist reasons, and the AP and Reuters for frivolous reasons (hip nihilism; fashionable anti-Americanism) would both like to see the same happen in the fight for the freedom and dignity of the long-benighted Iraqi people.
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