Thursday, December 21, 2006

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (12/21/06)


Two recent events are worth noting as the impending debacle in Iraq worsens. First, Gen. John P. Abizaid, top U.S. commander in the Middle East, testified before the Senate Armed Services committee and acknowledged that Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki was right when in 2003 he suggested that "something on the order of several hundred thousand troops would be needed to occupy Iraq after victory." Military experts have long contended that American efforts in Iraq have been severely undermined by the Bush administration's decision not to deploy a larger force to pacify the country.

Second, after eight months of labor, on Dec. 7 the bipartisan Iraq Study Group made up of ten political has-beens came up with its long-awaited report. An old joke has it that the camel is a horse designed by a committee. In its report, the Iraq Study Group created not another camel but a veritable smorgasbord of 79 sometimes conflicting recommendations. The report also contained some startling revelations: Of the 1,000-person staff employed at the American Embassy in Baghdad, only six speak Arabic well enough to be called fluent in the language. And a roadside bomb or rocket or mortar attack on U.S. troops is only recorded as an attack if someone gets hurt. On a July day this year, 1,007 such attacks went unreported by the Pentagon.

The doleful ISG report begins with the sentence, "The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating." It is all downhill from there, culminating in the blunt statement, "Current U.S. policy is not working." No wonder its release was conveniently postponed until after the mid-term elections. So much mismanagement, graft, venality and outright criminality is acknowledged, the report seems like an effort of a drowning establishment to grasp at 79 straws to keep itself afloat. Does any rational person believe that in any foreseeable time period, an undependable Iraqi army of questionable loyalty and dedication will be able to bring order to a country in which our own army, the best-trained and technologically the best-equipped army in the world, has not been able to prevail?

General Abizaid claimed that the U.S. must maintain or even increase current troop levels in Iraq because we have only "four to six months" left to keep sectarian violence from spiraling out of control. The next six months in Iraq always seem to be crucial, a siren song we have heard many times before. Early in 2004, British Prime Minister Tony Blair told reporters after his visit to the British-held city of Basra, "The important thing is to realize we are about to enter into a very critical six months." Since then, U.S. Senators have been frequent predictors of the importance of "the next six months." Among those who have invoked this period have been Chuck Hagel, Joe Biden, John Warner, John McCain and Carl Levin.

Infatuation with the next six months not only affects politicians; journalists are also enamored of the magical time period. New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman has touted its importance so often that in the blogosphere a six-month period is called "a Friedman unit." Anyone with a smattering of knowledge about guerrilla warfare knows that insurgencies are never suppressed in a matter of months. Israel has been battling the Palestinian insurgency for almost six decades.

One of the ISG Report's proposals is downright dangerous, probably the result of the committee's failure to consult anyone in the military below the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Recommendation 39 would increase the present 3,000 soldiers embedded with the Iraqi military by adding up to 20,000 additional trainers, at the same time reducing the number of U.S. battle-hardened combat brigades. Any seasoned non-commissioned officer could have seen this as a recipe for disaster if U.S. trainers must depend upon "incompetent and corrupt Iraqi troops" (the Iraq President's own words) for their protection and defense. The ISG Report also supports "a short-term redeployment, or 'surge,' of American forces to stabilize Baghdad"--but retried Gen. Colin Powell, no slouch at running a war, doubts the wisdom of this.

Such an increase could be achieved in part by further extending the tours of duty of war-weary units already in Iraq or accelerating the arrival of others. Increasing the total numbers of troops, as was done in Vietnam, is simply the reaction of the losing side desperate for a miracle strategy as certainty of defeat looms, a sort of deus ex machina, the unexpected or improbable incident that made everything turn out right in ancient Greek drama. Cavalry charges, Zeppelins, V-2 rockets, kamikaze attacks--history is replete with similar examples. But more troops in the suggested low numbers--even if they could be scrounged from somewhere--will make little difference over a brief period. U.S. forces in Iraq are in an increasingly untenable position, operating now with a siege mentality reminiscent of John Ford movies.

Our troops in Iraq occupy recently constructed Forward Operating Bases, heavily fortified strong points from which patrolling forays are launched into towns and cities. These FOBs are supplied by truck convoys--but patrols and convoys do little more than provide tempting sitting-duck targets for insurgents with an almost limitless supply of bomb-making materials and electronic detonators. The ferocity of the attacks have left U.S. commanders stymied and searching for countermeasures, while the steadily rising toll of dead and wounded U.S. troops attests to the insurgents' skill at this newest variant of guerrilla warfare, called by military experts "fourth generation warfare." Our troops also conduct occasional counterproductive raids on the hideouts of suspected insurgents that turn ordinary citizens against us. More troops cannot now do what more troops could have done in 2003 to keep the insurgency from ever getting started. More troops doing more of the same things we have been doing can only provide more targets for the insurgents and more flag-draped coffins.

At Donald Rumsfeld's farewell ceremony, President Bush, praised him for meeting "the challenges of a new and unfamiliar war"--another of his distortions of history. The U.S. has had plenty of experience with guerrilla wars, including three Seminole Wars, Indian Wars in the West, the Philippine Insurrection, Pershing's punitive expedition into Mexico, and occupations of Nicaragua, Haiti and the Dominican Republic for extended periods by U.S. Marines. And, of course, the supreme example of how draining guerrilla warfare can be, the Vietnam War.

The time is fast coming for us to admit that the bungled Iraq War has been irretrievably lost and anything resembling victory is out of our hands. There is nothing dishonorable in admitting to a blunder. Despite the fig leaf that the ISG report offered, the Bush administration continues to seek an elusive "victory" in Iraq. Breaking with President George W. Bush, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) expressed the feelings of many when he said, "I for one am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day. That is absurd; it may even be criminal. I cannot support that any more."

And so, as we head into this sacred but festive holiday period, brave young men and women are still slogging on and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan while back home the craven old men in Washington who hunger for conquest enjoy their complacent lives, oblivious to the increasing carnage in which our young people are being sacrificed.


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