“Too well I know this Tacitus….he came near souring me into cynicism”

by Belle Waring on May 2, 2004

Bush has really lost Tacitus this time. He is getting mighty depressed:

As I write this, Nightline just flashed, together, the photographs of the two dead in Iraq whom I knew from younger days: Kim Hampton and Eric Paliwoda. I didn’t realize they were killed sequentially. They fell in the line of duty, on the field of battle, and there is honor in their lives and deaths. What remains is for us to impart honor to the cause in which they served. I speak not of the defense of the United States: this is forever honorable, and right. I speak of the creation of a just Iraq. This would be an Iraq in which jihadis do not walk free, in which Ba’athist generals no longer rule, and in which civil war is not the near-inevitable future. That this Iraq does not exist, and will not exist because of our choices, means we have profoundly dishonored our dead there. They deserve better: something right, and lasting. It is hard to see those faces, those young faces, among the roll call of the dead. I look at them, and it strikes me that in walking away from Fallujah, we are walking away from their graves; leaving their light and memory to the cruel care of those who killed them. It is the worst of all worlds, for there is comfort in a parent’s asking, “Why did my child die?” and finding the answer, “For liberty, for justice, for America.” Now, in this defeat, as we slowly take the abdication of our duties to its inexorable end, that answer changes into something awful; something that should be a reproach to our halfhearted leaders to the ends of their days:

“For nothing.”

I recommed you go read both linked posts in thier entirety. Tacitus has always been a fairly eloquent fellow (if, like his namesake, inclined to morose skepticism about human affairs), and white-hot searing rage and disappointment have spurred him to new heights.

(And read this post for title quote from my and John’s favorite Melville, The Confidence Man.)



Carlos 05.02.04 at 8:07 am

Hubris, ate, nemesis, Prozac.


dan 05.02.04 at 8:46 am

“white-hot searing rage and disappointment have spurred him to new heights.”

A sad moment for Tacitus.

Sadder still if–as it appears to anyone examining events in Falluja carefully–there’s been no “retreat” there at all.

The Marines, startling as it may sound amid all the gibbering about “withdrawl,” have pacified the vast majority of Falluja.

They’ve slowly and methodically acquired enough control over that city that it’s now feasible to hand the zones they’ve demilitarized over to Iraqis–which, though this fact seems to have become a repressed memory, had been CENTCOM’s announced goal all along.

The motley assortment of insurgents Coalition Forces vowed to either “capture or kill,” insurgents who once held the entire city of Falluja, have been literally boxed into its Northwestern slums.

And there has been no notice of withdrawal from that pivotal perimeter: the only perimeter that now matters.

Throughout April, U.S. Marines have conducted precise and relentless operations designed to accomplish one goal: that of “boxing in” the enemy without resorting to full scale urban combat. The purely public relations “ceasefires” of the last month have served as a useful cover for those successful operations.

That Tacitus–and nearly everyone else, apparently–is under the impression that Falluja has been left in the hands of insurgents is an unfortunate side-effect of conducting wildly successful operations under cover of a darkness both political and actual.

Once the remaining die-hard insurgents still bottled up inside Falluja’s “Golan cordon” are either killed or captured by the Marines who are at this very moment tightening a noose around them (even as less careful observers announce their “retreat” from the entire city), the true ingenuity of Operation Valiant Resolve will become apparent. Even to prematurely glum bloggers like Tacitus, and those who seem to quote his pessimism appreciatively.

Wretchard, at belmontclub.blogspot.com, provides enlightening further reading on the ongoing operations in Falluja. Worth checking out for anyone also suffering from Tacitus’s “white-hot rage and disappointment.”

At least for anyone who doesn’t enjoy such sensations.


Motoko Kusanagi 05.02.04 at 12:10 pm

Haven’t you read Pierre or the Ambiguities?


yabonn 05.02.04 at 1:02 pm

Tacitus has always been a fairly eloquent fellow


First, he has that fetishistic shrillness about everything militar (damn, enlist, mate, and get over with it) that gets old quickly.

Then, there’s the quiet naivety of his pattern : “hey look how nicely reality matches my preconceptions, makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside”. This part gets really funny when he travels (he’s a bit of an “airmiles” type too).

To be fair i must confess i have to be in a real good mood to stand sullivan’s spin-a-thon more than two minutes, and that i bounced on what appeared to me a thick wall of francophobia last time i tried drezner. And the volokh are oh-so-clever but libertarians are bad for my blood pressure.

So i may not be best judge for right wing blogs :-)


Tacitus 05.02.04 at 3:08 pm

damn, enlist, mate, and get over with it

First Lieutenant, United States Army Engineers, thanks.

Not a glorious or noteworthy stint, but it was done.


Jay C 05.02.04 at 4:21 pm

Well, dan, we can hope you are right; but if you read all of Tacitus’ two posts (and their comments) on the recent events in Falluja (quite eloquent and well-reasoned, even if “prematurely glum”), you’ll note that his main outrage comes not so much from what has actually been done by the Marines – and by extension, the US command in general – in the city re the “insurgency”, but from how it will be spun in the Iraqi and Arab press, i.e. as a major defeat for the US, and a major victory for the “resistance” – and “Islam”.
The first part of Tacitus’ first post on Falluja, IMO, states the basis of probably the fundamental and (so-far) intractable problem we face in Iraq: an adversary (whether outright “enemies” or not) whose world-view and mind-set are so drastically different from ours, that interpretations of “victory” and “defeat” are not necessarily connected to reality – at least as we perceive “reality”.


yabonn 05.02.04 at 6:12 pm

Not a glorious or noteworthy stint, but it was done.

Where our hero discovers sometimes experience is not enough to kill romanticism.


Ortolan88 05.02.04 at 7:15 pm

I can hardly object to any reference to Melville’s wonderful “The Confidence Man”, but surely the fragment from “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about” is from Oscar Wilde,


Grand Moff Texan 05.02.04 at 9:58 pm

The operations in Fallujah might have appeared “precise,” to those only watching the censored American media. Some of us aren’t so docile, and are wondering what victory can actually mean where “liberation” is an open joke, and torture no big deal. Perhaps Dan can go paint the ruins of another school?

And, on the subject of media, the disciplining of the American kind continues. Quoth the Sinclair:
We understand that our decision in this matter may be questioned by some. Before you judge our decision, however, we would ask that you first question Mr. Koppel as to why he chose to read the names of the 523 troops killed in combat in Iraq, rather than the names of the thousands of private citizens killed in terrorists attacks since and including the events of September 11, 2001. In his answer, you will find the real motivation behind his action scheduled for this Friday.

Note the conflation. Iraq: terrorism. Nice. Buy my non-sequitur or the terrorists win.
That, my fellow lumber pile inhabitants, is the face of the enemy: giving aid and comfort to the murderers of thousands. Who’s next?


Grand Moff Texan 05.02.04 at 10:03 pm

I hasten to add: great credit to Tacitus, who does not obligingly repeat that the Memory Hole is the only fit place to honor our dead. It is amazing what “patriotism” requires these days, and I applaud those patriots who will not oblige. People who repeat their government’s ever-shifting cover-stories can be found cowering in any dictatorship. There is nothing American about them.
(To those who engineered this: your victims died screaming, and so should you. Be thankful you will be judged by people better than you and more forgiving than me.)


Frank Wilhoit 05.03.04 at 1:30 am

Tacitus may be a “fairly eloquent fellow”, but he is a fool. There will not be a “just Iraq” in the next ten years, or in the next hundred; and imagining that there might be is so fatuous, and so defiantly ignorant, as to be deeply immoral. Neither will there be a “just America” in the next ten years, or the next hundred; after that, I will hope–which may simply reveal me as a fool in my turn, but that does not justify Tacitus.


MQ 05.04.04 at 7:38 am

What’s the matter with you Belle? You’re such a clever person normally. Just because Tacitus is a slightly more literate and consistent version of the armchair militarist blowhards found on the warblogs doesn’t mean that he is actually thoughtful. Can’t you see through that stuff?

Just for a start: the problem with Fallujah is that razing it won’t help us and neither will retreating from it. We are in a no win situation there. Why? Because that stupid war that Tacitus and his buddies cheered on from the sidelines is indeed turning into the full-on disaster that rational people could see it becoming the whole time. And what’s his response? To chew out Bush for not escalating the whole mess further.


rick freedman 05.04.04 at 10:04 am

I’ve posted an analysis of the current Bush paralysis, and how it reflects some larger problems on the right. Conservatives have made the error of substituting argument for policy, and that hubris has landed us in the situation in which we find ourselves. Please take a look at:


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