Friday, May 26, 2006

The Great Game Goes On


The British called it "The Great Game."The Russian name for it was "The Tournament of Shadows." Both terms referred to the intense rivalry between Great Britain and Tsarist Russia ignited by Russian expansion into Central Asia. It was a game that combined elements of daring exploration, covert espionage and blatant imperialism.

In Britain's view, Russia's southward reach threatened its so-called "jewel in the crown"--the subcontinent of India. Russia's ultimate objective, of course, was to reach a warm-water port.

The Great Game had a dramatic beginning on the bright sunny morning of June 17, 1842. On that date, two bearded figures were forced to kneel in the central square the Central Asian town of Bokhara, in what is Uzbekistan today. Ragged, half-starved and filthy, they awaited their fate with their arms tied behind their backs. They had been kept imprisoned for months in a deep pit infested with rats beneath Emir Nasrullah's mud-brick citadel. Nearby were two graves, freshly dug by the prisoners. A small group of townsfolk watched impassively. Under the Emir's harsh rule, executions were commonplace in this remote caravan town.

What made this public execution unusual was the identity of the two men about to be beheaded. Facing death thousands of miles away from home were two British Army officers. First to die was 36-year old Lt. Col. Charles Stoddart, who had been dispatched to Bokhara to offer British aid to the despotic Emir if Bokhara was attacked by the Russians penetrating Central Asia.

Despite the advice of others, he insisted in riding into Bokhara in full military regalia. Moreover, as protocol required, he refused to dismount when the Emir showed up to greet him. To make matters worse, Queen Victoria had neglected to sign the letter that Stoddart carried addressed to the Emir.

The Emir's response was to seize Stoddart and shackle him, then to cast him into the notorious pit, a filthy hole filled with rotting human remains and vermin. Occasionally, at the Emir's frivolous whim, Stoddart was released from the pit only to be thrust back again. Learning of Stoddart's fate, Capt. Arthur Conolly volunteered to travel to Bokhara to obtain his fellow officer's freedom. For his pains, he too ended up in the Emir's clutches.

Conolly was beheaded shortly after Stoddart. The two bodies joined the Emir's many other victims in the now-forgotten graveyard in the town square. Both men were players in the Great Game, the term Conolly had indirectly coined. In an early letter to a fellow political officer in Kandahar facing a Persian army with Russian military advisers, he had written, "You've a great game before you."

After Conolly's death, British military historian Sir John Kaye acquired Conolly's letters. Quoting from them later, he introduced the term "Great Game" into usage in imperial and military circles. The typically Victorian sporting expression described the titanic clandestine struggle played in Central Asia by the secret services of Great Britain and Russia. It was later popularized by Rudyard Kipling in his classic 1901 novel Kim, in which Kimball O'Hara, the orphaned son of an Irish soldier, foils a Russian plot to seize British India.

The Great Game is still being played, now on a wider stage. It has always been a dirty and bloody game, only now it is being played for even higher stakes. This time the prize is access to oil.

Exhausted by the sacrifices of the Second World War and facing the beginning of the Cold War, the British faced the reality that they could no longer continue to play the Great Game. As a result, the U.S. displaced Britain as the major global power and asserted its influence in the Middle East. The playing field for the new Great Game has since widened expansively. It still includes Afghanistan, but has added within its compass Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India and the post-Soviet republics of Central Asia. To complicate matters, a new ingredient has been added: unbridled terrorism.

Despite assurances from the Bush administration that every effort is being made to withdraw troops from Iraq, disquieting evidence is surfacing about plans for a possible long-term presence there. A year ago, the United States maintained 108 military bases scattered around Iraq, many at facilities previously established by Saddam Hussein. Some 34 have apparently been handed over to the Iraqis. Stories circulated that the U.S. would ultimately retain 14 bases scattered around the country, called "enduring bases." Although the military will not identify specific sites, of these 14 bases, four "supersize" base locations have had the most money spent on them.

The four bases are Balad, 43 miles north of Baghdad; Tallil, between Baghdad and Basra; al-Qayyarah in the north, near Mosul; al-Asad, 180 miles west of Baghdad and only ten miles from the Syrian border. They are all in comparatively remote locations and are thus able to repel attacks by insurgents. All are capable of handling large transport aircraft, making their maintenance independent of vulnerable road convoys, and are able to deploy attack helicopters and F-16 strike aircraft.

The enormous expenditures for their construction or expansion exemplify your tax dollars at work, and we're talking big bucks here. At Balad, $228.7 million was spent in 2005 and $17.8 million is budgeted for 2006. Two bases are getting extensive upgrades in 2006: At al-Asad, a Marine Corps base, 2005 spending is unknown, but $46.3 million will be spent in 2006. At Tallil, $10.8 million was spent in 2005 and $110.3 million will be spent in 2006.

Add to these lavish base expenditures the fantastic sums spent on the new U.S. embassy in the heart of Baghdad's international zone--the largest embassy building anywhere. Built largely by non-Iraqi contractors (the lead contractor is from Kuwait) and one-third completed, the $592 million self-contained complex is scheduled for opening in mid-2007. It will have a staff of a thousand employees in two office towers and a number of apartment buildings, and will have its own recreation facilities, electric plant and water supply. An extra-large Marine Corps guard unit will handle embassy security.

Life on the superbases is little different from the communities soldiers and marines left in the States. Air conditioning is everywhere. Instead of taking a meal at a mess hall, troops can eat at a coffee shop or a Burger King, Popeye's, Subway or Pizza Hut concession. There are rec halls that feature dances on weekend evenings, swimming pools, movie theaters, and even red octagonal stop signs at intersections to remind them of home.

Among the largest, Balad Airbase and the adjacent Camp Anaconda (dubbed by GIs "Mortaritaville") house 25,000 military and civilian personnel. The base controls all air traffic over Iraq and handles some 27,500 flights a month, making it the second busiest airport in the world, after London's Heathrow airport.

The four bases are all far enough away from major urban centers to be secure from attacks by insurgents. Oil fields and their fabulously rich reserves in the north are covered by the al-Qayyarah base and those in the south by the Tallil base. Geologists have expectations that exploration in unruly Anbar province in the west will reveal additional reserves. That area is conveniently covered by the base at al-Asad, called by GIs "Camp Cupcake" because its facilities are sumptuous compared with spartan conditions at the 74 FOBs (Forward Operating Bases).

Should friction with Iran increase, the bases are all within heavily protected airspace well away from the Iranian border. At the same time, their locations stretching from north to south parallel to Iran's western border make them ideal for air operations against Iran. With their enormous size and superior capabilities, they are tantamount to stationary aircraft carriers.

The four superbases in Iraq represent the new look in what the military calls "expeditionary warfare." Giant Cold War bases garrisoned by tens of thousands of troops are a thing of the past. In their place will be giant "lily pads"--as the military calls them--to be used only when needed. With huge runways, off ramps and aprons that can handle the heaviest transport planes and with warehouses bulging with equipment at the ready, these bases represent the testing ground for the conduct of future wars.

Not counting the bases in Iraq, since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has created 35 new bases in a giant sweeping arc running from Poland to Pakistan. One base in Uzbekistan was closed and another in Kyrgyzstan may have to be given up. Should this base also be lost, there would be a break in the chain of bases containing Russia and China. Although Iraq is not in the arc, it would partially serve as the missing link.

According to President Bush, as Iraqi forces become ready to "stand up," American forces will stand down and turn over additional bases to them. What troubles experts is the knowledge that the Iraqi Air Force consists of C-130 cargo aircraft, training planes and a few unarmed helicopters. By any standard the extent of U.S. base construction far exceeds any possible requirements of any future defense-oriented Iraqi Air Force. The fear is that the superbases will become permanent.

President Bush finally admitted recently that U.S. troops will still be in Iraq when his successor takes the oath of office early in 2009. But there is one question to which his administration has proved itself artful in dodging an answer. The $64 billion question is: "Will we maintain a permanent presence in Iraq?"

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A Tale of Two Cities


As Charles Dickens put it, verily it was the worst of times. Anguished residents watched as water relentlessly poured through breached levees, rushed down city streets and began to rise, inundating entire neighborhoods. Those who had not evacuated perched precariously on rooftops and held makeshift signs to attract rescuers in helicopters. Fires broke out, sparked by broken electrical wires and fueled by ruptured gas lines. Thousands of residents crowded into shelters.

New Orleans and the consequences of Hurricane Katrina in 2005? No, Grand Forks, North Dakota, reeling from a spring thaw in 1997. A comparison of the experience of these two cities is illuminating. It shows what can happen to a well-run federal department, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), when it has been turned into a dumping ground for political cronies and incompetents.

In April of 1997, the Red River of the North, which forms a long stretch of the boundary between North Dakota and Minnesota, became choked with melting snow. One of the few U.S. rivers that flow north, it was so named to distinguish it from the Red River, the tributary of the Mississippi that rises in the Texas Panhandle.

An error in the hydrological model created by the National Weather Service (NWS) based on the height reached in a 1979 flood compounded by unusually freakish weather to cause the near destruction of Grand Forks, North Dakota, and East Grand Forks, Minnesota, its twin across the river. The weather service had foreseen a height of 49 feet; the river crested at 54 feet and forced the largest evacuation of an American city since Atlanta in the Civil War. At its widest extent, water covered everything up to two miles from the river. Angry with the faulty NWS prediction, one citizen spray-painted a message on the side of his flooded house, "49 feet my ass."

What a difference eight years--and a different FEMA--made. Early in 1997, months before disaster struck, FEMA officials had been in Grand Forks advising residents to take out insurance under the National Flood Insurance Program. And during the flood, the FEMA staff performed in the words of one writer, "like a well-oiled machine," not only in Grand Forks but in the entire Red River Valley. Moving in en masse the moment the NWS warned residents to expect more water than the levees could hold, FEMA employees brought with them a state-of-the-art headquarters trailer, dubbed "Red October." One of FEMA's mobile command centers, it contained a dozen computers linked to the Internet, a satellite communications system, a radio system, and 48 phone lines, including dedicated lines to the White House and the Pentagon.

On the very day the river reached its crest, President Bill Clinton arrived in Grand Forks, bringing with him the director of FEMA, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Army, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation and the head of the Small Business Administration. At the Grand Forks Air Force base they met with the governors of North Dakota and Minnesota, the two states' congressional delegation, and the mayors of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. Before leaving the White House, Clinton had directed FEMA to raise federal aid to the 100 percent level, instead of the usual 75 percent. Impressed with the so much mobilized expertise, Grand Forks Mayor Patricia Owens, tearfully told Bill Clinton, "You bring us hope." Remarkably, when the water receded and casualty statistics were totaled, not a single life had been lost in the flood. Grand Forks has now been largely rebuilt. Acting on the advice of the Army Corps of Engineers, the vulnerable flood plains have been returned to the river.

Since its creation in 1979 by the Carter administration, FEMA had been a dumping ground for political hacks. Its first director, John Macy, was a longtime civil servant with experience in defense. Next came Louis O. Giuffrida, a close friend of Edwin Meese, later Reagan's attorney general. Mr. Giuffrida resigned amid allegations of misconduct. Julius W. Becton, a retired Air Force lieutenant general, replaced him. On the heels of Hurricane Hugo in 1989, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina, with characteristic frankness, called FEMA "the sorriest bunch of bureaucratic jackasses I've ever worked with." President George H.W. Bush appointed Wallace E. Stickney, a protege of White House chief of staff John H. Sununu, in 1990.

A 1992 House Appropriations Committee report described Stickney as "a weak, uninterested executive who has little interest in the agency's programs." The report called the agency "a political dumping ground, a 'turkey farm.'" It charged that FEMA was "filled with inexperienced appointees who mismanaged the agency, misled Congress, and funneled consulting contracts to their friends."

Confronted in 1993 with this shabby history, Bill Clinton selected someone he could rely upon. As Governor of Arkansas, he had put James Lee Witt in charge of reorganizing the Arkansas Office of Emergency Services. People in Washington assumed that since Witt came from Arkansas and they had never heard of him, he must be another hack. Cool-headed James Lee Witt surprised everyone by systematically weeding out most of the incompetents and honing the agency to a fine edge. Recognizing the agency's crucial importance, Clinton raised it to cabinet status.

A 1996 editorial in the Atlanta Constitution noted that Witt was the first director of the agency to have emergency-management experience and praised him for stopping the staffing of the agency by political patronage. The newspaper said, "He removed layers of bureaucracy. Most important, he instilled in the agency a spirit of preparedness, of service to the customer, of willingness to listen to ideas of local and state officials to make the system work better."

Witt's firm hand and contagious management philosophy succeeded. A year after the flood, a Grand Forks police lieutenant who had lost his home described his own experience: "The main thing I got from dealing with FEMA was the courtesy, the compassion they showed. It was truly unbelievable and helpful for us and my family and the town."

Contrast this record with the Administration's performance in Hurricane Katrina, a feeble effort that bordered on criminal negligence: The floundering FEMA director praised on TV by President Bush for "doing a heck of a job"--an empty compliment considering that millions of TV watchers were aware of the totally ineffective federal relief efforts. On the first of his seven photo-op visits to a desolated New Orleans, an insensitive George W. Bush joked about boozing in the French Quarter when he had "sometimes too much fun."

In 2000, candidate George W. Bush had nothing but praise for James Lee Witt. During the first presidential debate with Al Gore, he described the fires and floods that had swept Texas and said, "I have to pay the [Clinton] administration a compliment. James Lee Witt of FEMA has done a really good job of working with governors during times of crisis." Bush would have been wiser to keep him instead of another Clinton holdover, CIA director George "Slam Dunk" Tenet. On taking office in 2001, President Bush returned FEMA to the cronies and hacks, placing at its head Joe Allbaugh, a Bush campaign manager. After Allbaugh left to become a lobbyist for Halliburton, he nominated Allbaugh's deputy, clueless Michael Brown, he of the Arabian Horse Association and the inflated resumé.

Today FEMA is still critically important in emergencies. But it remains only a small cog in the huge, unwieldy bureaucratic machine cobbled together by the Bush administration as the Department of Homeland Security. Hasty patchwork repairs were made to the poorly designed levee system protecting New Orleans by the U.S. Army's Corps of Engineers. Another hurricane season is now bearing down on the recovering Gulf Coast. It will be interesting to see how well the still-battered region fares.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Work Habits of Highly Successful Writers


Aspiring writers often are curious about the work habits of other writers. Here are some questions would-be writers frequently ask:

Where should I write?
The most important requirement is a quiet place, free of distractions. If your home is too noisy, try writing in the public library.

Early in his writing career, John Cheever, writer of short stories set in suburbia, only owned one suit. Each morning, he would put it on and take the elevator to a windowless basement storage room in his New York apartment house not far from the Queensboro Bridge.

"I hung my suit on a hanger," he told an interviewer for Newsweek Magazine, "and would write until nightfall. Then I dressed and returned to our apartment. I wrote many of my stories in boxer shorts."

Virginia Woolf and her husband founded the Hogarth Press in 1917 to publish her books and those of other British authors. They leased a house in London and converted the musty basement into an office. Her writing space was the former billiards room, which she shared with old files and stacks of books. In the adjoining lavatory, old galley proofs served as toilet paper.

Truman Capote felt that he did his best work in motel rooms. When Broadway showman George M. Cohan needed a script, he bought a train ticket and spent the entire trip writing in a Pullman drawing room. He could dash off 140 pages between New York and Chicago.

Many writers preferred to write near water--but not necessarily beside a burbling brook. Ben Franklin, who owned the first bathtub in America, liked to write while immersed in it. Because of a busy social life, French playwright Edmond Rostand, best known for his comical portrait of Cyrano de Bergerac, also wrote in his bathtub. Soaking in a tub was conducive to creativity for Vladimir Nabokov, author of the controversial novel Lolita.

Some writers resorted to extreme measures to avoid the inevitable interruptions that disturb creative flow. Raymond Carver, dubbed "the American Chekhov" because of his short story characters' inability to communicate with one another, would sometimes take refuge in his automobile to write.

Josh Greenfeld, co-author of the screenplay for the cult film Harry and Tonto, was forced by a growing family to seek a quiet place in which to write. Unable to find commercial office space, he rented an empty storefront in his hometown of Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., and installed a desk and typewriter.

Not all writers favored a sitting position. Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson wrote while recumbent. Truman Capote described himself as "a completely horizontal writer." By contrast, Lewis Carroll and Thomas Wolfe wrote standing up. So did Ernest Hemingway after injuring his back in a plane crash.

Asked by a journalist during an interview, "Where's the best place to write?" satirical writer Dorothy Parker quipped, "In your head."

When should I write?
Creativity cannot be turned on like a faucet. You must discover when your biorhythms--your innate cyclical biological processes--are best suited to writing.

Russian novelist Count Leo Tolstoy and French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau were both morning writers. On the other hand, Feodor Dostoyevsky wrote at night. So did asthmatic Marcel Proust, whose attacks were less severe then. American novelist and short-story writer John O'Hara liked to write between midnight and 7 a.m., and to sleep by day.

Honoré de Balzac, called the father of realist fiction for his vivid portrayal of 19th-century French society, also preferred to work while others slept. Keeping himself awake with endless cups of thick, black coffee, he died at 50 from what may have been caffeine poisoning.

After her bitter divorce from poet Ted Hughes, tragic American poet Sylvia Plath lived in a tiny London apartment. Low on funds, she rose at 4 a.m. and worked on The Bell Jar until her two infant children were awake. Mentally and physically ill, she committed suicide a month after this masterwork was published.

Writers with full-time jobs often have difficulty finding time to write. One solution is simply to get up earlier. While working as a direct mail copywriter, Denison Hatch completed three successful novels by rising at five each morning and writing 500 words before leaving for his regular job. Written this way, his first novel, Cedarhurst Alley, is still in print.

Early riser Dava Sobel was asked whether the success of her surprise bestseller Longitude had changed her work habits. She told interviewer Brian Lamb, "I still get up at four and go to work in my jammies."

What should I write with?
The tools of the writer range from the lowly pen or pencil to the computer. The latter has not entirely displaced the typewriter. Writers who have not joined the computer revolution and still write with a typewrier include Stephen Ambrose and Robert Leckie, who bemoans, "They don't make Royals anymore." Historian David McCullough still writes on a manual typewriter "because I like the feeling of making something with my hands. I like paper. I like to see the key come up and hit that paper."

Robert Caro, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of master builder Robert Moses and President Lyndon B. Johnson, wrote his exhaustively researched volumes in longhand before transcribing the first of many drafts on a typewriter. Only comparatively recently did he switch to a computer.

The lack of a typewriter or computer should not prevent anyone from writing. Ernest Hemingway frequently wrote in pencil, beginning his writing stints with the ritual sharpening of dozens of pencils. When John Steinbeck complained that hexagonal pencils cut into his fingers after a long day, his editor at Viking Press supplied him with round pencils.

Thomas Wolfe wrote on sheets of yellow paper with pencil stubs he kept in a coffee can. Although he could not abide yellow roses in a room, Truman Capote was another who preferred yellow paper. His favorite writing tool was the Blackwing No. 602, an intensely black lead pencil made by Faber Castell.

Vladimir Nabokov used 5- by 8-inch index cards in his research as a world-famous expert on butterflies. He also wrote his novels on cards, then sorted and arranged them before transferring the final version to paper.

Reclusive poet Emily Dickinson lived most of her life in the house in which she was born. "I never had to go anywhere to find my paradise," she said in defense of her lifestyle. Devoting herself to domestic duties and care of her parents in their declining years, few of her sensitive poems were published during her lifetime.

Virtually unknown to the public, after she died the vast body of her work was found scrawled on the backs of envelopes or grocery bills and on odd scraps of paper. A complete volume of her verse did not appear until 1955, nearly seventy years after her death.

Trail-breaking Imagist poet Amy Lowell was another longhand writer. She dressed mannishly in severely tailored suits and men's shirts. When writing, she smoked small Philippine cigars, which she claimed were less distracting than cigarettes because they lasted longer. In 1915, fearing a shortage might be caused by the first World War, she ordered ten thousand of her favorite brand to be shipped to her from Manila.

Even today, many successful writers persist in using pen or pencil and paper. Horror writer Stephen King, curmudgeonly Norman Mailer, cynical crime novelist Elmore Leonard and TV playwright Horton Foote are among contemporary authors who write in longhand. Civil War historian and novelist Shelby Foote (no relation) insisted on writing with an old-fashioned dip pen and ink bottle. "This causes all kinds of problems," he admitted, "everything from finding blotters to pen points."

Other writers who favor pens include Martin Gilbert (Israel--A History) and Joseph J. Ellis (American Sphinx: A Biography of Thomas Jefferson). Bell Hooks, prolific African-American writer on feminist subjects, says, "I handwrite everything, and then I put it on a computer.: Up until her 1992 biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, Blanche Wiesen Cook wrote everything with a fountain pen. Since then she has used a computer.

Award-winning journalist Robert Scott admits that he writes the first drafts of his feature articles longhand on yellow legal-size pads. "The pencil is an unobtrusive tool, and words flow easily onto the paper. Instead of worrying about hitting the proper keys, I can concentrate on the sense of what I am writing."

Because he never learned to type, British author John le Carré (real name, Ronald Cornwell) wrote all his spy thrillers by hand. Many terms that are now part of the vocabulary of intelligence agencies were first used by him in his novels.

How Much Should I Write?
How long your writing sessions last is up to you. Writing as little as a page a day will yield a good-sized book manuscript in a year.

Getting started is often a problem. Before starting to write, "so that I may have in the back of my mind the touchstone of that lucidity, grace and wit," Somerset Maugham would read Voltaire's Candide. Willa Cather, novelist of American frontier life, always read a passage from the Bible. Southern Gothic author Carson McCullers could only write when wearing her "lucky sweater."

When Walter "Red" Smith, then the most widely syndicated columnist in America, was asked how he managed to generate good writing so consistently, "I sit at my typewriter, open a vein and bleed," was his answer.

In How To Write: Advice and Reflections, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes suggested a clever way to induce words to flow. If writing a book, a chapter, a page or even a sentence is impossible, his advice is, "write a word."

In his On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, super-prolific author Stephen King admitted, "I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words." Philip Roth claims it can take as long as six months to produce what he considers an acceptable page of his witty and ironic fiction.

For successful writers the writing life is far from easy. Many follow schedules so rigorous they would violate labor laws. Mary Higgins Clark begins work at 5 a.m. (a holdover from the days when her children were small) and may continue until midnight. Crime writer Patricia Cornwell, another human dynamo, will write for 14 hours daily on a new book, stopping only long enough to eat cottage cheese from the container.

Romantic novelist Danielle Steel puts in 18-hour days and still uses a 1946 Olympia manual typewriter. At least one of her titles was on The New York Times bestseller list for a record-setting 390 weeks. Polymath Isaac Asimov revealed that he created his nonfiction books in 70 hours. He rose at 6 a.m. and wrote until 10 at night. This grueling schedule yielded almost 500 books before his death. Louis L'Amour churned out three Western novels a year for more than 30 years.

Reclusive J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye, avoids intrusive visitors by writing in the ultimate writer's retreat--a concrete bunker near his New Hampshire home. He gets up at dawn and spends as much as 16 hours at his typewriter.

Chronic procrastination is an enemy many writers face. Novelist and screenwriter Budd Shulberg humorously described the syndrome: "First, I clean my typewriter. Then I go through my shelves and return all borrowed books. Then I play with my three children. Then, if it's warm, I go for a swim. Then I find some friends to have a drink with. By then, it's time to clean the typewriter again."

"I only write when I am inspired," wry novelist Peter de Vries once explained. "And I see to it that I am inspired at 9 o'clock every morning."

Single-minded dedication and organized work habits are the hallmark of every successful writer. Set a realistic writing schedule for yourself, and stick to it. That second cup of coffee and the morning newspaper may be enticing--but are absolutely taboo. If you cannot discipline yourself, forget about being a writer.

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Shame on Us


We Americans live in two worlds. Here at home, we are only dimly aware that a war is going on. Yet half a world away in Iraq and Afghanistan, 2,600 American servicemen, and service women have given their lives and tens of thousands more have been maimed. We are relentlessly sacrificing the flower of our youth in an undeclared war with vague goals, no exit strategy and no way to define victory.

And what sacrifices have we here at home been asked to make? Zip. Zilch. Zero. Nada. Contrast this with the home front during the Second World War. Then we were well aware there was a war going on. Food, clothing, shoes, gasoline and tires were rationed. Scrap metal was collected diligently. Some metals were extremely scarce. An empty toothpaste tube had to be turned in when buying a new tube of toothpaste. Victory gardens sprouted in vacant city lots and suburban backyards to augment the food supply.

A family with sons or daughters in service had a small banner in a window with one or more blue stars on it. The dreaded telegram from the War Department announcing the death of a loved one turned a blue star to gold.

A spirit of purpose was abroad in the land. Through it all, the patrician voice of the president gave comforting assurance in radio broadcasts he called "fireside chats." People learned to make do with less--but these were small sacrifices compared to what was being given up by our fighting men and women.

War bonds financed the massive war effort. Taxes were hiked, and money was made more immediately available to the government by a new gimmick: withholding of taxes, an idea proposed by Beardsley Ruml, chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and adviser to the President. This was a variation of installment buying, a payment plan instituted by Ruml as an executive of Macy's department store. Paradoxically, tax withholding later made possible the outsize spending budgets of some administrations that caused the unimaginable deficit the country is still paying interest on.

Today, apathy reigns at home, and we immerse ourselves in shopping or sports spectacles during which token acknowledgement of the existence of an interminable war in an obligatory moment of silence for the fallen. Then it is back to the mindless game. Our knowledge of the blood and dirt of battle comes from the special +effects created for war movies and violent computer games.

How did we manage to create such an enormous disconnect between the home front and the troops? It began in January of 1973 when Congress abandoned national service, also called "the draft." This reaction to the imbalance of sacrifice imposed by the unpopular Vietnam War effectively changed the American armed forces.

What in past wars had been a succession of vast armies of quickly trained citizen-soldiers responding to an emergency became an all-volunteer force ready to strike on a moment's notice. The gigantic active military machine has now become a class apart, not unlike the priesthood. For most Americans today, military service hardly touches our lives. It is something the children of other people do.

Few of us know how hazardous it is to fight a stealthy enemy with too-few troops using the tools and tactics of conventional warfare, and with equipment unsuited for guerrilla warfare. Thirty-seven months after the premature "Mission Accomplished" moment, some troops are still making do with unarmored vehicles not intended for such stealthy warfare; even an armored Humvee cannot withstand a roadside bomb. And the wheeled landing craft the Marines are using in Iraq were intended for landing on beaches, not cruising hazardous desert roads.

And how do we honor their lonely deaths? We put magnetic yellow ribbons on the rear ends of our automobiles or attach flags to their antennas, and quickly return to complaining about the hardships imposed by the high price of gasoline.

We said nothing when a supine Congress failed to insist on its constitutional prerogative to declare war and surrendered war-making power to the President. Is it any wonder that Congress today is held in such low esteem?

The rush to war was predicated on the imminent danger of attack by Iraq. When no weapons of mass destruction were found there, our government hastily concocted a new purpose for the war: to turn that unruly tribalized country into a democracy. Running for office, George W. Bush blasted nation-building and vowed never to allow our military to become entangled in the process. Now we are up to our elbows in it.

"Stay the course," we are told. What course? The Administration seems to be making it up as they go along, hoping by guess and by God that everything will come out right in the end. Although we pay lip service to democracy, when the time comes to demonstrate to the world our devotion to the system, a majority of the American voting population fails to show up at the polls.

We allowed the hunt for bin Laden and the terrorists responsible for 9/11 to be derailed and converted to an interminable war that has made Iraq a vast training ground for a host of al-Quaida acolytes. We have destroyed cities and killed tens of thousands of innocent civilians. Our response to Iraqis unhappy with our actions as occupiers is to characterize them as ingrates. And we wonder why we are reviled throughout the Muslim world.

Our access to factual information has been arbitrarily curtailed. When our forces accidentally kill one of our own in the heat of battle, as happened to football star Pat Tillman, our government creates a phony story of the circumstances of his death "to shield his family." Officials shamefully tried to conceal the truth for almost five weeks--truth it knew from the moment the first battle reports were collected.

In a replay of Vietnam, the Administration again gives us rosy predictions that never materialize, supported by inflated enemy body counts and distorted news. A favorite line is that the insurgency is limited to only four of Iraq's eighteen provinces. What they do not tell us is that these four provinces contain more than half the population of Iraq. Anyone who legitimately questions the wisdom of this pointless, ill-advised war--even a parent who has lost a son or daughter--is branded as unpatriotic and disloyal.

We have a president who prides himself on not reading newspapers, rendering him unaware of the rising groundswell of opposition to his policies. Our chief executive lives in a cocoon insulated from the world by sycophantic advisors. His administration is rife with croneyism and corruption more blatant than the infamous Harding administration in the 1920s. His favorite venue for speechifying is a military base where service members can be counted on not to raise embarrassing questions.

He is now beginning to rattle his sword in the direction of Iran, a country bent on developing nuclear power that would give it the potential for nuclear weapons. In the meantime, all the while President Bush has been meddling in the Middle East, North Korea has been diligently creating atomic weapons under his very nose, making that country a genuine threat to South Korea and Japan.

We complacently allowed this travesty to happen in our name. Could it be because the Middle East is awash in oil?

Shame on us.

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Anatomy of Terror 2: A New Kind of War


It's hard to believe, but President George W. Bush's war on terror has lasted longer than either World War II or the Civil War. No wonder this country is losing interest in pursuing it to a final outcome.

The twin campaigns we are now conducting in Afghanistan and Iraq have deep roots. They actually began more than a quarter century ago as an outgrowth of the Cold War. Ironically, Al-Quaida owes its existence to an improbable foster parent: Jimmy Carter, a Baptist Sunday school teacher and the nation's first born-again Christian president.

On July 3, 1979, President Carter signed the first secret directive authorizing covert assistance to the opponents of the pro-Soviet Afghan regime in Kabul. The underlying idea was to draw the Russians into a trap in Afghanistan. The Soviets took the bait and invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. The day they officially crossed the Afghan border, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter's security adviser, crowed to Carter, "We now have the opportunity of giving the USSR its Vietnam War." How do we know this? The circumstances leading up to al-Quaida's birth were detailed in a largely overlooked 1998 interview with Brzezinski printed in Le Nouvel Observateur, a French weekly.

The CIA supplied money and arms generously, and facilitated the infiltration of foreign Mujahedeen fighters into Afghanistan. A Saudi from a wealthy family, Osama bin Laden--he was then "our" Osama bin Laden--played a major role in this operation. It would truly be supreme irony if the weapons supplied by the CIA a quarter-century earlier were bringing down our helicopters in Afghanistan today. "For almost ten years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government," Brzezinski stressed, "a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire."

We sowed the wind in Afghanistan and inevitably reaped the whirlwind. Some experts believe that Osama bin Laden's ultimate aim is to cause the U.S. to implode as the Soviet Union did. One reason for the length of this latest conflict may be the lack of a clearly identified enemy and a plainly stated objective. How will we know when we have won?

Our Growing Tendency to Intervene
Recent American history is marked by repeated incidents of impromptu military intervention abroad. In 1999, a blue-ribbon U.S. panel appointed to formulate future security policy, found that since the end of the Cold War ten years earlier, "the United States has embarked upon nearly four dozen military interventions . . . as opposed to only 16 during the entire period of the Cold War." The Cold War started in 1947 and ended more than four decades later in 1989 with the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Bill Clinton became the first post-Cold War president and his administration was marked by a succession of military interventions, many of them for peacekeeping. Our attitude since the collapse of the Soviet Union is embodied in Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's famous question to Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It embodies the mood of the moment during the crises of Bosnia and Kosovo: "What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about," she asked, "if we can't use it."

George W. Bush exhibited that same attitude when he attacked Iraq on March 20, 2003, to remove Saddam Hussein and destroy his supposed weapons of mass destruction. It was to have been a quick, surgical, preemptive strike. We were assured the only significant postwar problem would be how to dispose of the mountains of flowers with which our conquering troops would be pelted. We were promised no expensive Woodrow Wilsonian nation-building would be undertaken.

Some 130,000 American troops are still slogging it out in Iraq more than three years later, trying valiantly to bring order out of chaos, with no end in sight. A smaller force is fighting in Afghanistan, the graveyard of invaders over the centuries, to keep a puppet government from being overthrown by marauding warlords. Unfortunately, as in Vietnam, in Iraq we repeated the most flagrant error a nation can commit: We underestimated the enemy's strength, determination and capacity to prevail, and overestimated our own. If there is one immutable law that has operated during our long, bitter and costly campaign in Iraq, it is Murphy's Law. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong, largely because of our failure to have learned from history.

What Went Wrong?
The military campaign in Iraq was brilliantly planned and executed, although American forces moved north so quickly supply lines became stretched thin. Then, to put it bluntly, we made an unforgivable mess of the postwar occupation of the country. Iraqi resistance is now a full-blown insurgency. Here's what we did wrong:

* We failed to declare war in traditional fashion. Doing so would have enabled us to negotiate a formal surrender of Iraqi troop units. Instead we allowed tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers to melt into the countryside with their weapons and their skills.

* We failed to anticipate the postwar insurgency by sending in an attack force large enough to saturate the country and impose order in the postwar period, thus discouraging resistance and reducing the number of casualties. By trimming their occupation forces, the British made the same mistake in the early 1920s, with the same result.

* Incredibly, we failed to guard the dozens of by-passed ammunition dumps from which today's terrorists stole their seemingly limitless stocks of weapons, ammunition and explosives.

* We failed to recognize the importance of infrastructure and the need to safeguard oil pipe lines and the electrical grid from sabotage and looting.

* We failed to protect government offices, police stations and hospitals from being looted. As a result of our indifference, everything from furniture and files to pencil sharpeners were stolen, making it impossible for Iraqis to provide basic administrative, police and health services.

* We failed to act to prevent terrorist safe havens from developing in urban centers like Sunni Fallujah and Shiite Najaf, complicating the inevitable job of rooting them out.

* We failed to prevent the infiltration of foreign fighters through Iraq's porous borders with Syria, Jordan and Iran. As a result, Iraq has become a hands-on training camp and laboratory for terrorists.

* When the time came to rebuild, instead of choosing local contractors who would have given work to Iraqi youths and unemployed now easily recruited into terrorist ranks, we contracted with giant firms like Halliburton.

For years to come, military staffs will study the lessons of the Iraq war and occupation. Our lack of postwar planning will surely be cited as a classic military faux pas. In this amateur military historian's view, not only did planners fail to anticipate the postwar insurgency, causing troops to sustain unnecessary casualties, the Pentagon damaged the military and weakened morale by committing these errors:

* First and foremost, the Pentagon failed to supply adequate body armor and to armor all vehicles to protect the troops. No one was held responsible for this serious oversight.

* The Pentagon failed to establish equivalent rotation plans for the Army and Marines.

* Soldiers rotating home from Iraq were required to return to duty there much too quickly.

* Many Army units in Iraq were required to extend tours of duty beyond the promised one year abroad.

* The Pentagon placed too much reliance on undertrained and poorly equipped Army National Guard and Reserve components.

* The Pentagon's dependence on such units, which made up about half the original force in Iraq, put severe strains on their home communities.

Who's to Blame?
President Harry S. Truman had a small plaque on his desk in the oval office that read, "The buck stops here"--and he meant it. Not so in the Pentagon, where the most accomplished buck-passers are at the top. Chief among them is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Consider what he said at a gripe session with the troops at Camp Buehring in Kuwait Dec. 8, 2004. Specialist Thomas Wilson of the Tennessee Army National Guard complained to the Secretary of Defense about the lack of armored vehicles and the necessity of digging through military scrap heaps for pieces of rusted metal to armor them and pieces of bulletproof glass for windshields.

The answer he received was classic Rumsfeld: "As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time." A peculiar remark, considering that the Army we went to war with was the Army designed by Donald Rumsfeld over the objections of his Army Chief of Staff.

The Defense Secretary added that the Army was pressing ahead to produce the armor necessary at a rate that could be accomplished at the moment. "General Schoomaker [Army Chief of Staff] and the leadership of the Army and certainly General Whitcomb [Coalition Forces commander in Kuwait] are sensitive to the fact that not every vehicle has the degree of armor that would be desirable for it to have, but they're working on it at a good clip." In Rumsfeld's view, the Army was responsible. And Rumsfeld? He's just a guy who happens to hang out in the same building they work in.

A week earlier, when asked about troop levels for the occupation, his evasive answer to reporters demonstrated the usual Rumsfeld fast footwork and buck-passing, "The big debate about the number of troops is one of those things that's really out of my control," he said. "The number of troops we had for the invasion was the number of troops that General Franks and General Abizaid wanted." The record shows that Franks had estimated that 250,000 troops would be needed. He was assured that any shortfall would be made up by international troops--troops that never materialized.

When challenged recently, the Secretary of Defense even tried to deny the concept of responsibility, grudgingly saying, "Everyone likes to assign responsibility to the top person, and I guess that's fine." It's better than fine; it's where the buck should stop in every organization. According to conservative columnist William S. Lind, "Rumsfeld treats people like crap. Working for him is like working for Leona Helmsley, except that Leona is less self-centered. Unless you are one of his sycophants, equipped with a good set of knee pads and plenty of lip balm, you can expect to be booted down the stairs."

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki discovered what happens to an officer who disagrees with the Secretary of Defense. Appointed by Bill Clinton in 1999, he did not see eye to eye with the Defense Secretary on plans for transforming the Army or new high-tech weapons systems. Rumsfeld reacted vindictively toward Gen. Shinseki by leaking to the Washington Post the name of his successor, Gen. John M. Keane, 14 months before Shinseki's term was up. Usually such announcements are made at the last minute; Rumsfeld's action turned Gen. Shinseki into a lame duck. Shinseki stayed until the end of his term.

Defying protocol and tradition, Rumsfeld ungraciously failed to attend Gen. Shinseki's departure ceremony. Claiming health reasons, his replacement, Gen. Keane also put in for retirement. Rumsfeld had to cajole a friend, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, to come out of retirement to take the post of Chief of Staff of the Army.

In planning for the Iraq War, based on his experience in the Balkans and the Army's doctrine, Gen. Shinseki knew that there was a critical period right after a regime fell when the potential for disorder was great. He advocated going into Iraq with a force much larger than what was needed to conquer Iraq's army and make our military's presence intimidating. This made good sense. A RAND Corporation study of previous occupations in Germany, Northern Ireland and the Balkans had recommended a ratio of 20 soldiers per 1,000 civilians. With a population of 25 million, such a force for the occupation of Iraq could be as high as 500,000. Gen. Shinseki lost that bureaucratic battle, but events proved him to be right on the money.

Secretary Rumsfeld is big on reform, but his idea of reform is just to add more high-tech weapons. The more a system costs, the more complex it is, the better he likes it. An example is the so-called the Future Combat System, a combination of electronically controlled robots, tanks and drones. That this Buck Rogers system is totally unsuited for urban guerrilla warfare, has been overlooked. In the meantime, truly needed reforms to meet future threats are dismissed out of hand.

In his love affair with technology, Rumsfeld seems to have forgotten that 19 terrorist s armed with nothing more than box cutters destroyed the World Trade Center or that two terrorists with a bomb in an inflatable rubber boat crippled the destroyer Cole, capable of intercepting sophisticated missiles. The paradox is that the Defense Secretary puts the Army at the very end of the line for money and weapons, yet the administration insists on getting the country into wars that only the Army can fight. In situations like the occupation of Iraq, the Navy is irrelevant and the Air Force almost so. Marine Corps doctrine is based on getting in and getting out quickly, not patrolling an occupied country.

No master prognosticator, before the invasion of Iraq the Secretary of Defense told troops, "It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months." In June of 2005, he noted, "Insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, ten, twelve years." Despite the administration's rosily optimistic statements, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld later admitted that security in Iraq is no better today than the day Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled. When challenged by Sen. Ted Kennedy [D-Mass.] about his dismal record, the Defense Secretary's only defense was that he had twice offered his resignation to the President.

Another candidate for blame is former academic Paul Wolfowitz. As Deputy Secretary of Defense, this ardent neoconservative was the principal architect of our Iraq policy. Shortly before the 2003 attack on Iraq that was to have been welcomed with waving American flags and garlands of flowers, he appeared before a House subcommittee. Mr. Wolfowitz pointed out that containment of Saddam Hussein in the twelve years since the earlier Gulf War that evicted Iraqi troops from Kuwait had cost "slightly over $30 billion." He added, "I can't imagine anyone wanting to spend another $30 billion to be there for another twelve years." By April of 2006, Congress had approved more than $300 billion for combat and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, with more on the way and no end in sight. How many bridges, schools or hospitals would that sum have bought here at home?

Before the attack on Iraq, responding to a question from Sen. Carl Levin [D-Mich.] of the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. Shinseki estimated that "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers is probably the figure that would be required" to provide security in postwar Iraq. "Way too high," was what Paul Wolfowitz later called this number in an unusual public rebuke of a serving general by a political appointee. He also insisted that resistance would be low because "Iraq's ethnic groups do not have the same history of conflict as places like the Balkans." For being so wrong about every aspect of the Iraq campaign, he was rewarded with the presidency of the World Bank.

Fighting the Wrong War
It has been said that the United States always prepares for the last war instead of the next war. In Iraq, we made the same mistake. We are now fighting what military think tanks call a fourth generation war with an army intended to fight a third generation war, yet one that is using tactics intended for a second generation war.

Four generations of war? You may protest that you haven't heard anything about this from TV pundits. And the print media do not seem aware of the new thinking in military doctrine. Not to worry; neither does the administration or the Pentagon evince much interest.

The concept of fourth generation warfare was first enunciated by a mixed group of officers from the Army and Marines, including former Marine and conservative columnist William S. Lind. Their innovative article appeared in the October 1989 issue of the Marine Corps Gazette with the title, "The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation." Revised and updated in an article in the same publication five years later, their a revolutionary theory traces "generational" changes in warfare through the centuries. The concept was fleshed out for the general public in a 2004 book, The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century, by Marine Col. Thomas X. Hammes, a senior fellow at the National Defense University.

First generation warfare began in 1648 at the Treaty of Westphalia that closed the Thirty Years' War and continued until the American Civil War. Prior wars had been fought by families, tribes, cultures, religions, cities, even business enterprises. The Grimaldi family, which has ruled Monaco since 1297, began by renting out war galleys. A monopoly of the nation-state, first generation warfare was waged by troops in lines and columns--until highly accurate rifled shoulder weapons and the machine gun made its tempting targets of massed lines and columns of soldiers obsolete.

Second generation warfare was developed by the French Army during World War I and emphasized massed firepower, mostly artillery. Its goal was attrition through carefully synchronized artillery barrages. Infantry, "the queen of battles," spearheaded by tanks, would then occupy the territorial objective. Warfare became a veritable "shoving contest" in which opposing forces attempt to hold or advance a battle line. Second generation warfare remained America's way of warfare, as we saw in Afghanistan and Iraq, with planes and guided missiles replacing artillery as the source of firepower.

Third generation warfare also had its origins before the First World War in Germany's Schlieffen Plan, which called for attacking France by invading Belgium and the Netherlands in a giant sickle-like movement. German forces would descend to the west of Paris, encircling and capturing the French Army. Before he died in 1913, von Schlieffen was asked what Germany should do if the plan failed. His practical answer was, "Sue for peace." The Schlieffen Plan, modified by von Moltke, was a giant gamble that almost succeeded, but it took four years for a beaten and exhausted Germany to finally surrender.

Count von Schlieffen's tactic was refined in World War II as Germany's "Blitzkrieg"-- "maneuver warfare," in military parlance. Not based on firepower or attrition of troops, it depended on speed, surprise and disorientation of the enemy. Gen. Heinz Guderian, who created Germany's first panzer division in the 1930s, often reminded his troops that their mission was speed: "We are not a killing machine." Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan, a second generation engagement, failed. It allowed al-Quaida to get away because we were unable to fight battles of encirclement characteristic of third generation warfare.

Fourth generation warfare, also called "asymmetric warfare" by military thinkers, marks the end of the nation/state's monopoly on war and a return to conflict between cultures or religions. Basically, it involves fighting a different war than the opponent envisions. Afghanistan and Iraq have become fourth generation wars whose ultimate objective is to convince the enemy--and particularly the enemy's civilian population at home--that continuing the war will be too costly. An example of this strategy was the Tet offensive during the Vietnam War. Although it was actually a disaster for North Vietnam, unsettling TV images of black-garbed Viet Cong infiltrators inside the walls of the American Embassy compound convinced the home front that continuation of the war was useless.

Another strategy central to fourth generation warfare is to emphasize the power of weakness. Palestinans employed this to their advantage in the first intifada by portraying themselves as the victims of the vastly more powerful Israeli military. Instead of using modern weaponry, the Palestinians resorted to throwing stones, even using primitive slings to launch them. Taking advantage of the ever-present TV cameras, they transformed Israel from a brave little nation hemmed in by hostile Arab neighbors into a cruel and oppressive state that sanctioned the killing of children. The unbalanced situation was summed up in an Israeli joke of that period. Question: Why does Israel need its own spy satellites? Answer: So it can see a 12-year-old Palestinian boy picking up a stone.

In the second intifada, however, the Palestinians mistakenly abandoned their hard-won image of weakness and switched to violence. The horrors wrought by radical elements in the Palestinian resistance changed the roles of each side. The Palestinians' suicide-bombing campaign removed all restraints and gave Israel complete freedom of action.

It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but one reason our problems in Iraq continue to worsen is that we foolishly demolished the apparatus of the nation/state, creating an opportunity for fourth generation forces to flourish. Once a state has been destroyed, it is not easy to recreate it--as we are painfully discovering.

Fourth generation wars are never short wars. Mao Zedong's Chinese Communists fought for 28 years; Ho Chi Minh's Vietnamese Communists for 30 years; the Sandinistas for 18 years. Palestinians have been resisting Israeli occupation for 39 years, but some Arabs insist the fight has actually been waged since 1948. Off and on, the Chechens have fought the Russians since the 19th century--most recently for the past dozen bloody years. Al-Quaida has been trying to impose its fundamentalist vision on the Islamic and Western worlds since the early 1980s.

Modern insurgencies are the only type of battles that have defeated the United States--witness Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia. To win fourth generation wars, in addition to identifying the enemy and fielding properly trained forces, a nation must have the will to persist to victory, however long it takes.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Anatomy of Terror 1: A Bloody Past

"It's déja vu all over again."

This delightful expression from baseball player and inadvertent homespun philosopher Yogi Berra aptly sums up America's national habit of locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen. Another bad habit is our tendency to concentrate on the messenger and overlook the message. These habits characterize our reaction to terrorism.

In March of 2004, ten bombs concealed in innocent-looking parcels and backpacks exploded on commuter trains arriving at Madrid's railway station, leaving 191 dead and 1,800 injured. The perpetrators were quickly identified and brought to justice. Sixteen months later, the day after London was named host to the 2012 Olympic Games, four bombs exploded in central London, bringing that city's transportation system to a standstill. Fifty-two were killed and 700 injured. Although homemade, the three bombs that struck London's Underground showed a remarkable level of coordination, exploding within seconds of each other. A fourth bomb exploded belatedly on the upper level of a double-decker bus, perhaps accidentally by a rattled bomber.

Having experienced Hitler's firebombing and rocket blitz during World War II and 30 years of intermittent bombing by the Irish Republican Army, Londoners stoically took this latest onslaught in stride. Taking a cue from our reference to the 2001 attacks as 9/11, the London incidents became 7/7. We now know that the London attacks had nothing to do with the Olympic Games and were made by locally home-grown al-Quaida wannabees. Significantly, they occurred on the opening day of the G8 Summit in Scotland. London was targeted for the same reason Spain was hit: because of its participation in the coalition--Britain contributed the second largest contingent to the invasion and occupation of Iraq--and to discourage continued participation in the coalition.

Here in the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security raised the threat level for the mass transit sector of the transportation system from code yellow (elevated) to orange (high). Patrols and surveillance were increased on all forms of transportation. While our attention was diverted to trains and buses, independent experts warned that terrorist plotters could strike some unexpected new target--for example, a lightly protected chemical plant near an urban area.

We should never forget that the basic purpose of these acts of terrorism is to disrupt the way we lead our lives, to turn our open society into a closed, intimidated society and to turn one group against another. But isn't it time for us to pay attention to the message fanatical terrorists are trying to deliver? To do this, we must see ourselves as the rest of the world sees us, particularly the Third World.

The President has declared war on terror, but have we ever formulated clear-cut objectives for this war? Foolish taunts like "Bring 'em on" don't help. And the attacks in London underscore how empty is the President's statement, "We're taking the fight to the terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them here at home." Simply stated, there are no front lines in this war, not in Iraq nor elsewhere; the front line is everywhere. From Bali to Casablanca, from Buenos Aires to Istanbul, all of which have been terrorist targets, we're all in it together, by golly--and we have been since long before 9/11.

Terror's Long History
The evil of terrorism has been abroad in the world for centuries, and in the service of many causes. To help put terrorism in proper perspective, it may be useful to examine it through a historian's eyes.

In 1776, the British meted out harsh punishment to "terrorist" American colonists who fought frontier-style and took potshots at Redcoats from behind stone walls and trees. Two centuries later, the South African government labeled Nelson Mandela a terrorist for opposing apartheid and imprisoned him for 30 years.

Terrorism has long been the weapon of choice in the Middle East, where it has not been limited to Muslims. For example, on July 22, 1946, working to set up an independent state, members of the Jewish underground military organization Irgun Zvai Leumi exploded a bomb in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. The hotel was then the headquarters of the secretariat administering the British mandated territory of Palestine and of the British Army.

The death toll was 91, mostly civilians, including 17 Jews; 45 persons were injured. The bombing was condemned as "cowardly" in the British Houses of Parliament, but the British did not retaliate. The perpetrators, David Ben Gurion, who had ordered the bombing but later rescinded his order, and Menachem Begin, who carried it out anyway, were never brought to justice. In fact, both later became prime ministers of Israel. If anything, the bombing hastened the British decision to give up the mandate.

America and Terrorism
For many years, America has been a toothless tiger, peculiarly tolerant of terrorist attacks on its citizens and regarding them almost as annoyances. Repeated hijackings of American commercial aircraft in the 1970s and 1980s resulted in few changes in routines or baggage examination. There has been more than enough blame to go around among a succession of presidencies for their responses to terrorist attacks. Consider this sampling of incidents:

Khartoum, Sudan, March 1, 1973. Eight Palestinian gunmen take five hostages at a party at the Saudi embassy in Khartoum, Sudan. Two are Americans, ambassador Cleo Noel and George Curtis Moore, chargé d'affaires. The Black September faction claims responsibility for the kidnapping and demands the release of Palestinians jailed everywhere, including Sirhan Bisrah Sirhan, who had assassinated Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles in 1968.

The customary practice of the State Department then was to negotiate the release of Americans being held by terrorists. When a reporter asks President Nixon to comment on the demand for the release of Kennedy's assassin, he explodes, "We will do everything to get them released--but we will not pay blackmail!" President Nixon's "no concessions" policy continues to this day.

The Nixon statement seals the fate of Noel and Moore. Yasir Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization sends a message to the terrorists in the embassy containing the code words Nahr al-Bard ("Cold River") ordering the death of the Western hostages. Nahr al-Bard was a terrorist training facility in Lebanon that had been attacked by Israeli troops 11 days earlier. With a third diplomat, Guy Eid, chargé d'affaires of the Belgian embassy, they are hustled to the Saudi embassy basement and machine-gunned. The perpetrators are detained briefly, but are never punished for the crime.

Before the kidnapping, an American listening post on Cyprus had intercepted a message indicating that terrorist action of some sort was about to happen in Khartoum and notified the State Department in Washington. Instead of immediately radioing a warning to the American embassy in Khartoum, the message was handled routinely by a State Department functionary. After the diplomats are killed, Nixon, up to his elbows in the uproar over the Watergate break-in, orders copies of all messages about the incident to be destroyed.

Beirut, Lebanon, Oct. 23, 1983. A suicide bomber drives a truckload of dynamite into the barracks of U.S. Marines established at the Beirut Airport, killing 241. The troops were sent by Ronald Reagan to stabilize the country. Retaliation against Syria with Tomahawk cruise missiles is considered. Caspar Weinberger, Reagan's secretary of defense, vetoes the idea out of fear that a misfired missile might be retrieved by Syria and passed to the Soviet Union, where the secret of its new technology could be revealed by reverse-engineering. President Reagan's response is to withdraw our troops.

Beirut, Lebanon, June 14, 1985. Two Hezbollah hijackers seize TWA Flight 847 between Athens and Rome. Demanding the release of 766 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, they divert the plane to Beirut. [TWA is then the major American overseas carrier; this is the fourth TWA flight hijacked by terrorists in 16 years. Previous TWA hijackings have taken place in 1969, 1970 and 1976.] The terrorists hope to find many Israelis on board. There are none, so they turn their attention to Americans with what they believe are "Jewish-sounding" names or with military ID. After murdering a U.S. young sailor named Robert Stethem, they dump his body from the plane onto the tarmac. Seventeen women and two children are released. The pilot is forced to fly to Algiers, where additional women and children are released. The plane again returns to Beirut. Here, after additional negotiations involving Syria and Iran, the remaining passengers are set free. The Syrian and Lebanese governments arrest and later release the hijackers. Although an American serviceman had been murdered, President Reagan does little more than impose sanctions on Lebanese air carriers to show his displeasure.

Mogadishu, Somalia, Dec. 8, 1992. Near the end of his term as President, George H.W.Bush sends U.S. troops into Somalia in support of U.N. humanitarian activities, promising to withdraw them by inauguration day, January 20th. Bill Clinton is sworn in and discovers that 25,000 U.S. troops are still in Somalia. The misadventure ends with the Mogadishu disaster on October 3, 1993, in which 18 American soldiers are killed and mutilated, and 84 are wounded. President Clinton's response is to withdraw our troops, and the last soldiers leave Somalia in March of 1994. The perpetrators are never caught or prosecuted.

New York, Feb. 26, 1993. A rented van containing 1,300 pounds of homemade explosives was driven into the underground garage of the World Trade Center. The intention was to cause one of the city's two tallest towers to topple into its adjoining twin. Although it did considerable damage underground, the targeted tower did not topple into the other. The perpetrators were brought to justice--but no attention was paid to their message. Ramzi Yousef, the bomb's mastermind was captured later in Pakistan and returned to the United States. He and two accomplices were convicted and sentenced to life without parole.

Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Aug. 7, 1998. The Clinton administration's ineffectual response to al-Quaida's almost simultaneous bomb attacks on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania is to launch 79 cruise missiles at targets in Sudan and Afghanistan in the hope of killing bin Laden. Each missile costs about a million dollars.

Aden, Yemen, Oct. 12, 2000. As the American destroyer USS Cole is refueling in the inner harbor, two men in an inflatable Zodiac boat loaded with C-4 explosives pull alongside. The explosion that follows blows a huge hole in the side of the ship and kills 17 sailors in the main and auxiliary engine rooms and the crew's mess.

By the time it is established that bin Laden was behind this attack, hopes are running high for an agreement between new Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and Yasir Arafat. President Clinton is reluctant to launch more attacks on another Islamic country and does nothing.

New York and Washington, September 11, 2001. Four commercial airliners are hijacked in flight and steered toward emblematic buildings: the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, the seat of financial power, and the Pentagon in Washington, seat of military power. On the fourth plane, intended to strike either the U.S. Capitol or the White House, seats of government power, passengers heroically battle the hijackers. The plane crashes in Pennsylvania, far short of its intended target.

A wave of revulsion sweeps the country, which clamors for the capture and punishment of the perpetrators. Screening techniques that should always have been in place are instituted at airports to guarantee that this method of massive destruction would never again be attempted. President Bush declares that the country is now engaged in a "war on terror."

Shortly after the attacks of 9/11, Daniel Pipes, a conservative commentator on the Middle East and usually a supporter of the President, points out in the Jerusalem Post that terror is a tactic, not an enemy. Pipes points out that by insisting its quarrel is with terror and not with radical Islam, the U.S. is obscuring the political roots of the confrontation.

Our primary adversary should always have been Osama bin Laden. Yet he was allowed to escape from our clutches, and now seems to thrive and issue pronouncements via taped messages from the safety of the tribal area of northwest Pakistan.

Ironically, bin Laden is a creation of the United States, although the U.S. government, probably out of embarrassment, has been singularly quiet about its participation in the recruitment and arming of fighters who forced the Russians in 1989 to abandon their occupation of Afghanistan. After Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the CIA, operating at arm's length, organized an Afghan jihad, or holy war, against the godless Russians, with the cooperation of the Inter Services Intelligence of Pakistan. The CIA provided weapons and recruited candidates from various Muslim countries and facilitated their travel to Pakistan for training.

Arab countries were the main source of fighters, who were jocularly called "Afghan Arabs." Non-Afghan recruits came from Algeria, Indonesia, Kosovo, Chechnya and Sudan. The Pakistani embassy in Algiers issued 2,800 visas to Algerian volunteers in the 1980s. Fighters from all countries trained at Peshawar in Pakistan and received the comparatively high salary of $1,500 a month.

The CIA had hoped to turn up a Saudi prince to lead this jihad but could not find one. It settled for Osama bin Laden, recruited in 1980--with CIA approval--by the head of Saudi intelligence. Osama bin Laden shuttled frequently between Saudi Arabia and Peshawar in Pakistan with Saudi donations for the jihad. By 1986, bin Laden, whose family had made millions in construction, was the major contractor on a large CIA-funded project, the Khost tunnel complex deep in the mountains near the border with Pakistan.

Not many years later, with the Russians gone, bin Laden turned on his erstwhile American employers. In Operation Anaconda, U.S. planes would bomb this same tunnel complex. Although ample Special Forces were available, with peculiar timidity and to spare American casualties U.S., commanders choose to use Northern Alliance fighters of doubtful allegiance to root out Taliban die-hards in 2002.

Michael Scheuer, author of two books on Osama bin Laden under the pen name "Anonymous," spent many of his years of service as a CIA analyst studying bin Laden. Scheuer's advice in his 2004 book Imperial Hubris was not to see bin Laden as a criminal terrorist or as a lunatic, but rather as a talented, clever and brilliant military and political genius, with the attributes of a successful CEO. Scheuer warned that bin Laden has been precise in telling us the reasons he is waging war on us. None of the reasons have anything to do with our freedom, as George W. Bush insists. They have everything to do with U.S. policies and actions in the Muslim world. Scheuer confidently predicted another massive bin Laden attack on the United States. In bin Laden's words, "just as you lay waste to our nation, so shall we lay waste to yours."

Osama bin Laden's long-term strategy is one developed by Mahatma Gandhi and refined by radical Chicago labor and civil rights organizer Saul Alinsky. It is embodied in the phrase, "The action is the reaction." In his 1971 book Rules for Radicals, Alinsky wrote, "The real action is in the enemy's reaction. The enemy, properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be your major strength. Tactics, like life, require that you move with the action."

The bin Laden action was the bombing of American symbols: the twin WTC towers (Wall Street/wealth), the Pentagon (the military), and (probably) the White House or the Capitol Building (the government). The American reaction exceeded his wildest dreams. We attacked bin Laden's enemy, the hated secularist Saddam, and laid waste to Iraq. Now we are engaged in rebuilding it. In bin Laden's words, "The policy of the White House that demands the opening of war fronts to keep busy various corporations--whether in the field of arms or reconstruction--has helped us to achieve our results." What is remarkable about bin Laden as an adversary is that he has clearly spelled out his intentions and objectives in his many taped messages to the West.

For an investment of about a half million dollars, bin Laden succeeded in goading us into attacking a Muslim country and committing us to spending billions of dollars. He has acknowledged that his policy is to bleed America to the point of bankruptcy--and we are foolishly cooperating with him in this. He knows that the soft underbelly of the West is oil, and oil will never get cheaper. Yet we continue to do nothing about reducing our dependence on hydrocarbon fuels.

Despite a record-shattering reward of $50 million offered for his capture, Osama bin Laden still remains at large, a potent threat to the United States and the West. Are most intelligence professionals worried about the possibility of another major incident masterminded by this formidable adversary? Yes, they are very worried--and you should be too.

The Second Iraq War
Ignoring the findings of U.N.inspectors and wanting to believe that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, in 2003 the Bush administration attacks Iraq. Unlike the Gulf War of ten years before, other than Britain few countries send sizable contingents to participate.

Opponents of the war point out that if the undeclared war on Iraq was intended to be payback for participation in the 9/11 attacks, we were attacking the wrong enemy. A more logical opponent would have been Saudi Arabia, 15 of whose citizens made up the majority of the 19 plane hijackers. Although a huge reward is posted for the capture of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, this extremely tall and conspicuous Arab who travels with dialysis equipment disappears from our radar.

On the eve of the 1994 Republican convention in New York, George W. Bush, answering a question from Matt Lauer on NBC's Today show, admits that the war on terror cannot be won. Realizing that such a remark smacks of defeatism, an administration spokesman quickly explains that the President was merely pointing out the unconventional nature of the conflict. George W. Bush hastily backpedals at the American Legion convention in Nashville a day later. Nevertheless, the toothpaste is out of the tube and cannot be put back.

Today, a tidal wave of uneasiness is sweeping the country fed by revelations that the Iraq war was launched without a postwar plan and concerns over the lamentable lack of a timetable for withdrawal of our forces from that unhappy country.

The administration is now living in fear that the public will attach the word "quagmire" to the word Iraq and completely abandon support for the ongoing war, just as they once appended it to the word Vietnam with disastrous political and military consequences.

Although there are obvious differences between the struggles (jungle vs. desert) and political considerations and military technology have changed significantly, there are many uncomfortable parallels in the two wars.

Vietnam vs. Iraq
Four decades ago, the Kennedy administration saw Vietnam as an avenue of Chinese expansionism, although it was actually an obstacle to it. They closed their eyes to what any historian specializing in the Far East could have told them. Namely, that the Vietnamese have always feared and distrusted their giant neighbor to the north, convictions born of a thousand years of hated Chinese occupation.

Secular Iraq, debilitated by ten years of sanctions and daily reconnaissance flights, posed no real threat to America's security. Nevertheless, using flimsy evidence we convinced ourselves of the presence of weapons of mass destruction and launched a "pre-emptive" attack.

Lyndon Johnson surrounded himself with "the best and the brightest": Robert McNamara, inherited from assassinated John F. Kennedy as Secretary of Defense, with his number-crunching "whiz kids," and McGeorge Bundy, first in his class at Yale, as National Security Advisor. Preferring the advice of these civilian experts, Johnson ignored counsel from his Joint Chiefs of Staff even going so far as to exclude them from his Tuesday luncheon strategy meetings with advisors.

Similarly, George W. Bush has given Donald Rumsfeld, a former congressman wise in the ways of Washington and industry executive, a free hand in the redesign of the military. Although the Middle East loomed as the prime problem, the inexperienced president chose as his National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, an academic expert on Russia with no knowledge of the Middle East.

Vietnam was a costly undeclared war with hazy objectives, blessed by a compliant Congress, and characterized by the glaring disparity between the troops' bloody sacrifices and indifference of the home front. The Iraq war now resembles that earlier war, with a similar disconnect between battlefield and home front. American unit commanders in Iraq now report insurgents' "body counts," which were often falsified in Vietnam to give politicians at home the impression of progress.

One reason for the present administration's growing problem in keeping the public's attention focused on the war on terror is its unwillingness to level with the public and admit mistakes, a flawed stance matched by Presidents Johnson and Nixon in the earlier war. Consider what Lyndon Johnson told Democratic Senator Eugene McCarthy in a taped phone conversation on Feb. 1, 1966. Although he publicly defended the war, Johnson frankly admitted to the Minnesota senator that going into Vietnam was a mistake. The following is a transcript of that conversation:
"Well, I know we oughtn't to be there, but I can't get out. I just can't be the architect of surrender. (pause) I'm willing to do damn near everything. If I told you what I was willing to do, I wouldn't have any program. Dirksen [Senate majority leader Everett Dirksen, Republican from Illinois] wouldn't give me a dollar to operate the war. I just can't operate in a glass bowl with all these things. But I'm willing to do nearly anything a human can do, if I can do it with any honor at all."

[Readers interested in hearing or reading transcripts of this and other presidential tapes are referred to]

Up until the day of that conversation, only a comparatively small number of battle deaths had occurred in Vietnam--3,078 to be exact. With the stroke of a presidential pen, Johnson could have kept our losses at that low figure. But because he lacked political courage and feared being charged with being soft on Communism if he withdrew, Johnson continued to ship American troops into the meat grinder that was Vietnam.

By the time the last troops were withdrawn in 1973 in accordance with the Paris peace agreements, a staggering 44,291 battle deaths were added, 28,975 of them on Johnson's watch and 15,316 on Nixon's. The total battle deaths in Vietnam eventually reached 47,369. [These numbers are taken from the OASD's "Southeast Asia Statistical Summary" and do not include losses due to disease, accident, heart attack, criminal activity, barroom brawls or suicide.]

The Vietnam War is popularly perceived as a stinging defeat for the United States military at the hands of the North Vietnamese Army. In reality, it was more like a self-inflicted wound. The last American troops departed in 1973. In retrospect, the U.S. Army actually gave a good account of itself and won every battle it engaged in, even though it was severely hampered by restrictive policies instituted by Defense Secretary McNamara and President Johnson. These two, with no military experience, prevented American troops from pursuing North Vietnamese units into North Vietnam. The majority of Americans killed in action died in South Vietnam's four northern provinces.

Nevertheless, the massive American casualties in Vietnam were the result of both the Johnson and Nixon administrations' foolish persistence in error. An apt quotation from The March of Folly, by Pulitzer prize-winning historian Barbara W. Tuchman, says: "Politicians and political appointees continued down the wrong road, as if in thrall to some magic power which directs their steps. To recognize error, to cut losses, to alter course is the most repugnant option in government."

The lingering question remains: "Have we not made the same mistake in Iraq?"

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (5/18/06)


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Monday, May 15, 2006

The Improbable Country: Gertrude Bell and the Making of Modern Iraq


"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

These memorable words by American philosopher George Santayana are from his 1905 essay on reason and common sense. Quoted often, they invariably go unheeded. Iraq's long history of resistance to central authority and Britain's disastrous attempts to establish self-government there should have informed America's involvement in that benighted country. Instead the lessons of Iraq's past have been stubbornly ignored.

America has clearly forgotten that Iraq is an artificial state--not a nation--cobbled together by the British in the early 20th century from disparate, contentious portions of the dying Ottoman Empire. In the eight decades of its existence, Iraq has suffered a full-scale civil war, a succession of coups, plus a number of attempted coups, various armed rebellions and rule by a ruthless dictator who conducted a disastrous eight-year war against neighboring Iran.

None of TV's talking heads and newspaper pundits see fit to recount details of Iraq's bloody early history. Yet it is a history that all Americans should know, especially since we so blindly disregarded the lessons from Iraq’s past that could have kept us from stumbling into the quicksands of the Middle East.

The 'Sick Man' Expires
Ever since Russian Czar Nicholas described Turkey as "the sick man of Europe" in 1853, the Ottoman Empire had been on a downward path. Early in October 1918, exhausted by fighting on the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary, Turkey put out peace feelers. Without consulting its allies, Britain sent its Mediterranean naval commander to the island of Lemnos to meet with Turkish envoys. Britain had long considered the Middle East within its sphere of influence.

In 1916, it signed the secret Sykes-Picot Treaty with France setting up the division of the Middle East at the end of the war. Some 2.5 million British troops had fought on the various Ottoman fronts, and more than a quarter-million were killed or wounded. In contrast, French losses were small--only 30,000 casualties in the Middle East, nearly all in the futile attempt to take Turkish positions at Gallipoli.

Spoils of war
On October 30, 1918, the Allies dictated the terms of an armistice that reduced the vast Ottoman Empire by some 10 million inhabitants and 770,000 square miles--a loss of roughly about half its prewar population and area. The British were awarded the lion's share—including areas already in their possession, Palestine, Trans-Jordan, and the huge region of Mesopotamia. But they were not to be added to the far-flung British Empire. First they would be held as "zones of influence" and then in trust as "mandates" from the League of Nations until their Arab peoples could be taught the art of self-government. Similarly, the French were awarded Syria and Lebanon.

In Mesopotamia, the British found themselves with a ruined and neglected semi-desert area of 172,000 square miles, populated by about 3 million inhabitants. Sunni Moslems predominated in the cities; the majority Shia peopled the rural south and the so-called "holy cities" of Najaf and Karbala. Both groups were divided into an almost infinite number of families, clans and tribes, all heavily armed, each with its ancient loyalties and blood feuds. The primitive and poor rural population hated the wealthy sheiks and effete urban merchants.

The mountain fastnesses of the northeast were inhabited by three-quarters of a million Kurds and rival Turkmen tribes, largely Sunni. In the northwest were small groups of Assyrian Christian refugees, recently driven from their homes in Turkey. Baghdad, the capital, was a collection of bazaars and narrow streets. The city's large and prosperous Jewish minority, making up 15 percent of its population, controlled commerce and provided administrative services. Ottoman officials, fellow Moslems, had been lax administrators, usually less heavy-handed the farther one got from Constantinople. In contrast, British civil servants, non-Moslem and non-Arabic-speaking, zealously collected taxes.

The postwar problems facing the British in Mesopotamia included a lack of trust between the country's ethnic groups, a feudal tribal culture, an economy battered by the war, and high unemployment. With the exception of the Jews who migrated elsewhere in 1950-51, the Mesopotamia of eight decades ago was little different from today's Iraq. The entire country was a tinderbox waiting to be ignited. As today's headlines proclaim, it still is.

Winston Churchill, Britain's war secretary, unwittingly encouraged unrest by insisting that occupation expenses be cut back. Obediently, Lt. Gen. Sir Aylmer Haldane tried to police Iraq with too few troops. He reduced his forces to a mere 3,500 soldiers in scattered outposts across an area the size of California.

The Second Arab Revolt
When British Lt. Gen. Stanley Maude captured Baghdad in March of 1917, he issued a noble proclamation written by Sir Mark Sykes, the same Sykes who had drawn up the secret 1916 agreement with François Georges Picot calling for joint British-French control over much of the postwar Middle East. Its sonorous words sound eerily familiar today, "Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators," it announced. The newly liberated Iraqis did not see it that way. A succession of Turkish, British and Indian forces had fueled Mesopotamian distaste for occupying foreign armies.

In the summer of 1920, a band of 300 Arabs, equipped with weapons smuggled from Turkey, swept down on undermanned British positions north and west of Baghdad. Surrounded and outnumbered, successive outposts were systematically wiped out. Among those slain was the chief British political officer of the region, Col. Gerard Leachman, a legendary hero of the first Arab campaign. The insurgents declared a provisional Arab government. By mid-August, almost the entire countryside was aflame with Arab cavalry raids. The widely scattered Anglo-Indian garrisons were slaughtered and mutilated. Another uprising broke out in the south among Shia tribes, called "Swamp Arabs." Heavily-armed and fiercely independent, these semi-nomadic peoples resisted the efforts of the British to collect taxes, and also attacked British outposts.

Paralleling today's situation in Iraq, Baghdad headquarters, with a large military presence in the well-fortified city, continued to issue rosy communiqués. The heavy toll of British and Indian troops in the summer's exploding unrest triggered an angry report in the London Times about conditions in Mesopotamia. The writer was former Lt. Col. T.E. Lawrence, better known as "Lawrence of Arabia." His hit-and-run guerrilla tactics during the so-called Arab Revolt had tied up Turkish forces. He was unhappy over the British government's mismanagement of the unruly populations of Mesopotamia.

The British people had been "led into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor," he claimed. "They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiqués are belated, insincere, and incomplete. Things are far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows." Calling the situation a disgrace that may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure, he wrote, "We are today not far from a disaster. We have not reached the limit of our military commitments. Under hard conditions of climate and supply, our troops are policing an immense area, paying dearly every day in lives for the willfully wrong policy of the civil administration in Baghdad." The dateline of the report was August 22, 1920. Yet the same piece could have appeared in any American newspaper in the past three years. Lawrence was to get his chance to set matters straight. Seven months later in Cairo, he would become one of the architects of the new kingdom of Iraq.

War Secretary Churchill responded to the alarming losses with a forerunner of the recent war's "shock and awe" tactics. R.A.F. planes were ferried to Mesopotamia to bomb villages and encampments. After visiting an Iraqi hospital full of wounded Arabs, Air Commodore Lionel Charlton was so upset by the casualties inflicted on innocent villagers that he resigned his position as a senior air staff officer. Fresh British and Indian troops poured in to reoccupy captured outposts and towns. By early 1921, the Arab rebel government had evaporated. Its leaders were hunted down systematically as outlaws.

The cost to Britain of this second Arab revolt was more than 500 British soldiers killed, wounded or missing as prisoners and presumed dead. About 6,000 Arabs were killed and wounded. Despite their relatively small losses, the British spent more money in putting down the rebellion than had been spent subsidizing the original Arab Revolt against the Turks during the war. Interestingly, after American troops began the occupation of Iraq in 2003, second-hand copies of Gen. Haldane's 1922 book, "The Insurrection in Mesopotamia, 1920," belatedly became required reading in Washington.

Unexpected anarchy in Mesopotamia had prompted public calls at home for Britain's withdrawal, but the British were determined to stay. The four-year World War had revealed the need for closer communication with the far-flung outposts of empire and showed the usefulness of aircraft. Control over the unruly country straddling the air and land routes linking the Mediterranean with India was crucial. Moreover, control of Mesopotamia would safeguard British oil interests in Persia.

The Cairo Conference
In March of 1921, Churchill, newly appointed as colonial secretary, decided to call a conference in Cairo of some 40 Middle Eastern experts. One goal was a solution to the problems of Mesopotamia, the fractious area that was rapidly draining manpower and funds. To call it a "conference," however, is a stretch. Major decisions had already been made by the Foreign Office back in London. The task of those called to Cairo was largely to tidy up the details.

Churchill invited T.E. Lawrence and other specialists--all male, with one exception: Gertrude Bell, a human dynamo who would literally become the architect of Iraq. Born in 1868 into a wealthy British industrial family, Gertrude Bell was impatient with the narrow lifestyle expected of Victorian women. One of the first females to attend Oxford, she took top honors in modern history. After graduation at 20, she traveled widely. Mountaineering was not a woman's sport. Climbing in Switzerland with two guides, she exhibited unusual courage. On a peak in the Alps that still bears her name (Gertrude's Peak), a sudden storm caught the party without shelter.

Spending the night on the exposed cliff face, she showed remarkable courage in the face of danger. The storm cleared the next morning, and the party was able to descend to safety. One of her Swiss guides later said that of all the climbers he had guided, "none had equaled Gertrude Bell in coolness, bravery and judgment."

Fascinated by what was then called "The East," she studied Arabic and Persian, and became a fluent speaker of both languages, all the while continuing to travel. Her translations of the poems of Persian poet Hafiz into English are still regarded as the best. A brief love affair with a British diplomat in Rumania followed, but was broken off when her father refused to allow let them to marry. Her lover's death from pneumonia left her disconsolate.

"Queen of the Desert"
Travel became a source of comfort for this restless, impetuous redheaded woman. In 1900, dressed as a Bedouin man, she rode out into the desert a hundred miles northeast of Jerusalem in search of the Druze, a secret sect that combined the teachings of Islam with Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity. Militant and hostile, the Druze had been fighting their sworn enemies, the Beni Sakhr, for years and had successfully resisted Ottoman rule. Evading Turkish authorities, Gertrude met with Yahya Beg, the Druze ruler. She found him impressive--"a great big man, very handsome and with the most exquisite manners," she noted. They ate and spoke together, earning each other's respect and admiration. In addition to Arabic and Persian, Gertrude was also fluent in French, German, Italian and Turkish.

At the urging of French archaeologist Solomon Reinach, she returned to the Druze country to study the impact of Roman and Byzantine cultures on the region and resulted in her 1907 book “The Desert and the Sown.” Next, she traveled to Turkey to work with British archaeologist Sir William Ramsay. The venture resulted in a joint effort, the 1909 work titled "A Thousand and One Churches." Her observations about the defects in Ottoman rule combined with her eye for detail and meticulous description soon caught the attention of the British government, which found them invaluable.

She first became acquainted with the Mesopotamian desert by crossing it from west to east in 1909, mapping it as she went. Her party consisted of guides, guards and servants plus baggage, tents and a canvas bathtub, not to mention silver and Wedgwood china on which to dine in style. The countryside was full of Arab raiding tribes, plundering each other's flocks. Deadly blood feuds of unremembered origin dated back a thousand years. On this trip, she stumbled on the ruins of the ancient castle of Ukhaidir, which she meticulously measured and recorded in her notebooks. Eighteen months later, she visited the site of the ancient Hittite city of Carchemish in Turkey. Here she found two young British archaeologists digging and surreptitiously keeping an eye on the nearby bridge the Germans were building for the planned Berlin-to-Baghdad railway.

Characterizing their methods as "prehistoric," she showed them modern techniques of excavation. One of the archaeologists was Thomas Edward Lawrence, 20 years her junior. Bell's notes recorded, "an interesting boy, he is going to make a traveler." In 1913, without the permission of the Turkish authorities and despite British warnings, she set out from the Syrian capital of Damascus to explore the northern Arabian Peninsula. No explorer, man or woman, had penetrated this desert in the previous two decades, and reliable data was scant. After many hair-raising adventures, she returned to Damascus the following year with her notebooks bulging with recorded details. Had she been on the payroll of British intelligence, she couldn't have collected more appropriate information.

One month later, a Serbian nationalist assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, touching off the First World War. Gertrude's knowledge of the Arab tribes was to prove invaluable to campaigns in the Middle East. She was first sent to Cairo, where she joined the newly formed Arab Bureau, a small espionage unit headquartered in three rooms in the Savoy Hotel. One of the bureau staff was the same T.E. Lawrence she had met at Carchemish. Her job was to create a catalog of the Arab tribes, their lineages, alliances, enemies, water wells and the areas they controlled. She also recorded roads, railway lines and caravan routes that would be important to later military operations.

"Lawrence of Arabia"
Also at the Cairo Conference was T.E. Lawrence, the same Lawrence Gertrude Bell had met years before. He would be another architect of Iraq, although he had only the briefest acquaintance with the country. When British Maj. Gen. Charles Townshend's 13,000-man army was trapped in the town of Kut al-Amara by superior Turkish forces in 1916, Lawrence had been sent to try to buy the release of the surrounded force for a million British pounds. Unfortunately, by the time he arrived outside the city under a flag of truce to make his offer, the British had already surrendered. Lawrence would later become better known in America than he was in his home country, thanks to the efforts of writer Lowell Thomas.

In 1917, 25-year-old Thomas left his part-time job of teaching public speaking at Princeton and was hired by powerful British newspaper publisher Lord Beaverbrook to help publicize Britain's part in the war. After sailing to England and then to France, Thomas could not find a dramatic human-interest story on the Western Front. He asked British novelist John Buchan to arrange for him and photographer Harry Chase to visit General Allenby's headquarters in Jerusalem. Here he was introduced to Capt. T.E. Lawrence, a short (5 foot, 3 inches) political officer who liked to dress in Arab robes. Chase photographed Lawrence in various poses. Only four years younger than his subject, Thomas immediately recognized that he had found the heroic figure he was seeking. Lawrence seemed to enjoy wearing his Arab regalia, but would say little about his own achievements.

Lawrence prevailed on other British officers to allow themselves to be photographed and interviewed. Thus, most of Thomas's information about "Aurens," as the Arabs called him, came from others--and was largely hearsay. Back in the United States, Thomas put together a two-part film-and-lecture show about the Arab Revolt.Titled :The Last Crusade," his inflated account of the Arab uprising and the role of the Arabs in the war opened at New York's 2,320-seat Century Theatre, at Central Park West and 62nd Street, in March of 1919.

Within weeks, the Thomas program had become so popular it had to be moved to even larger quarters in the old Madison Square Garden on the site of the former New York & Harlem Railroad depot at 26th Street and Fourth Avenue. Like Thomas's best-selling book titled "With Lawrence in Arabia" that followed in 1924, the show hyped Lawrence's exploits at the expense of others who deserved credit.

Many details were overstatements, exaggerations or outright lies. For example, the total Arab force fighting the Turks consisted of several thousand opportunistic fighters who came and went at will. Thomas magnified this into a cohesive Arab army of 200,000. Although the Arab Revolt did divert Turkish forces and supplies, its real accomplishment was that it protected the right flank of the British forces advancing north through Palestine toward Damascus. Playing hob with chronology, Thomas portrayed Lawrence as fomenting the revolt in the desert in February of 1916. In fact, the 28-year-old Lawrence had a desk job in Cairo at that time. He only reached Arabia for the first time the following October.

Booked into London's Royal Opera House in Covent Garden for a two-week run, the show ran for six months. Now titled "With Allenby in Palestine and the Conquest of Holy Arabia" for British audiences. the program was seen by the royal family, Prime Minister Lloyd George and British policy makers, including Winston Churchill. Later the title was altered to "With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia."

Lawrence quietly attended several performances but did nothing to correct its romanticized misinformation. After its phenomenal New York and London successes, Thomas took his show on a world tour of other English-speaking countries. The sold-out performances made young Lowell Thomas not only rich but also famous. And it created in "Lawrence of Arabia" a world-class hero.

Unaware of how much Gertrude Bell, Lawrence and Lloyd George's staff had exaggerated the role of the Arabs in the victory over the Turks, Churchill accepted Lawrence's arguments that Britain owed a great debt to Prince Faisal and the Arabs who had fought under him against the Turks. Lawrence's withdrawal from public life in the 1920s, however, was not for the reasons suggested. Instead of having an emotional attachment to the Arabs portrayed in the now-classic movie, Lawrence privately disliked them. He had promised them their freedom only because it was the best way to get them to fight.

The Improbable Country
Two problems faced the Cairo conferees: giving a name to the new country and delineating its boundaries. They chose the former Arabic name Iraq, variously translated as "a sunny land," "coastline," "flat plains" or "the dark-colored country." Churchill was all for giving independence to the Kurds, but Gertrude Bell counseled against this. She pointed out that the Kurds, being mostly Sunni, when combined with the Arab Sunnis would tend to balance the Shia majority in Iraq. Oil was also an important consideration. If Kurdistan became a part of Iraq, Kirkuk's anticipated oil wealth could finance the new country.

For its boundaries, Gertrude Bell took a pencil and drew a continuous line on the map around the three former Turkish provinces of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. She excluded a portion of the latter province, which would become the new British protectorate of Kuwait. It was a design that left Iraq virtually landlocked, with a coastline only 23 miles long, and opened a wound that would rankle Iraqis for generations.

Had the British been trying to design a country with everything working against its chances of enduring for more than a few years, they could not have succeeded better. To rule the newly created Iraq as king, Bell and Lawrence proposed to install 36-year-old Faisal ibn Hussein of the venerable Arabian Hashemite family, Britain's main ally in the Arab Revolt.

At that moment, Faisal was literally out of a job. He had first been placed on the throne of Syria--until France decided to exercise its claim to a mandate in Syria and Lebanon under the secret Sykes-Picot Treaty, and deposed him. The new king was totally unknown in Iraq, but this did not seem to bother the British. In fact, he had never even been in the country, and his Arabic accent was strange to Iraqi ears. The British arranged for an election in which a surprisingly large majority--96%--chose Faisal. It would not be the last of Iraq's lopsided elections. His only serious opponent was kidnapped by the British and whisked off for a long vacation in Ceylon.

Despite the country's obvious lack of enthusiasm for Faisal, on August 23, 1921, he was ceremoniously enthroned as King of Iraq in an early-morning ceremony attended by only a few of his new subjects. Iraq lacked a national anthem, so the British military band played "God Save the King." The music was a fitting choice. Faisal would be under British control throughout his reign.

Faisal had one advantage as a ruler of the incongruous groups making up the country. As an outsider, he was not associated with any faction or region. As an Arab, he had little support among the Kurds; as a Sunni, he found little favor among the Shia, although some respected him as a sayeed, a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. Faisal had no illusions about the precariousness of his position or that he ruled at the pleasure of the British. He would reign for a scant 12 years.

In 1923, Gertrude Bell began a massive project of assembling and arranging archaeological treasures for the Baghdad Museum to make it one of the great antiquities museums of the world. On Sunday July 11, 1926, three days before her 58th birthday, she went for an evening swim in the Tigris, then went home and took a double dose of sleeping pills. Her death may have been an accident; she left no note and had asked her maid to wake her at six a.m. Her friend King Faisal gave her a full military funeral. She is buried in the British cemetery in Baghdad not far from the Baghdad Museum, her museum, that would be looted in 2003.

A treaty was signed with Britain in 1930 that would end the British mandate in two years, followed by entrance of Iraq into the League of Nations. British influence would nevertheless continue in Iraq until 1958. The reign of King Ghazi, Faisal's son and successor upon his death in 1933, was short—a mere six years. He turned out to be a stubborn nationalist, vexing the British by making strident radio broadcasts from the palace demanding the return of Kuwait. Then still without oil, Kuwait was a poor country under British protection, deriving meager revenues from pearl fishing and smuggling.

King Ghazi had a well-earned reputation as a playboy, gained in the casinos of Europe and the nightclubs of Cairo. Around midnight on an April night in 1939, with two companions, he took one of the royal sports cars and sped through the palace gates. The car hit a lamppost, bringing it crashing down and crushing the king's skull. Mysteriously, the car was undamaged. Demands for an autopsy and an inquiry went unanswered. His widow appointed his pro-British brother as regent, to rule until Ghazi's four-year-old son Faisal reached the age of 21. The annoying broadcasts were not resumed.

As it turned out, the reign of young King Faisal II also was short. In July of 1958, Iraqi Army officers murdered the 23-year-old grandson of the original Faisal and the entire royal family in a coup d’etat. In July of 1968, almost ten years later to the day, the Baath Party staged its own coup d'etat to end military rule. Saddam Hussein became vice-president. In July of 1979, in a reprise of Hitler's "night of the long knives," Saddam Hussein announced the discovery of a plot financed by Syria to take over the government. Hundreds of members of the Baath Party were executed. Saddam was sworn in as president. The rest, as the saying has it, is history.

Fast forward to May of 2006. Iraq's new fledgling government is about to be launched. What the coming months hold no one dares to say. Curiously, no commentator has remarked the every bloody, convulsive revolution in Iraq has taken place in July.

Disappointment in Samarra
As in Vietnam, we are learning in Iraq the painful lesson that a local insurgent army--even one poorly trained--can cripple and may even defeat a better-trained and equipped foreign army. This, by the way, is one of the oldest of military axioms. Witness the bitter experience of the British in the American Revolution, the French and the Americans in Vietnam, and the Russians in Afghanistan.

Air supremacy cannot win such wars. B-52 bombers could not dislodge the Viet Cong from their carefully hidden underground bunkers. As it turned out, Soviet attack helicopters and aerial gunships offered easy targets for Afghan mujahedeen armed with shoulder-fired missiles provided by the CIA. We are disingenuous when we complain that the same terrorists we financed to fight the Russians have now turned on us.

During the war in Vietnam, the Tet offensive--an attack by the North Vietnamese army on South Vietnamese and American positions—was actually a military defeat for North Vietnam. Yet the suddenness and the boldness of the offensive surprised everyone. In America's living rooms, TV images of machine-gun-toting black-garbed Viet Cong within the compound of the American Embassy in Saigon markedly weakened confidence in our ability to win the war.

In arguing for a pre-emptive attack on Iraq, Pentagon civilians chose to ignore the lessons of history and to disregard the advice of military staff, virtually duplicating what happened in Vietnam. When President Lyndon Johnson boasted to Sam Rayburn about the brilliance of the civilians in the Pentagon, mostly former academics, in masterminding the war in Vietnam, the Texas congressman commented sagely, "Lyndon, they may be every bit as intelligent as you say, but I'd feel a whole lot better about them if just one of them had run for sheriff once."

What can be said about the civilian decision-making that brought us to where we are in Iraq today? A paraphrasing of David Halberstam's judgment of Robert McNamara, architect of the Vietnam debacle, in "The Best and the Brightest," surely fits the neocons: "They did not serve themselves or their country well. They were brilliant, but they were--there is no kinder or gentler word for it--fools."

True, Saddam is on trial now for the crimes he committed, but America has neither the troops nor the treasure to eject all the bullies of the world from power. Besides, it may turn out that only a ruthless strongman can weld together the warring factions in the improbable country called Iraq. Fuzzy goals only yield fuzzy strategy. We began the invasion of Iraq with no clear idea of our aims. When the neocons' excuse for the conflict--weapons of mass destruction--turned out to be nonexistent, we hastily substituted the vague intention of "bringing the blessings of democracy to the Iraqi people," yet had no real plan for achieving it.

Von Clausewitz postulated that warfare is always an extension of politics. But if political goals are murky, military goals also will be murky--and unachievable. And Santayana's epigraphic aphorism only tells half the story. What he should have said was, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it--and the rest of us are condemned to repeat it with them." The supreme irony, perhaps, is that George W. Bush's major subject at Yale was history.

As if to underscore the futility of wars of empire, consider the fate of the British military cemetery in Kut al-Amara, along the Tigris River south of Baghdad. It contains the graves of soldiers of the Sixth Division who died defending that city in 1916 against a superior Turkish force before being overwhelmed.

A plaque honors the thousands of dead with a poignant epitaph written by British classicist John Maxwell Edmonds. It reads, "When you go home, tell them of us and say, 'For your tomorrow, we gave our today.'" In 1991, to punish Britain for taking part in the Gulf War, the Baath Party ordered the cemetery desecrated and used as a garbage dump. American Seabees restored it in 2003. Today it is being used as a garbage dump again and is awash in sewage.

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