All mimsy were the borogoves – Rumors of windmills, part deux

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

– Lewis Carroll

This post continues the topic & discussion began in the prior post, War and rumors of windmills. In a comment to that post, Quixote raises an interesting point: based on the premise that the U.S. can’t afford to lose (that is, losing is not an option), winning (however that is to be defined) is the only remaining option. For many of the plan’s supporters, such as John McCain & Joe Lieberman, this appears to be the logic.

Lewis Carroll’s seemingly nonsensical work Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There demonstrates an important point. While the book is indeed incredulous, its internal logic is quite sound; Carroll was, among other things, a skilled logician. The point, as Quixote states, is that “an argument based upon a fallacy may be internally consistent, but cannot be meaningful.”

We have long since left the point where it is useful to argue whether the decision to enter Iraq was valid. As they say, that ship has sailed. The question now must be, “Is winning really our only option?”

The statement, “winning is our only option” is, of course, a false monochotomy and illogical. Winning can never be the only option, unless we have absolute control over the outcome. Ruling out the option that God has mandated this war (perhaps Pat Robertson knows something we don’t?), failing to win (i.e. losing) is always an option.

Even to say that our only options are either to win or to lose is to express a false dichotomy, unless either “winning” or “losing” is defined over-broadly. Without clearly defined goals, we’ll never know. However, we must consider the distinct possibility that – as illustrated in the movie War Games – this war may be as unwinnable as a game of tic-tac-toe. As I said in closing in the aforementioned post,

I think Bush’s plan to send 21,000 more troops to Iraq is like going “all in” after the turn on a pair of twos. Certainly, as John McCain has said, it could work… But, I wouldn’t bet my money (or my life) on it.

There are many, many reasons why you probably wouldn’t go all-in on a pair of twos, even though there’s always a chance it’s the winning hand. It is possible to win even a game of tic-tac-toe, if you are playing someone who doesn’t understand the concept. In the case of Iraq, I think everyone understands, at least well enough to not let the other side get three in a row. We must consider, then, that logical predictions based on the situation as we know it must include the option that this war is not winnable.

One of the main reasons why this outcome is possible, if not probable, is that Iraq simply doesn’t get it. There is no sense of nationalism among the majority of the people; they are still primarily Sunnis, Shiites or Kurds, and their only real interest is in furthering their own group’s agenda; they are all like the white supremacists of the old South – equality is not a high value to them. We’ve led the proverbial horse to water; I suspect that is really all that we can do.

To use a Biblical metaphor, a house divided against itself cannot stand. Perhaps a year ago, we could have had hope that a unity could develop among the Iraqis. It seemed to be so – the elections were, in my opinion, a marked success. However, the voices from Baghdad are telling us that the Iraqis are still just not getting it. So, to use another Biblical metaphor, what’s happening is that we took out the one evil strong dude, and now there’s a line up of seven worse strong dudes wanting to take over. So, if we aren’t planning on taking over, and the Iraqis aren’t willing to take over for themselves, then what’s the point?

I remember hearing stories about how untrained farmers and ranchers fought off the British in the late 1700’s – you might remember them as our founding fathers. They won, because they wanted to. We need to let the Iraqis see if they can make it happen, and it won’t happen if we do it for them.

In a nutshell, what I’m saying is that it is not us who needs to win, it is the Iraqis. In fact, we cannot win for them. It is simply not about us.

There are some other reasons why I can’t support Bush’s new plan, including:

  • Where have all the coalition members gone? They’re slowly disappearing, and now it’s really just us. You don’t hear any of our mighty partners signing on to add troops. You don’t even hear the word “coalition” anymore. In my opinion, it’s time to humble ourselves and beg the U.N. to step in and take over. Not that I have any faith in the U.N., it is just that the Middle East is – or will be – a world problem, so let them have at it now.
  • We will never solve the Middle East situation. We don’t understand them. Unlike the various empires that once ruled that area, we can’t even dominate them if we wanted to, because it’s full of crazies who believe that killing us with suicide bombings is equivalent to running a spiritual touchdown. Anyone who’s that willing to die will always hold the upper hand – you can only negotiate with someone who actually wants something, like to live.
  • We’ll never get the Islamic factions to tolerate each other, and certainly they’ll never tolerate anyone else. Iran and Iraq have been problems for years, and it turns out Iran is now a bigger problem than Iraq ever was. Maybe we should just them fight it out between themselves – it doesn’t look like we can stop them.

Well, the story is back in the news as one more Republican Senator has signed the resolution against the plan, not that it matters – the first “surge” troops have already arrived. We’ll just have to see how this story plays out.

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2 Responses to All mimsy were the borogoves – Rumors of windmills, part deux

  1. me says:

    Granted. However, I don’t think that the responsibility to be their military extends forever; at some point, perhaps now or sometime real soon, we’ve got to move on to the next set of questions.

    Your response got me thinking (always a dangerous activity): If one were to assume (as some do) that the U.S.’s actions were not morally justified to begin, is military action (which includes incidental casualties to innocents) “more moral” than taking a non-military approach? Can morality be parsed? Does the lesser of 2 evils become the morally correct thing?

    As I said, just thinking.

  2. Quixote says:

    Complicating the “let’s get out” strategy is that it could be argued (very convincingly, I think) that the US STARTED the whole thing, that it was the US who shoved over the first domino in what has become vitual chaos. The mess as it stands may simply be (policy stupidities notwithstanding) morally our problem now, even if we don’t like it.

    In some ways I think that this is the president’s sense of things. He hates the Iraqi conflict, really hates it. But he may realize, being the Texan that he is, that no matter what, America’s got to clean up its own mess.

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