“I expect to maintain this contest until successful, or till I die, or am conquered, or my term expires, or Congress or the country forsakes me…”
— Abraham Lincoln letter to William H. Seward
June 28, 1862
Great enterprises come at great cost. Lincoln considered saving the Union a great enterprise.
George W. Bush considers stopping al-Qaeda in Iraq equally as great.
Many disagreed with Lincoln. Many disagree with Bush.
If Abraham Lincoln were prosecuting the Civil War today, 145 years later, he would likely lose the Union. Losses in the Civil War were staggering, most of the news was bad (many are convinced that were it not for success at the second Battle of Bull Run and at Gettysburg, Lincoln would have been forced to find a way to make peace with the Confederacy) and the Congressional Committee for the Oversight of the War was second-guessing his every move.
Does any of that sound familiar?
Those in the north who wanted to end the Civil War were seduced by the idea of stopping the bloodshed, the scale of which on any given day often exceeded all that has been spilled in Iraq in over four years.
What was missing in the analysis of 1862 is what’s missing in 2007 – the question, “Then what?”
It’s likely that if Lincoln had conceded the Confederacy, as many wanted him to do, the remainder of the Union would have dissolved in short order. Once the secession of the south was fait accompli, little would have stood in the way of future secessions by the remaining states. The end of slavery would have had to wait.
Conceding defeat in Iraq invites barbarism, genocide, reprisal and the creation of a safe-harbor for the export of terror to western democracies including the United States.
Lincoln could have packed it in. Bush could, too.
Sticking it out through horrendous hardship and withering criticism is either foolhardy or courageous, depending on one’s perspective.
Few today consider Lincoln foolhardy.