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Losing Big

And setting up to lose.

by Barnabas
August 27, 2003

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Losing Big_Barnabas-And setting up to lose
To take your gun to town and lose is to lose everything. But winners may also lose big.
—Barnabas, March 19, 2003

Inside job suspected in Baghdad UN blast –New York Times headline, August 22, 2003
“We believe the U.N.’s security was seriously compromised,” a U.N. official is solemnly quoted as saying in the Times article. Most of us would agree, though not being diplomats we would more likely say “disastrously compromised,” “unacceptably compromised,” or “stupidly compromised.” Whether Iraqi security guards were involved or not, there was definite compromise of one sort or another, no matter what the cause, reason, or fault.

The U.N. bombing is the quintessential example of “losing big.” Like most Americans, I wanted the President’s hopes to be fulfilled. Now, as my words from March 19 indicate, I am more disappointed than shocked. That’s the use of the subjunctive mood. Prophets speak in the indicative and imperative moods. The subjunctive mood (the “maybe” mood) is where writers like me often find ourselves--operating on human hopes instead of divine certainties.

In Iraq we violated the Number One Rule of all competiton: Don’t set yourself up to lose. Of course that wasn’t our intention; but results, not intentions, are what matter now. I am not going to get into “What we should have done then,” because it is too late to do what we should have done (whatever that was). I am hoping, though, that those in power will address what we should do now with vigor, flexibility, and imagination. “What we should do now” doesn’t usually coincide with “what we should have done then.”

There’s a story I’ve known since childhood about a major league manager who would put his thumb to his nose to signal a pitch he particularly liked. But there came a game in which the opposing hitters had the pitcher’s number. The manager kept signalling the pitch and the opposition kept hitting it. After the game a commentator said of the manager, “He went down with flags flying and his thumb to his nose.”

We can’t keep calling the same pitch. If we insist that we didn’t underestimate anything and will prevail if we keep doing what we are doing, we’ll have history against us and our own citizens too. To set ourselves up to lose is understandable, because we never know as much we think we do; but to persist in it is the Vietnam Error. Of course the parallel is not exact — it never is — but it’s close enough.

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Losing Big
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