Catch-22 In Iraq (An Augmentation)

01/24/2007 02:58 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

[With massive apologies to Joseph Heller, in advance...]

Yossarian approached the medical tent, where Doc Daneeka was sunning himself.

"This surge plan is crazy."

"Surge is out," Doc Daneeka replied. "It's now an augmentation."


"That's right. Augmentation. It's not a surge, and it's definitely not an escalation."

"That's ridiculous," said Yossarian. "That makes it sound like Iraq's getting a boob job." He thought about this for a moment. "Who thought up this plan?"

"If you believe Stephen Hadley, Prime Minister Maliki came up with the idea and talked Bush into it."

"That really is crazy," replied Yossarian, with a snort. "Maliki wants all U.S. forces out of the country as fast as possible. He'd never ask Bush for more troops. He wants us gone, so he can stomp out the Sunnis without us watching."

"Yeah, well, that's not what the National Security Advisor is telling us. Who am I supposed to believe, the National Security Advisor or you?"

Yossarian considered this. "So we're supposed to surge..." Doc Daneeka gave him a black look. "... OK, OK... augment the Iraqi troops in Baghdad and that's going to solve all of Iraq's problems?"

"Nope," Doc Daneeka answered curtly. "That's not how it's going to work. The Iraqi Army has to go in first, and then we'll go in after them and augment them."

"That's crazy," replied Yossarian. "Maliki's not going to send in more Iraqi troops. What happens if he doesn't send them?"

"Failure is not an option."

"Failure is not an option?" Yossarian stared at Doc Daneeka in frank disbelief. "Failure is not an option? What the hell does that mean? Failure is always an option."

"Failure... is not an option," repeated Doc Daneeka slowly.

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard!" Yossarian exclaimed. "How do we pressure Maliki if he doesn't send the Iraqi troops? By threatening to withdraw? That's exactly what he wants! What happens if this augmen... no, dammit... what happens if this escalation," Yossarian said with a wicked grin, which was immediately rewarded by Doc Daneeka's inevitable cringe, "just doesn't work? I mean, what happens if something goes wrong? Where's the contingency plan? Where is Plan B?"

"Failure... "' began Doc Daneeka.

" not an option. Yeah, you said that. But it's horseshit. If you double your bet in poker, that just means you have twice as much to lose. And if you start losing at cards, that just means you have to bet bigger and bigger to get your money back. What happens if the damn augmentation just doesn't work? In six months, we're right back to where we are now. And if the only answer is not to fail, that just means more and more and more troops in an inevitable augmentation cycle. Some of the American troops here are starting their fourth tour of duty in Iraq. So what does that mean, they'll have to come back for a fifth or sixth tour? That's crazy!"

"Failure... is not... an option," Doc Daneeka said, as if talking to a six year old. "The president said that himself. If you want failure in Iraq, then you're obviously crazy."

Yossarian visibly brightened. "That's what I've been saying! I am crazy, so I should go home. We can't let crazy people fight wars."

"That's true. There's a rule that says anyone who is crazy can't fight in a war."

"Great! So send me home."

"I can't send you home."

"You mean there's a catch?"

"Sure there's a catch." Doc Daneeka answered. "Catch-22."


"Catch-22," repeated Doc Daneeka. "If you point out that the president's plan is crazy, you are obviously sane, so you have to fight."

"But the president's plan is crazy!"

"That makes no difference. If you're opposed to the augmentation because it's crazy and it's going to fail, then you obviously want failure in Iraq. And failure is not an option. So as far as the president's concerned, anyone who wants failure is crazy. And since he gets to define what success means, he can reject out-of-hand everyone else's plan for what to do in Iraq, since they all lead (by his definition) to failure. So they're all crazy, as far as he's concerned."

"That means the president thinks I'm crazy. So you have to send me home."

"Wrong. You pointed out that the president's plan is going to fail, so you're sane. Any sane person can see that it's going to fail. The surge has already failed three times before, so of course it's going to fail. So you have to stay and fight, since you're demonstrably sane."

Yossarian marveled at the logic involved. If you thought the plan was crazy, you were obviously sane and had to fight. If you thought the plan was a good one, you were obviously crazy and could go home, but since you thought the plan was good you'd never want to go home (which was crazy). By pointing out that the president's plan was crazy, you proved you were sane and had to fight, even though you knew the plan (crazy or not) was doomed to failure. The only people who had confidence in the plan were obviously as crazy as the president, and didn't have to fight, but did anyway.

Yossarian tried one last-ditch effort. "But surely the press will point out to the president that failure is always an option, and that his plan is crazy?"

Doc Daneeka smiled one of those smiles Huple's cat got when it slept on Hungry Joe's face. "But they can't."

"Why not?"

"Because if the press asks Bush tough and embarrassing questions about what's really going on in Iraq, they'll never get another interview with him. Their whole job revolves around the access they have, and if the president blacklists them, they're done as journalists."

"That's crazy!" cried Yossarian. "Their whole job is to ask him questions, and you say they can't, or else they'll lose their access and lose their job?"

Doc Daneeka shrugged and managed, in spite of himself, to look a little embarrassed. "Catch-22," he replied, and closed his eyes in a dismissive way. "Move over, will you, you're in my sun."

Yossarian whistled in appreciation. "That's some catch, that Catch-22."

"It's the best there is," agreed Doc Daneeka.


[From the original:]

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.

"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.

-- Joseph Heller, "Catch-22"


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