View Full Version : Former U.S. Army Colonel's thoughts on Iraq....

Good Doctor HST
12-09-2005, 11:47 AM
Following comes from Foreign Policy In Focus

(GD HST: This is just a snippet of the story. Rest can be found at http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/158)

Assaults on the Truth

In a phrase, truth once again has become a casualty in this war. Whether it is a fatality or “only” wounded depends, unfortunately for the military, on how candid the administration will be over the next half year.

You will recall that at the end of the Paris talks about U.S. disengagement from Vietnam, a U.S. colonel observed that the North Vietnamese had never won on the battlefield – to which a North Vietnamese officer replied that this was immaterial in that the U.S. was leaving, not the North Vietnamese. In Vietnam neither the various Saigon regimes nor U.S. troops ever won the psychological war. This failure set the stage for the collapse of the entire effort as the public rebelled against the whole enterprise.

The same possibility exists in Iraq, as evidenced by the Iraqi who lamented: “We have transformed from a dictatorship into something far worse. We have lost our country.” (Los Angeles Times, June 24, 2005) Living conditions are far worse today than before the invasion; billions of dollars have disappeared, regime-induced violence, targeted against regime opponents, has given way to massive, unpredictable violence which is much more stressful and is compounded by sometimes heavy-handed reaction by Iraqi authorities or coalition forces.

If Vietnam was a quagmire, Iraq is a black hole that is sucking lives and treasure and talent into its maw. And as already noted, as in Vietnam, it is tearing at the public’s trust in the government and the veracity of administration officials. Richard Nixon had a secret plan to end the Vietnam War; many today believe George Bush has no plan other than to “stay the course” for as long as one terrorist remains alive and free. As far as the U.S. public ever knew, Nixon’s plan – if it existed at all – was to bomb North Vietnam back to the Stone Age (or some approximation thereof), if necessary, to force Hanoi to come to the negotiating table on U.S. terms. In Iraq, “staying the course” is nothing more than “Iraqization,” replacing coalition forces and coalition (especially U.S.) casualties with Iraqis.

Iraqis, having endured decades of oppression under Saddam Hussein’s military, now face a new fear: that the lessons being taught the new Iraqi army reflect not the psychology of defense of the state from external powers but the psychology of occupation. That is, the new army is absorbing the mindset of those doing its training – of an alien force in an alien land where the entire indigenous population is suspect and untrustworthy. The result is predictable: the “new” army is becoming alienated from the people it is supposed to protect, making it little better than Saddam’s elite units.

Another assault on truth is the “happy news” syndrome that manifests itself in congressional pronouncements and administration announcements. The daily press briefings in Saigon at 5:00 pm were so transparently a farce they were nicknamed the “ five o’clock follies.” The nearest equivalents today are the Pentagon press briefings, but these are not held everyday. Nonetheless, Vietnam’s false assurance of a “light at the end of the tunnel” is matched by “we’ve turned the corner,” or “we’ve broken the back of the insurgency,” or the insurgents are “dead-enders about to reach the end of the line,” or the “insurgency is in its last throes.” All are serious misjudgments at best, intentional obfuscation at worst.

Yet, again, the worst case seems the operational one. Every reason propounded by those favoring the war has been confounded by careful investigation by the U.S.-led Iraq Survey Group, interrogations, or other means. Among the latter is a series of nine pre-March 19, 2003 British cabinet-level memos addressing London’s view of the Bush administration’s evolving policy to go to war with Saddam. By June 2002, the British were convinced that Bush would go to war. Significantly, they also noted that intelligence would be molded to fit policy.

Politically, it is true that the Iraqis have been in charge of running their country for a year (beginning January 28, 2004). But with foreign military forces still numbering 160,000, with the transitional government taking three months to organize itself and elect constitutional drafters, with the government and national assembly having to work inside the highly defended “Green Zone” because physical security is so unpredictable, are the Iraqis really in charge of anything? Most observers would, I suspect, heavily qualify that assertion.

Given the above, General Abizaid’s response to the litany of concerns, misjudgments, missteps, misanalyses, exaggerations, and at least a few lies might well be similar to another part of his Senate testimony: “We that are fighting the war think it’s a war worth fighting … but we can’t win the war … without your support and without the support of our people.”

Undoubtedly, senior officers would agree, if for no other reason than to maintain troop morale. In principle, many others would agree; after all, who would oppose elections, freedom, liberty, and the other accoutrements of a market democracy?

Actually, there would be many, or many who would reject parts of this package or possibly wish to suspend certain features for a few years. For example, most Iraqis would reject attempts to separate Islam from the functioning of government. Islam is woven into the fabric of daily life in many countries, informing and directing the activities of believers. Without Islam, Arab culture atrophies – not news to Abizaid who is a scholar of all things Islamic and Arabian, but easily a revelation to key members in the U.S. political hierarchy.

In other words, other than to maintain unit spirit in a difficult situation, what is important is not what the U.S. commanders and soldiers on the ground think about the war. What the Iraqi people think, what they hold as “worth it,” ought to be the determining factor. It is their country; the U.S. invaded and occupied it, has killed many thousands of Iraqis and injured many more thousands, all without showing any concrete intention of leaving (although showing quite a bit of concrete for permanent bases for U.S. forces).

Given sentiment in Iraq today, declaring a clear intention to withdraw all U.S. troops and bases from Iraq could well be the key to really ameliorating armed opposition and separating the nationalist-inspired Iraqi resistance from hard-core perpetrators of terror and in winning the support of Congress and the U.S. public for a policy under which foreign forces withdraw without foreign countries abandoning Iraq.

Dan Smith is a military affairs analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus (online at www.fpif.org (http://www.fpif.org/)), a retired U.S. Army colonel, and a senior fellow on military affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.