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Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Battle Victory Iraq - Iron Blogger Democrat - Opening Statement

Man oh man. Victory Iraq? Victory Iraq?

Well, we're not winning at the moment. Period. Careful now--put down that flag and newly-legal AK-47 . . . Look, I don't hate America, I don't hate the troops, and I don't hate freedom. But, really, we're losing.

  • The rate of American casualties is increasing Since the handover, more American troops (let alone American civilians) are dying than before.

  • The costs of reconstruction are spiraling out of control. And that aid money already allocated is going unspent.

  • Our "coalition of the willing" is shrinking, almost by the day. (Yes, even Britain is pulling back.) The American share of the cost, both in money and in lives, grows ever larger.

  • Iraq, which, contrary to some people's belief, was not a hotbed of anti-American terrorist activity, is now swarming with foreign fighters itching for a shot at us and happy to have this chaos as a base of operations.

  • Virtually every single population center is totally out of control, which really puts a crimp in any plans for meaningful national elections anytime soon.

  • The very best intelligence available on the ground suggests that we're losing badly, as the recent National Intelligence Estimate did. (Yes, I know that this is the same intelligence community that said selling Iraq's WMD to the public would be a "slam dunk," but they are also the same people who said, prophetically, "Bin Laden is determined to attack the United States," which turned out to be true.)

These things all add up to one inescapable conclusion: We're not winning. "Victory Iraq" is not close at hand or even on the distant horizon.

Why aren't we winning, though? There are three simple reasons:
  1. The Bush administration was delusional. When we went into Iraq, everyone was convinced that we would be "greeted as liberators" and be strewn with "flowers and dancing in the streets." That just didn't happen. It could be because, as Army General John Keane said, no one "predicted how passive Iraq's people would be after 35 years of political repression, and how that would make them skeptical of all authority and wary of the Americans' insistence that they were liberators." It could just be because the US went into the war (as we did in Vietnam) without a thorough grounding in the region's history and a misunderstanding of the Iraqi (and Arab) culture. At any rate, those expecting ticker-tape parades were fooling themselves and signing death warrants for our sons and daughters.

  2. There was an utter lack of post-war planning--and a complete ignorance of thoughtful recommendations--before combat began. General Eric Shinseki was fired for daring to suggest that we'd need "several thousand" troops to keep the peace in post-war Iraq. Army Secretary Thomas White got the boot for the same reason. We should probably have had more troops for the beginning--and even now--but the administration's insistence that it knew what it was doing with so few troops has made it hard for commanders to ask for what they need.

    Most disturbing is Anthony Zinni's story:
    Four years ago, those who devised an Iraq war game called "Desert Crossing" concluded that a large force would be needed to subdue the country. "We were concerned about the ability to get in there right away, to flood the towns and villages," says retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, who was commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and the surrounding region when he supervised "Desert Crossing." "We knew the initial problem would be security."

    The 1999 exercise recommended a force of 400,000 troops to invade and stabilize Iraq. But at the insistence of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, ground forces in the March invasion were held to less than half that: about 130,000 U.S. combat troops and some 30,000 British troops.
    It got so bad, in fact, that we saw damning headlines last summer like "Pentagon had no plans for post-war Iraq." Well, maybe they did have a plan--something like the Underpants Gnomes plan made famous here by ex-Iron Blogger Republican, Rosemary Esmay. I see it like this:
    1. Utterly destroy an enemy we vastly outnumber
    2. ?????????
    3. Leave a stable, democratic Iraq behind

  3. We have a lack of enthusiastic support for the war here at home. This is in part because we were misled into the war. Whether purposely or inadvertently, virtually every single pre-war assertion about Iraq from this administration has proven false, from WMD claims to the delusions of post-war utopia. We can point fingers of blame (in fact, I'd appreciate it if the Bush administration finally admitted that mistakes were made and allowed some heads to roll, but they can't seem to admit error--ever), but it doesn't matter whose shoulders those misleading statements rest on. The fact that we were lied to is enough; it is the little pebble in our shoe, the hair in our soup that makes us want to send it back.

    It doesn't help homeland morale, either, that this war seems unconnected to us. Right up until the RNC last month (you know, when Bush finally started to see his polling numbers climb--hmmmm), we were facing almost weekly terror alerts. Iraq had not wronged us (despite what Fox News viewers think) or an ally the way it had in 1991 when support for the Gulf War never waned.

What makes declaring victory in Iraq even harder is that there is not a clear goal line, in part, again, because the administration has been cagey and inconsistent about its reasons for taking us to war there in the first place. Are we there to simply get a bad guy and liberate a people? Are we there to establish a base of operations for staging attacks against the terrorist who actually are a threat to the US? Are we there to knock over the first domino on the table that will become Middle-Eastern Democracy? Any of these would be clear, easily defined goals for our foray into Iraq (their morality or expediency could still be debated here), but since none of these has been clearly identified as our mission, there will be no way to tell when we have achieved success. Worse, an unclear goal--or this series of sometimes-conflicting sought-after outcomes--leaves our military and intelligence community confused as to what to do next, what's most important.

The Chairman's middle question, "Can we win it at all?," is the most dispiriting of the three he asks. I simply don't know. The closest I come to any kind of military leadership training is the several years I was embarrassingly addicted to the game Diplomacy in high school. I have to figure that people like Anthony Zinni, Thomas White, and Eric Shinseki are right; they all make it clear now (and, frankly, made it clear pre-invasion) that the paltry force we have in place is not enough to secure the peace.

This will not appease any of my bring-the-boys-home-now fans, but, let's be realistic here: We have three real choices: One, keep doing what we're doing which, as I have clearly proven, is not sufficient. Two, bring in enough troops (US or allied) to stabilize the situation--but not to brutalize the citizens!--so that an Iraqi military and police force can take over. Three, cut and run, leaving utter entropy in the middle of a region that does not deserve and cannot handle much more chaos (though Bob Novak may be floating that trial balloon for the administration). I have to choose number two, and, to the great disappointment of the right half of the room here, I have to say that such a change in strategy has to begin with a change in leadership. That's right: I firmly believe, given Bush's reticence to admit mistakes and the administration's tendency to bungle military planning, step one in "Victory Iraq" is electing John Kerry.

Yes, yes, I know that it seems improper and even crass to politicize Iraq, and I also know that John Kerry's speech this week outlining his proposals for winning Iraq are neither concrete nor so clearly distinct from the status quo. But this administration--this president in particular--has demonstrated a serious problem when it comes to endgame, not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan, where the peace was not fully won, either.

I'm looking forward to this Battle, not only because I get to beat this Challenger a second time (and this time I'll try to do it without calling him a segregationist (: ), but because this is exactly the debate we should be having on a national scale right now. Bush's invasion of Iraq is seen by many of his supporters as evidence of his tough stance on terrorism, despite the deceptive way the war was sold and Iraq's lack of connection to anti-American terror. Those same Bush supporters see Bush's reluctance to admit that things are not going well or that mistakes were made in planning as evidence of his strong leadership. In both cases, Bush is merely demonstrating his inability to lead, to be Commander in Chief, effectively or sensibly.

"Victory Iraq"? Maybe, but not without regime change at home, too.

Respectfully Submitted,
Jay Bullock, Iron Blogger Democrat
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