Roughly speaking, the fixed point of the president's thinking is an unwillingness to admit that the venture has failed. For a long time the best way to do that was to simply deny that there was a problem. Political strategy for the midterms, however, dictated that the president had to acknowledge the public's concerns about the war and concede that things weren't going well. At that point, simply staying the course doesn't work anymore. But de-escalating would be an admission of failure, so the only option is to choose escalation. Thus, the idea of an escalation starts getting pushed and we start reading things int he paper like "Top military officials have said that they are open to sending more U.S. troops to Iraq if there is a specific strategic mission for them." Consider the process here. It's not that the president has some policy initiative in mind whose operational requirements dictate a surge in force levels. Rather, locked in the prison of his own denial he came to the conclusion that he should back an escalation, prompting the current search for a mission.This strikes me as mostly right and a little bit wrong, but the little bit it gets wrong underpins a larger failing to grasp the true nature of the American problem in Iraq.
I'm getting ahead of myself.
World War II exerts a particularly strong magentism on advocates of the Iraq War. The reasons are obvious, beginning with, of course, the fact that we won. Not only did we win and win unequivocally, but we were a force of unequivocal good that triumphed against a force of unparalleled evil. It was, as the saying goes, the last good war. But from Primo Levi to Kurt Vonnegut, those who actually participated in that war (as opposed to those who merely lionize it now that it's passed into myth)--both combattants and victims--recall no such clarity. It wasn't a good war. It was the most terrible thing that has ever happened in all of our history. It was a conflagration of such unutterable horror that it sullied even its most innocent victims. To view it merely instrumentally--Democracy won and the Nazis lost--is to choose a singular moment of triumph and elevate it above all the horror that came before and after. Even while paying lip service to the bravey and sacrifice and horrors and bloodshed that came before, such a view reduces the war to a singular moment of triumph, and everything else falls away in that view as a kind of moral detritus--regrettable, but ultimately irrelevant to the body of victory.
The corollary attraction to contemporary warhawks is that the war, because it was so good and necessary, and because it was fought against such an evil, was fought without reservation. Though they themselves are almost uniformly unwilling to participate in the actual, physical prosecution of any war, they are nonetheless attracted to the idea of total mobilization because that too is a kind of clarity. It's a curious contradiction, because so many warhawks recently enough imagined themselves cold warriors in the battle against communism. Yet their societal ideal is essentially communistic; it is certainly mechanistic. The war society is a machine, each part mobilized toward the end of victory and the good of the whole. The constant labelling of dissent as treason is attendant to the same worldview.
When these hawks think about escalation, this is what they imagine: a more limited version of national mobilization, and a war in Iraq that consists of endless aerial campaigns, divisions rolling across the desert, cities besieged and bombarded, prisoners rounded up, until the enemy eventually capitulates. That's how they see WWII. That even total mobilization served a discrete strategy, or a series of strategies, is a fact that eludes them. To them, we poured in men and materiel until we won. So contra Yglesias, I don't think the problem is that "locked in the prison of his own denial [Bush] came to the conclusion that he should back an escalation, prompting the current search for a mission." The problem, rather, is that escalation is the mission. Military commanders may yap about not wanting to send more troops without some objective, but to the people who actually matter--whose decisions our commanders will not contravene--the presence of more troops is in and of itself an objective.
For this reason, it's important to avoid the trap of discussing what more troops will or won't achieve. It's immaterial to the conversation. I know that it's infuriating to confront an argument that's entirely a tautology: we'll add more troops so that we can win, and we'll know that we've won when we've achieved victory. Infuriating though it may be, that tautology is the basic principle of American foreign policy. If it is not as we imagine it, then it cannot be. To attempt to dissuade the president or his supporters by pointing out that their plan, such as it is, can't succeed on any terms other than its own, and its own terms are mere semantics, is to ignore the heart of our conundrum: these are people who do not accept a reality external to their own perception. Their morality and their politics are childish because they themselves are children. It is not a question of Randian A-is-A versus Derridian all-is-a-construct. It's only a question of the adult capacity to realize that your perceptions are subjective at least insofar as no person can be a perfectly accurate, perfectly dispassionate observer.
They can't be reasoned with.