a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

A screwed up war

Posted by Thomas Nephew on October 28th, 2004

Absent the two main legitimate justifications for the war, it could only be hoped that the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq would be run professionally, competently, and successfully.

Wrong again. Before this administration, I would have had that confidence; even in this one, whole departments like the State Department labored toward this end, only to have their advice ignored. But the primary fault lies again with Bush and Rumsfeld, who failed to support the occupation with anything near the troop levels it needed early to succeed. My authority for this is again someone who ought to know — Paul Bremer, chief of the Coalition Provisional Authority. From the New York Times article “Bremer Critique on Iraq Raises Political Furor“:

At DePauw University, Mr. Bremer said that “the single most important change -the one thing that would have improved the situation – would have been having more troops in Iraq at the beginning and throughout” the occupation. He said that he raised his concerns a number of times within the administration, but that he “should have been even more insistent.”

In August of 2003, George Will noticed:

Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense, was wrong in congressional testimony before the war. Although he said “we have no idea what we will need until we get there on the ground,” he insisted that Gen. Eric Shinseki, a veteran of peacekeeping in the Balkans, was “wildly off the mark” in estimating that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in occupied Iraq.

Fellow traveller Andrew Sullivan made a good point a couple of weeks ago:

We were lucky in retrospect that Saddam didn’t have any WMDs. The way this war has been run, it would have actually increased the chances of such weapons getting to America via terrorists rather than reduced them. At least, that seems to me to be the logical inference. Am I somehow wrong? Why did the administration leave weapons sites unguarded for so long? Why did they not send enough troops to secure the borders?

And that was before this week’s revelation of the missing 300+ tons of high explosives at the Al Qaqaa site. I see now that George I. (“Idiot”) Bush is arguing at least Saddam doesn’t now “control all those weapons and explosives.” No, probably a bunch of insurgents, decapitators, and God knows who else control them. Nice work, moron.

Pentagon/Bush administration fecklessness with arms sites was obvious from the beginning — the looting of uranium back in the early aftermath of the war should have triggered Rumsfeld’s immediate firing or resignation by itself. The attitude was pervasive; in June Patrick Graham reported Iraqi insurgents telling him they practically had permission to loot their weapons. “[The American soldiers] thought we were thieves. They watched us taking RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] and other weapons and said, ‘Are you Ali Baba?'” This was what the G.I.’s called thieves and looters. “We said yes, so they let us in. They thought we were destroying the Iraqi army.”

This kind of operational cluelessness is a failure of planning, not of the soldiers on the scene who had enough on their plate without creating new security objectives on the spot. It’s no wonder numerous military experts inside and outside the armed services feel Iraq is now a disaster. In a September Guardian article with the cheery title “Far Graver than Viet Nam,” Sidney Blumenthal quotes retired general and former NSA chief William Odom, among many others:

“Bush hasn’t found the WMD. Al-Qaida, it’s worse, he’s lost on that front. That he’s going to achieve a democracy there? That goal is lost, too. It’s lost.” He adds: “Right now, the course we’re on, we’re achieving Bin Laden’s ends. […]

“This is far graver than Vietnam. There wasn’t as much at stake strategically, though in both cases we mindlessly went ahead with the war that was not constructive for US aims. But now we’re in a region far more volatile, and we’re in much worse shape with our allies.”

But even if the reasons for the war were mistakes, and the war itself was being waged incompetently and even counterproductively in the short term, I was at least confident that the coalition occupation would bring reliable decency and fairness to a dark corner of the world, and set an example recommending our system and our values to Iraqis. And then came Abu Ghraib.

As I wrote at the time, I have rarely been so ashamed of this country, and I will never, ever forgive this commander in chief or his advisors for it. Even Karl Rove was reported to think that it will take decades for the United States to recover. Once it became clear there would be no consequences at the top, I finally and irrevocably parted ways with this administration and its supporters; I believe that if you’re considering voting for Bush, regardless of your party, this should be the final straw.

Believe it or not, I’m as much of a patriot as anyone — I just seem to be more willing than many so-called patriots to see when we’ve done wrong; that’s part of the deal, I think. And there are no two ways about it: Abu Ghraib was a stain on this country and on the administration that oversaw it. Rumsfeld and Bush signed off on policies at Guantanamo, signed off on their transfer to Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq, fobbed the whole thing off on the insufficiently staffed and trained units they sent over to do these jobs, and then pretended it was all just a few bad apples when the chickens came home to roost.

Even if you think — against all evidence — that Bush and Cheney are the best terror fighters in the world, this should make you wonder about their character and their fitness to serve this republic.

I don’t know what should be done in Iraq. I do know who shouldn’t get another chance to do it.

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