If you’re in the mood, would you consider taking a walk with me and, while we’re at it, thinking a little about US wars? Nothing particularly ambitious, mind you, just — if you’re up for it — a stroll to the corner.
Now, admittedly, there’s a small catch here. Where exactly is that corner? I think the first time I heard about it might have been back in January 2004 and it was located somewhere in Iraq. That was, if you remember, just nine months after American troops triumphantly entered a burning Baghdad and the month after Iraq’s autocratic ruler, Saddam Hussein, was captured near his hometown, Tikrit. Yet despite President George W. Bush’s unforgettable May 1, 2003, “mission accomplished” moment when, from the deck of an aircraft carrier off the coast of San Diego, he declared “major combat operations in Iraq… ended,” the American war there somehow never actually stopped. An insurgency had already flared, US bases were being periodically mortared, and American officials feared that some kind of civil war was in the offing between the country’s formerly reigning Sunni minority and its rising Shiite majority.
It was then that Major General Charles Swannack Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, mentioned that corner (and as you’ll gather from his comments, it wasn’t even the first time he’d brought the subject up). Here, as New York Times correspondent John Burns reported it, was Swannack’s assessment of the situation:
“The general, a large, imposing figure renowned among his troops for his no-nonsense ways, began his remarks by reminding the reporters that he had appeared in Baghdad six weeks ago, about the time of the insurgents’ Ramadan offensive, and had said he believed [troops] in his area were ‘turning the corner.’
“Now, he said, ‘I’m…