War Powers, War Lies: Part 14:Super Bowl

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War Powers, War Lies: A Series

Part 14: Super Bowl

Published in the Maryland Daily Record May 26, 2006


…signs that con you
Into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won


Bob Dylan, It’s Alright, Ma (1965)


            As we have been discussing, the people who took us into Iraq told us a pack of lies.  They told themselves a pack of lies too.  Chief among these was that to topple Saddam would facilitate the War on Terror.  In the echo chamber of its pre-war deliberations, the Administration convinced itself that if you defeat the conventional armies defending a nation and you seize control of its assets and infrastructure, the terrorists who thrive in the shelter of that nation will naturally fall with it.  But such a belief was reckless.  There were too many good reasons (apart from the fact that Al Quaeda was not thriving in the shelter of Iraq) to know this desired outcome was unlikely.


            It was counterhistorical, for one thing.  History shows that conventional armies almost never defeat guerrillas.  And al Quaeda and its affiliates were nothing if not guerrillas.  History teaches, instead, that guerrilla movements are defeated, if at all, only by the emergence of a civil society in which the group from which the guerrillas are drawn is invested, and in whose institutions the potential guerrillas in that group can trust.  (Think of the painfully gradual standing down of the IRA and the Unionist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, and the linkage to the development of civil institutions there.)  The Administration’s theorists held that Iraqi civil society would emerge in a heartbeat because we would be welcomed as liberators, democracy would spring up on command, and the new society would render the grievances of the Islamic terrorists obsolete — all under the watch of fewer than 200,000 allied troops. 


            As Tevye observed: “Sounds crazy, no?”   And there were voices telling the Administration it was crazy — that they couldn’t defeat terrorism this way.


            General Eric Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff, appeared before the Senate Armed Service Committee in February 2003 and was asked about troop requirements for the upcoming attack.  He said that postwar Iraq would require “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers.”  He spoke with the experience and seasoning of 38 years in the military; his immediate previous tour of duty had been as the Commander of the NATO Stabilization Force in Bosnia.   And he was not even anticipating guerrilla war.  He explicitly stated he was talking only about “post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that’s fairly significant with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so, it takes significant ground force presence to maintain safe and secure environment to ensure that the people are fed, that water is distributed, all the normal responsibilities that go along with administering a situation like this.” 


            As recounted in George Packer’s The Assassin’s Gate (2005),  however, Shinseki’s remarks prompted Paul Wolfowitz, a civilian with precisely no years of military experience and no peacekeeping experience either,  to appear before the House Budget Committee and pronounce that estimate “wildly off the mark” and “inconceivable.”   Then Shinseki himself was dealt with: he was humiliated by the naming of his successor when he still had a year in his term,  and the Secretary of the Army who had had the temerity to agree with him was fired.  (To be fair, there were also other reasons for both personnel actions.)  The notion that more boots on the ground were not needed to build the civil society necessary to render terrorism unappealing was one lie the Administration told itself..


            There was no nation-building plan.  The craziness of this was apparent to the professionals inside the government who are supposed to plan occupations.  As Packer recounts, based on lessons learned in peacekeeping operations of the 1990s, President Clinton had established an interagency working group to plan peacekeeping operations; Bush abolished it in February 2001.  The Rumsfeld Department of Defense ignored the State Department, which tried to plan.  It ignored its own Office of Stability and Peace Operations.  It even ignored the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, which tried to get involved in peacekeeping planning. 


            When the Defense Department’s own post-invasion proconsul, Jay Garner, tried to enter Iraq with his staff, known as the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, he was held up two weeks in Kuwait – while the looting started.  The Department ignored its own Central Command and Joint Staff, which had drafted a war plan called “Desert Crossing.”  General Anthony Zinni, who had just retired, warned General Tommy Franks’ deputy commander that Centcom needed to “take a hard look” at Desert Crossing.  Zinni learned that its assumptions (i.e. that there would have to be infrastructure protection, political and economic planning, etc.) were deemed “too negative.”   The Administration had decided that everything would go well, and that planning for reestablishing civil society was a trap and a snare that might distract from the quick invasion, quick turnover to the Iraqis, and quick withdrawal – and would have no part of it.   The notion that a society without electricity and infrastructure would be unreceptive to terrorism was another lie the Administration told itself.


            It sounded crazy to de-Baathify the entire Iraqi government and to disband the Iraqi army,  as was ordered by Paul Bremer, Garner’s successor, on May 16 and 23, 2003,  respectively, thus simultaneously lobotomizing Iraq’s institutional memory, stripping it of key competencies, and creating a vast class of dispossessed individuals who were dangerous because of their competencies.  To use a piquant metaphor of President Lyndon Johnson,  all of the people who knew how to run the country were on the outside of the tent, pissing in.  The CIA Baghdad station chief warned in November 2003 that the policy had created a country bereft of trained leadership which was inviting to terrorists.  In December 2003, while visiting Washington, he was told he would not be returning to Baghdad.   The policy, and the growth of terrorism, continued.


            It sounded crazy to provoke the terrorists by invading Iraq at all.  Daniel Benjamin, a former NSC staffer, had warned in the New York Times in the summer of 2002 that such an invasion would prove bin Laden’s thesis: that the U.S. was at war with Islam.  But it did more than that: it played into bin Laden’s game plan.  The jihadis wanted us there.  Bin Laden said: “We recommend luring the enemy forces into a protracted, close, and exhausting fight, using the camouflaged defensive positions in plains, farms, mountains, and cities.  The enemy fears city and street wars most, a war in which the enemy expects grave human losses.”


            Let’s see: a power vacuum, an exposed position, and a Middle East full of terrorists eager to engage us.  Sounds crazy, no? 


            Oh, and then add atrocious behavior on the part of our troops.  Assure this by demanding that they substantiate lies – send the soldiers searching desperately for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, and turn loose interrogators who can only earn their keep if they provide corroboration for the myth that Iraq and Al Quaeda were in league.  And stand back and watch what happens.  I want to quote at length from a young man from Falluja interviewed by Mark Danner in November 2003 — just when the CIA station chief wrote the worried memo that led to his ouster:


For Fallujans it is a shame to have foreigners break down their doors.  It is a shame for them to have foreigners stop and search their women.  It is a shame for the foreigners to put a bag over their heads, to make a man lie on the ground with your shoe on his neck.  This is a great shame, you understand?  This is a great shame for the whole tribe.  It is the duty of that man, and of that tribe, to get revenge on this soldier – to kill that man.  Their duty is to attack them, to wash the shame.  The shame is a stain, a dirty thing; they have to wash it.  No sleep – we cannot sleep until we have revenge.  They have to kill soldiers. 


And this is before we even got to torture – to the pictures of the enormities of Abu Ghraib, the rumors of the secret prisons, the grinding bureaucratic cruelty of Guantanamo.


            This is exactly how terrorists are made.  The point may be obvious enough, but let me quote an expert, Jessica Stern, lecturer at Harvard, a national fellow at the Hoover Institution:


… people join religious terrorist groups partly to transform themselves and to simplify life.  They start out feeling humiliated, enraged that they are viewed by some Other as second class.  They take on new identities as martyrs on behalf of a purported spiritual cause…. The weak become strong.  The selfish become altruists, ready to make the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in the belief that their deaths will serve the public good.  Rage turns to conviction. 


            The results of our leaders’self-deception speak for themselves: A widely-reported flood of Al Quaeda volunteers from all over the Arab world have converged on Iraq.  And they have been joined by many newly-minted volunteers.  It is not possible, of course, to separate out the al Quaeda terrorists from the Shiite, Kurdish, and Sunni militias and the Baathist insurgents which are also wreaking havoc on each other and upon innocent civilians.  For instance, the head of Al Quaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has spent most of his career attacking Shiites, though he seems now to be targeting only the Western occupiers.  But acknowledging that the inter-ethnic violence we uncorked when we took down Saddam Hussein is a separate problem, it seems clear that the killings of the occupiers are primarily the work of the jihadis. 


            And using that yardstick, we see 53 U.S. military fatalities this month (which is not yet complete), we see 76 U.S. military fatalities and 403 wounded in April, and so on going back — nearly 2500 U.S. military deaths and nearly 18,000 wounded in all so far.   Happy talk from the Administration notwithstanding, things are not getting better.  For instance, there is a perception of light at the end of the tunnel because an Iraqi cabinet has at last been named.  However, as of this writing, heads of the key internal security ministries remain unappointed, blocked by sectarian divisions the Iraqi government was supposed to bridge. 


            Meanwhile, the guerrillas rule.  Here is the lead on an AP dispatch from May 22, 2006 from Ramadi: “Whole neighborhoods are lawless, too dangerous for police. Some roads are so bomb-laden that U.S. troops won’t use them. Guerrillas attack U.S. troops nearly every time they venture out — and hit their bases with gunfire, rockets or mortars when they don’t.”   The reality was succinctly summed up by an American intelligence official quoted by journalist James Risen: “Today, Iraq is the Super Bowl for jihadists.” 


            This outcome was not merely totally predictable.  It was totally predicted.  For the Administration to have disregarded the warnings, to have treated them as if they simply were not worthy of consideration, and to have called that a plan for defeating terrorism, was a catastrophic lie.  That the liars had deceived themselves is no excuse. 


Copyright (c) Jack L. B. Gohn

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