Thursday, October 05, 2006

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (10/05/06)


"Insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results." This wisdom, a favorite of engineers and scientific researchers, is called to mind by the growing resemblance of the Iraq mess to our experience in Vietnam. Who's to blame? Start with a supine Congress's failure to declare that a state of war existed between the United States and Iraq. Doing so would have made it possible for Iraqi forces to formally surrender their units and their arms to Coalition forces instead of melting away with their weapons and munitions. Congress abdicated its responsibility and gave the President the power to wage a pre-emptive war, with all-too predictable consequences.

Our stubborn, incurious frat-boy president lives in a bubble, has a comic book attitude toward the war and a predilection for telling flatulence jokes. Totally unwilling to consider alternative courses of action, for him it's "my way or the highway." His vice president, Dick Cheney, is the power behind the throne, a role he shares with Karl Rove. Cheney has a good reason for wanting to "stay the course"; his former firm, Halliburton, gets richer the longer the occupation persists--and so does he. Those clamoring for the impeachment of George W. Bush would be wise to ponder the implications of a truly frightening thought: "President Dick Cheney."

Then there's defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the arrogant micromanager of all things military at the Pentagon. "Stuff happens" was his comment about the looting of Baghdad's hospitals, universities and museums. When a Tennessee National Guardsman complained about the lack of adequate armor on vehicles, his response was, "You go to war with the army you have." A curious comment coming from someone who had personally created the very army fighting in Iraq. And let us not forget the handmaiden to this triumvirate, secretary of state (and former national security adviser) Condoleezza Rice who cannot remember ever being warned about impending terrorist attacks.

Now it can be told: It seems that Vietnam War dinosaur Henry Kissinger, Nixon's Secretary of State, has met regularly--and secretly--with President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Seeing the lack of progress in Iraq through the prism of Vietnam, Kissinger became a behind-the-scenes source of advice on our policy there. He even produced a copy of his 1969 memo to President Richard M. Nixon in which he wrote: "Withdrawal of U.S. troops will become like salted peanuts to the American public: The more U.S. troops come home, the more will be demanded." Obviously fighting the Vietnam War over again, Kissinger reiterated this message in a column last year in The Washington Post: "Victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy." Now we know the origin of "stay the course."

It is no coincidence that only two days after retired Gen. Jay Garner arrived in Iraq as head of postwar planning, he was notified that L. Paul "Jerry" Bremer, a Kissinger protégé, would be arriving to replace him. Among his first acts, Bremer, the presidential envoy and putative Proconsul, signed two disastrous orders. The first prohibited some 50,000 members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from holding government posts. The other disbanded the Iraqi military, leaving hundreds of thousands of disgruntled, unemployed and still armed troops at loose ends. Bremer was rewarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Much of the blame for our present predicament must be laid at the doorstep of defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a veritable Darth Vader and control freak at the Pentagon. When Rumsfeld took over in 2001, he became enamored of a concept that had been circulating in military circles, and made it his own. Called "military transformation," this theory of warfare scrapped old concepts in favor of lighter, faster, more agile--and more lethal--combat forces. In the mid-1990s, the development of "smart bombs," precision-guided munitions capable of destroying enemy targets with a single shot, combined with high-resolution intelligence sensors in drones and rapid communication networks meant a revolution on the battlefield. If enemy forces could be knocked out from the air, less armor and artillery would be needed, and their long and sluggish supply lines could be dispensed with. Unfortunately, the resulting force was unsuited for crucial occupation duty.

Rumsfeld's ambitious plans for reorganizing and downsizing the Army did not sit well with the military brass. Friction quickly developed with Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki. In retaliation, Rumsfeld's office leaked the name of Shinseki's successor fourteen months before his retirement, thus effectively making him a lame duck. Rumsfeld treated officers of all ranks harshly, and was proud of his practice of "wire brushing" them by asking questions he knew they could not answer and then chewing them out and demeaning them in public. In Rumsfeld's eyes, this is his way of letting them know who's the boss. Experts see the passive acceptance of flawed Rumsfeld battle concepts without protest by senior officers as payback for his callous and insensitive treatment of them.

Transformation was a great idea on paper; its execution by former naval aviator Rumsfeld was something else. Among the wasteful items still carried on the Pentagon budget but better suited to the Cold War are F-22 stealth fighter planes, each costing about $170 million; continued development of the F-35 Joint Strategic Fighter, a smaller version of the F-22; a new souped-up version of the F/A-18 fighter plane--all to be used against enemies whose air forces can barely get their outmoded aircraft off the ground; a new Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarine at a time when the Navy already has a surplus of existing submarines.

The administration has followed a calculated plan to keep this nation perpetually in a state of fear for political advantage so the public will be oblivious to the breakdown of our armed forces. Traditionally the three services have shared equally in budgeted funds. The Army has borne the brunt of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet Rumsfeld has limited the Army's budget for fiscal year 2008 to $114 billion. In an act bordering on insubordination, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, who came out of retirement to take over as Army chief of staff, declined to submit his budget requests, saying that the Army needed another $17 billion simply to repair equipment or there was no point in submitting a budget.

The statistics are grim: The 3rd Infantry Division is scheduled to go back to Iraq soon on a third tour of duty, yet two of the division's four brigades aren't combat ready, having none of their armored vehicles and only half their troops. Nearly 1,500 Humvees, M2 Bradley fighting vehicles and other vehicles await repair at the Red River Army Depot in Texas. The same situation is true of 500 M1 Abrams tanks at the Anniston, Ala., depot. None of the Army's five largest depots is operating at more than 50 percent of capacity--all because of lack of money.

Drunk on neocon-induced dreams of military glory, George W. Bush has spent astronomical amounts on Iraq as compared with the pittance spent on rebuilding New Orleans. The U.S. is the only democracy in the developed world that does not offer health care to its citizens as a right. We rank 43rd in infant mortality behind such superpowers as Cyprus, a small island in the eastern Mediterranean, Andorra, a tiny country in the Pyrenees, and Fidel Castro's Cuba. As in Vietnam, thousands of brave soldiers have been killed and wounded in Iraq--for what? Insanity indeed is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results.


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