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The War Nerd November 26, 2004
The 2004 Quagmire Bowl!
Iraq vs. Chechnya By Gary Brecher Browse author Email

You Russians have something in common with us Americans. You might not think so at first. From what I read in the eXile, you guys have a lot wilder lives than we do. More sex, drugs, gangs that white people can join. Then again, youíve got a 50-year life expectancy. Itís a tradeoff, I guess; in America you get 70 years of being an ant in an office.

But in one way our countries are totally alike: weíre both stuck in quagmires. Youíre bogged down in Chechnya, and weíre hip-deep in the shit in Iraq.

So whose quagmire is deeper and stickier, yours or ours?

The Russian quagmire turned France from great power to surrender monkeys

The Russian quagmire turned France from great power to surrender monkeys

Itís pretty easy to make the case for Iraq as a military disaster. By now, the only people who wonít admit it are the ones who think God personally ordered us to invade.

Iím not sure where in the Bible they get that from. After all those years of sweating through Sunday morning Childrenís Service, I donít remember anything about how some kid from Oregon has to lose his leg to an IED in Ramadi. Maybe He was speaking in tongues at the time.

The question is, how big a disaster is Iraq? Just a stubbed toe for us, or a long fall down the cliff? Same question applies to you Russians: is Chechnya a minor border skirmish or a big defeat?

What really counts when youíre rating screwed-up wars is if the war makes a permanent difference or not. For instance, I saw on the History Channel where they listed the top 5 military blunders of all timeóand they had Bay of Pigs and the USS Vincennes shooting down an Iranian airliner in the top 5!

What a bunch of amateurs! Neither one of those sideshows made any difference. Bay of Pigs: we hated Castro before, during and after. The Iran Air duckshoot: zero difference to us or them. The Iranians have a birthrate curve like the 90s stock market; youíd have to shoot down a planeload of them every ten minutes to make a dent in it.

We need to focus on military blunders that really made a difference. The clearest cases come from the old days, when losing meant being wiped out as a tribe, forever. I think that we can all agree, whatever our differences, that Carthage lost. The Romans took the city apart brick by brick, killed the men, sold the women and kids into slavery, and plowed the ground with salt so nothing would ever grow there again. Thatís what you call a major disaster. People meant what they said back then.

These days itís hard to find total wipeouts like that. Populations are just too big and conquerors are just too squeamish. Back when the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia, people were saying it was the end, the whole Cambodian people were being wiped out, bla bla bla. Iím not saying Pol Pot was a nice guy, but you canít tell me Cambodia stopped existing or ran out of people. There are plenty of them right here in Fresno, selling noodle soup, and enough left in Cambodia to fleece the tourists just like God meant them to.

Same thing with Rwanda or Burundi. Sure, lots of people got killed, but donít tell me the Hutus or the Tutsis got wiped out. Theyíre already back at the old stand, hacking each other to death with machetes, little eager beavers dreaming of the next massacre.

By now the whole "genocide" label is so cheap it gets used every time somebody bumps into a minority in the street. "Genocide! He stepped on my Air Jordans!" You want genocide? Talk to the Carthaginians. If you can find any. What total defeat really means in this half-assed modern world is when one of the combatants loses the will to fight forever, or at least for a few generations. Their country still exists; it just gets castrated.

And thatís where you Russians really come into your own. Russiaís been a player, on one side or another, in some of the biggest military geldings in history.

Deciding to invade Russia is the all-time military blunder. It killed the most powerful armies in Europe two centuries in a row. And the countries that attacked Russia lost so badly that they were never the same again.

Settling into the Chechen swamp

Settling into the Chechen swamp.

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Gary Brecher
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Email Gary at, but, more importantly, buy his book.

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