Sunday, January 14, 2007

Iraq War changes: maybe it's a Civil War in more ways than one (see 1864)

Recommended reading on a Sunday: this article by Barry Casselman, comparing Bush and his new proposals for the Iraq war to the situation Lincoln faced in the spring before the 1864 election.

Bush, Lincoln--huh? you say.

Well, read it. Casselman is clear that Bush lacks Lincoln's eloquence, and even much more basic communication skills; those are certainly not the similarities he's suggesting between the two. But he points out that, even as late as 1864, many in the North considered the Civil War a lost cause, and the antiwar movement was strong and included violent draft riots.

The opposition candidate in the election, McClellan, was a "peace now" advocate. And the peaceniks of the time had a lot more to complain about than today's in terms of bloodshed; the casualties in the Civil War (all of them, of course, were US casualties, like it or not--and the Southerners didn't like it) were far greater than today, both in actual terms and compared to the smaller population of the time. Follow the link if you're not familiar with the figures; they are shocking.

Lincoln changed course with a new Supreme Commander in the West, General Sherman, who was promoted to that post in the spring of 1864 and began the relentless campaign that resulted in Union victory. Sherman was:

...ordered by Grant to "create havoc and destruction of all resources that would be beneficial to the enemy."

A year later the South had surrendered, roundly beaten in one of the first total wars.

We look at history from the viewpoint of--well, of history. We have the advantage of the passage of many years and the knowledge of where events were leading. But if a history of the Civil War and evaluations of Lincoln had been written in early 1864, they would look awfully different.

A good recent example of the perspective that comes with time are the lovefests that attended the deaths of Presidents Reagan and Ford, with appreciations galore of administrations that had been excoriated by many in their own time (and are excoriated by many still, to be sure, especially Reagan's).

Whether or not Bush's new Iraq campaign will be successful remains to be seen, of course. Whether or not General Petraeus will be the turn-around general that Sherman was also remains to be seen (he certainly is no advocate of total war, however).

Whether Congress will allow us to find out remains to be seen, as well.

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