Adam Ash

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

US Diary: now the military is getting freaked about the war

1. Crisis Building in White House Over Iraq War -- by Richard Gwyn

A week ago, it was the generals. Now it's the colonels and majors and captains. Moreover, these officers are in uniform and have none of the security from retribution of the generals who had all already retired.

In a front-page story Sunday, The New York Times described an "extraordinary debate" now going on among younger American officers "in military academies, in the armed services staff colleges, and even in command posts and mess halls in Iraq."

This debate is about the war in Iraq, about the tactics and prospects of the American forces there, and, most particularly, about Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, already the target of stinging criticism by a half dozen recently-retired senior generals, most of whom had served in Iraq.

The names of these junior officers have all been withheld by the Times. If ever identified, they would be court-martialed. So readers have to take it on faith that the paper has described their opinions accurately.

But it's hard to doubt that the report is close to the truth. To heighten its credibility, by no means all of its findings are predictable.

Thus, while the younger officers overwhelmingly fault Rumsfeld, they are less critical of President George W. Bush.

Several thought their own generals were as much to blame as Rumsfeld, for having gone along silently with his bad planning.

The sense of malaise, though, is widespread.

Time and again these officers questioned the "strategic and political mistakes" that left the American troops unprepared to deal with the kind of insurgency that is now tearing apart Iraq. Nor could any see any way out. One Special Forces major pointed out that the Americans couldn't now pull out: "We have to restore it (security in Iraq) ... otherwise we'll just return later, which is even more terrible."

In terms of political reality, Rumsfeld isn't going anywhere. Bush has just declared his complete confidence in him.

To make that circumstance even more politically real, Bush can't now afford to let Rumsfeld go: Without Rumsfeld around, Bush himself would become the target for all the criticism.

It's also a political reality, though, that the criticism of a defence secretary by his own officers is without precedent.

The military occupies an iconic role in American public life. It's widely admired and is seen as a protector of the nation in a way that is rarely equalled internationally.

The effect of this criticism of Rumsfeld will therefore be to multiply the credibility of all those criticizing the war itself. The latest of these is former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has called for a withdrawal of American troops, arguing that the costs of staying will be even higher than the undoubted costs of quitting.

The key political question is how all this will play out in November's mid-term Congressional elections. The issue here is whether the Democrats can capitalize on Bush's plummeting popularity and win back control of at least the House of Representatives.

If this happens — an uncertain prospect given that the Democrats still lack a coherent policy on Iraq, or indeed on anything much — Bush's room to manoeuvre on foreign policy will be severely constricted.

More significant, a Republican defeat in the November elections will ensure that the next presidential election, in 2008, will become a single-issue election about Iraq.

It will be won by whichever of the Republican and Democrat nominees can convince voters that their way will get the U.S. out of Iraq with a minimum loss of blood and face.

Bush needs Rumsfeld to protect himself. The Democrats need Rumsfeld to attack Bush. Politically, it can still go either way. But a crisis is building that's going to force a decision, about the U.S. and Iraq, one way or another.

2. Dying For Nixon, Dying For Bush -- by Paul Rogat Loeb

"I didn't want to die for Nixon," said a man I met recently in a Seattle park. He'd served on military bases in a half dozen states, then had a car accident just before being shipped to Vietnam. "The accident was lucky," he said. "It was a worthless war and I didn't want to go."

I agreed. I admired those who fought in World War II, I said. We owe them the debt of our freedom. But to die for Nixon's love of power, his fear of losing face, his deception and vindictiveness-to die for him was obscene. Nixon's war, the man said, had nothing noble about it. And neither did Iraq.

What does it mean to die in a war so founded on lies? Bush may lack Nixon's scowl, but he's equally insulated from the consequences of profoundly destructive actions. He came to power riding on the success of Nixon's racially divisive "Southern Strategy," which enshrined the Republicans as the party of backlash. He won reelection by similarly manipulating polarization and fear. Like Nixon, he's flouted America's laws while demonizing political opponents. His insistence that withdrawing from Iraq would create a world where terrorists reign echoes Nixon's claim that defeat in Vietnam would leave the U.S. ''a pitiful, helpless giant.''

While Bush assures our soldiers they fight for Iraqi freedom, and to "make America safer for generations to come," 82 percent of Iraqis, according to a British Ministry of Defense poll, say they're "strongly opposed" to the presence of American and British troops, and 45 percent justify attacks against them. This creates what psychologist Robert Jay Lifton calls "an atrocity-creating situation." Lifton first used the phrase during Vietnam. He now uses it to describe a "counterinsurgency war in which US soldiers, despite their extraordinary firepower, feel extremely vulnerable in a hostile environment," amplified by "the great difficulty of tracking down or even recognizing the enemy." This sense of an environment out of control has seeded the ground for Abu Ghraib and for massacres, at the villages of Haditha and Mukaradeeb, already being compared to My Lai. Former Army sniper Jody Blake recently described his unit keeping extra spades on their vehicles so that if they killed innocent Iraqis in response to an Improvised Explosive Device attack, they could throw one next to them to make it appear those killed were preparing a roadside bomb.

Last December Bush called the Iraqi election "a watershed moment in the story of freedom." But if our invasion and occupation has created a watershed moment, it's one yielding rivers of resentment and bitterness that may poison the global landscape for decades to come. And when Bush talks of promoting freedom, the world sees the freedom of America to do whatever we please, no matter how many nations oppose us. America's Vietnam-era leaders made much of their embrace of freedom as well, while overthrowing elected governments from Brazil to Chile to Greece. The war they waged in Southeast Asia killed two to five million Vietnamese, plus more deaths in Laos and Cambodia. And as with Iraq, those making the key decisions were profoundly insulated: Out of 234 eligible sons of Senators and Congressmen, only 28 served in Vietnam, only 19 saw combat, only one was wounded and none were killed. In Iraq, as we know, the chickenhawks led the march to war, and the sole Congressman or Senator with a son who initially served was Democrat Tim Johnson, who the Republicans still attacked as insufficiently patriotic. The sons of Republican Senator Kit Bond and three Republican congressmen have joined him since, but like Bush and his cohorts, most who've made this war possible have never been intimately touched by it.

Counting Eisenhower's first deployment of soldiers and CIA agents in support of the French, the United States fought in Vietnam for over twenty years. We've been in and out of Iraq for nearly forty, since the 1963 coup when the CIA first helped the Baath Party overthrow the founder of OPEC. (And intervening in Iran since our 1953 overthrow of the democratically elected of Mohammed Mossadegh, where we replaced him with the dictatorial Shah). With this administration promising no immediate end in sight, Bush now tells us it will be up to "future presidents" even to consider withdrawing our troops. Who wants to be the last man or woman to die for George Bush?

(Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of "The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear," named the #3 political book of 2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association, and winner of the Nautilus Award for best social change book of the year. His previous books include "Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time." See


At 4/25/2006 9:30 PM, Blogger Vigilante said...

To make that circumstance even more politically real, Bush can't now afford to let Rumsfeld go: Without Rumsfeld around, Bush himself would become the target for all the criticism.
Still, I kinda like keeping Rummy around: more heads=more targets.


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