Thursday, November 02, 2006

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (11/02/06)


Come Election Day, Nov. 7th, America's preemptive war in Iraq will have demanded our uneasy attention for a period only 17 days less than the duration of World War II. No wonder the administration's conduct of this conflict is almost the sole focus of a vexed electorate's attention. The main sticking point, of course, is the question of how and when this country can extricate itself from the impossible situation it created in Iraq. The Iraq war we launched in 2003 was a badly planned invasion of dubious legality, based as it was on intelligence that had been "fixed" to suit the desired objectives of neocon operatives.

The true reason, of course, was to guarantee continued U.S. access to Iraq's oil reserves, the second largest on the planet. A secondary consideration was to remove Saddam as a potential threat to our ally, Israel. Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction was the official reason offered at the U.N. by a duped Colin Powell with a tissue of lies woven by this administration. And the invasion had nothing to do with the face-saving reason cobbled together later that we were "bringing democracy to the Iraqi people."

The number of U.S. troops assigned to the invasion was surprisingly small. Notably lacking were linguists, military police and civil affairs specialists. Planners who questioned how occupation duties--interception of across-border infiltrators from neighboring countries, suppression of looting and the inevitable insurgency--would be managed were quickly silenced. The war itself was conducted in a most peculiar fashion with a much smaller force than Army planners had originally projected.

It is not generally known, but American units in battle had orders to move to and seize preselected targets. They could only fire upon regular Iraqi military units if they were first fired upon. As a result, most Iraqi units emerged from the war intact--without having fired a shot and without having been engaged by U.S. troops. Iraqi units simply melted away and returned with their weapons to their homes or joined the growing Iraqi insurgency. It was a scenario for the eventual disaster that would engulf our inadequate occupying force.

The poorly planned occupation of Iraq has since morphed into a singularly unsuccessful pacification effort, with high troop losses in killed and wounded. In 2003, during the 41 days of major combat in Iraq preceding "Mission Accomplished," American forces lost 140 killed (at the average rate of 3.7/day); during the 31 days of the month just past, 103 soldiers and marines were killed. Thus, losses during the month of October 2006 were about as high as they were during the most intensive fighting of the initial invasion effort. Such losses belie administration claims that "We are winning." Winning what?

In any attempt at pacification of an unruly populace, so long as the occupation continues and one exploding roadside bomb takes the life of a single American soldier, we have won nothing. The only realistic solution would be for us to encourage Iraq to form a Swiss-type tripartite self-governing confederation melding Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis under a slimmed-down central government that would collect taxes, distribute oil and gas revenues and defend the country's borders.

Readers may have become tired of being reminded of Santayana's wisdom about learning from the lessons of history, but consider the following written about what Napoleon called "the Spanish ulcer"--the wars in the Spanish peninsula between 1809 and 1814 that led to his abdication: "Napoleon's campaign included a rapid conventional victory over Spanish armies but ignored the immediate requirement to provide a stable and secure environment for the people and the countryside. The French should have expected ferocious resistance. The Spanish people were accustomed to hardship, suspicious of foreigners, and constantly involved in skirmishes with security forces. The French failed to analyze the history, culture, and motivations of the Spanish people, or to seriously consider their potential to support or hinder the achievement of French political objectives. Napoleon's cultural miscalculation resulted in a protracted struggle. The Spanish resistance drained the Empire's resources and was the beginning of the end of Napoleon's reign."

What is remarkable about these words is their source: they are taken from the draft of a field manual, FM 3-24, jointly written by the Army and the Marine Corps, copies of which are now being passed around in military circles. Such interservice cooperation in itself is a giant step forward. Titled Counterinsurgency, the draft embodies lessons learned thirty years ago in Vietnam--and then forgotten. Substitute "Iraqi" for "Spanish" and "Americans" for "the French" and you have described our Iraq experience.

The Iraq misadventure marks the third time that the United States has gotten itself involved in a land war on the continent of Asia against the advice of military leaders. The first was in 1950 when North Korean troops poured into South Korea. Omar Bradley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff called it "the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy." By 1952, the last year of his presidency, Harry Truman recognized that victory was no longer possible. U.S. forces were not losing, but neither were they winning. As in Iraq, they were caught up in a vast, bloody and expensive holding operation. Two thirds of the American public disapproved of the war in which 34,000 Americans died.

We fought another "wrong war" in Vietnam, where the U.S. armed forces contributed to the eventual stalemate by fighting the war they wanted to fight instead of the war they had been thrust into. Similarly, the public recoiled at the carnage in which 58,000 American troops lost their lives. Something like the outcome of these two wars may be the best we can hope for in Iraq now, an opportunity for the United States to withdraw and turn its attention to solving our own problems. The alternatives in remaining can only be an expanding civil war and attendant bloodbath, political fragmentation, a torrent of refugees and surging global terrorist attacks.

We have had years of promises of imminent victory, changed tactics in the conduct of the war and exuberant sloganeering. This week the Pentagon revealed that of more than 500,000 weapons turned over by the U.S. to agencies of the Iraqi government, only 12,128 had their serial numbers properly recorded. Some of these missing rocket propelled grenade launchers, assault rifles, sniper rifles and machine guns are now being used to kill American troops. Coming on the heels of a succession of rigged no-bid contracts and evidence of graft and corruption, this gross error is disquieting. It makes appropriate John Kerry's question to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1972: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

It is regrettable that crucial issues at home involving illegal immigration, factory closings, unemployment, health care, a burgeoning deficit and a decaying infrastructure are being swept under the rug in this election, which has become a referendum on the war. Nevertheless, go to the polls next Tuesday, and vote. Vote as if a life depended on it. Not yours perhaps, but certainly the life of a soldier, sailor or marine yet to be sacrificed in a failed effort to force democracy at the point of a gun on an unwilling people riven by tribal, clan, religious or ethnic differences. Thirty-four years later, I would paraphrase John Kerry's question to, "How does this country hand a reverently folded flag to a family and tell them that their daughter or son was the last one to die defending a lie?"


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