Back when I was 30 pounds lighter (30 years ago, coincidentally...) I raced bicycles. I was (for those of you who know anything about the sport) a pretty good sprinter, a decent pacer, and - like most sprinters - pathetic as a climber (see this for definitions).
Climbing was all about suffering, and the suffering was worse as I watched everyone else slowly (or not so slowly) pull ahead of me. It mattered to my team that I make it to the top, because part of my job was helping control breaks by other sprinters, so one day the leader - the senior, best racer and an excellent climber - rode next to me as I sweated up a hill and cursed and said "You know, it's hard for everybody. Everybody's hurting right now. You just have to be willing to keep hurting until you get to the top of the hill."
"Everybody is hurting" became my mantra, and it helped motivate me to keep turning the pedals over. Later, in my short-lived career as an amateur motorcycle road racer, I changed it "he's scared too" to keep myself headed into the corner alongside antoher rider for another second before braking at (what seemed to me) the last possible moment.
It's important to keep that in mind. We always focus on our own fear and weakness, without realizing that the people we are competing with - riding, running, or for a business deal - are weak and afraid too.
That's on reason I keep emphasizing sitzfleisch (an iron butt, or the willingness to just stay in the game) in talking about Iraq.
We don't think about what it must be like for the other guys, until we get a glimpse - from a captured letter, for example - of how they think they are doing.
Recently, a letter claimed to be found in Zarqawi's bombed house was released. It doesn't paint a pretty picture of what's going on in the insurgency.
I want to take a moment to divert and talk about the response to this kind of document by otherwise sensible people. Marc Lynch - Abu Aardvark - has commented here and he and I have had constructive disagreements.His response to the letter, though, was just risable:
So about that "treasure trove" of documents allegedly found with Zarqawi which proves that the insurgency is on the run, that American military strategy is working, that the Iraqi security forces are developing into a formidable force, and that all in all everything is going America's way.... well, how can I put this?My issue with this is simple; the only evidence he presents that this is disinformation is that he wishes it were so. He wishes it to be so because it disagrees with the way the he sees things.
Let's just say that were I a strategist for a military which had just killed an insurgency leader such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and seized a bunch of documents full of actionable intelligence, I might not choose to, you know, release them to the media. On the other hand, had I just killed an insurgency leader such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and I wanted to follow up on that operational success by sowing confusion and disarray among his followers (and maybe even scoring some points with the domestic public opinion which my Secretary of Defense has identified as a principle theater of conflict), I might very well release a bunch of "documents" showing that the recently deceased was highly pessimistic about his prospects and that his movement was on the run. (I might also announce that said movement had just declared some random character as its new leader, just to sow more confusion.)
Oh, enough delicacy. These documents seem like a fairly obvious bit of strategic communication, psy-ops, whatever you want to call it. Nothing wrong with that as a way of pressing a temporary advantage against the jihadi wing of the insurgency, spreading confusion, that sort of thing - kind of a textbook move, even. Just as long as nobody serious is silly enough to actually believe any of it. Wouldn't want blowback now, would we?
It's an inconvenient truth, so it must be false.
It's certainly not impossible. But there's no data that supports his contention, and in fact there is significant other data - specifically other correspondence that has been intercepted or captured and released without disclaimer - which generally fits the points, tone, and issues raised in the new letter.
Back to the new letter.
I'll skip over the operational details, but it's clear that it makes one simple point: "Everybody is hurting."
We certainly are. The Iraqis certainly are. But so are the bad guys.
And we'd do well to keep remember that.