A biweekly column by Karen Kwiatkowski, Lt. Col. USAF (ret.)
posted 02 December 04
Voices of Reason, or Voices of Treason?
Voices of reason are rising in unison. The Bush war in Iraq is increasingly recognized as unwinnable.
Military historian and strategist Martin Van Creveld provides a re-reading of the diaries of General Moshe Dayan as the famous one-eyed warrior toured Vietnam in 1966. In preparation for his visit to the battlefields, Dayan attended a small private dinner in Washington with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, where questions about the situation in Vietnam were asked and answered. Van Creveld writes,
[McNamara] admitted that many of the figures being floated by the Pentagon – particularly those pertaining to the percentage of the country and population "secured" – were meaningless at best and bogus at worst. No more than anybody else could he explain to Dayan how the Americans intended to end the War. What set him apart was the fact that he was prepared to admit it, albeit only in a half- hearted way; as we now know, he already had his own doubts which led to his resignation in the next year. He consoled himself by saying that the War was not hurting the US economy. In other words, it could go on and on until one side or the other gave way. Van Creveld concludes his article by reminding us of the three problems Dayan saw in America’s military conduct of Vietnam: lack of intelligence, a failed campaign for "hearts and minds" and the problem faced when "an armed force ... keeps beating down on a weaker opponent ... [The stronger force] will be seen as committing a series of crimes; therefore it will end up by losing the support of its allies, its own people, and its own troops." One needn’t open one’s eyes or heart far to see the similarities in Iraq.
But Van Creveld, best known for his books on the nature of war—past, present and future—may be considered only an academic gadfly, notwithstanding that he is well studied in all our war colleges. Perhaps the war journalists can provide something a bit more realistic and less theoretical.
Overwhelmingly, journalists who travel Iraq, reporting and shooting photographs and videos, trying to be fair, end up being vilified by the administration. The infamous Kevin Sites video of a "dead check" in a mosque is a classic, as is the well traveled evaluation from a respected Wall Street Journal war reporter. These are consistently discounted by the administration, but it may be harder to minimize the observations of erstwhile Bush supporter and New York Times op-ed page beacon Tom Friedman. Friedman writes this week that "America is losing the last mile in Iraq," concluding, of course, that we must fight harder, steel our stomachs and grow a backbone. But Friedman is notoriously lacking in military experience. Perhaps we should seek counsel of those who have worn a uniform.
What of the retired military analysts? From traditional conservatives and retired Army Colonels Bill Lind and David Hackworth, we heard early, consistent cautions regarding our backfired boutique war in Iraq. Their wise words ignored by the administration and the Pentagon, Hackworth and Lind in different ways have provided words of clear constant advice on how to successfully deal with what we have wrought in Iraq. Lind’s latest includes "The Last Dignified Exit" and for The American Conservative, the November 22 cover article "Strategic Defense Initiative." Both address the abject failure of our strategy in Iraq, military to be sure, but in a more substantial way, our politics of war. The Bush administration planners have much to answer for, as Colonel Hackworth’s archive indicates. Retired generals from Tony Zinni to William Odom to Brent Skowcroft and a host of others agree with the battle hardened soldier’s concern about administration intent, objective, strategy and Iraq exit possibilities. Yet, truly, these men have had their chance, and no longer serve in the active force.
The litany of stakeholders in American military strategy would be incomplete without the words of the soldiers on the ground in Iraq, or those recently returned. Our soldiers, as do all soldiers in all stupid wars, fight for their brothers in arms, and only for them. Period.
The Bush administration ignores or discounts these critical and honest observers from all parts of the American defense spectrum. Navel gazing groupthinkers to a man (and one woman), the current administration fails to recognize American strategic gains in Iraq – a dominant military presence in the heart of the Middle East, permanent basing, guaranteed petro-dollars, unquestioned control of Iraqi economic development in a post-Saddam environment, and an Iraqi state that will not rise again as a regional power – are simply not well understood by most Americans.
Yet these were the objectives. George W. Bush, wearing a borrowed flight suit in front of a super-sized PowerPoint graphic declared in May 2003 stated that "Combat operations are over!" Over 25,000 American casualties later, there is a sense that someone got a bum deal. The Bush strategy has failed to deliver – was it Rumsfeld’s light and lean emphasis or his chip on the shoulder desire to sink both the Abrams Doctrine and the Powell Doctrine in one fell swoop? Was the flaw simply a lack of competent leadership in Washington, or in the Pentagon? Can we solve the problem by simply sending more troops or spending more money? Perhaps holding a election under the gun is the solution.
The shattered lives and wasted treasure in Iraq, with diminished morale and diminishing moral high ground for the United States, drive serious observers to identify and try to understand the American strategy failures. They use terms like unwinnable, flawed, unsustainable. They say "Yankee, come home."
But a strategy failure indicates that desired objectives have not been achieved. The only important Bush strategy flaw was its abject failure to sell their true – and as of December 2004, mostly achieved – objectives to the strategists, the military analysts, the defense journalists, and most tragically, to the men and women dying to maintain the Bush course.
© 2004 Karen Kwiatkowski