April 1, 2003
Insistence that No Miscalculations Were Made
the oddest phenomenon of the current moment is the insistence by
top military brass – and their doppelgangers disguised as retired-military
consultants on TV networks – that the original plan for the invasion
of Iraq was just hunky-dory and everything is right on schedule
and anybody who suggests otherwise must be some kind of anti-American
trying to prop up Saddam – or at least somebody who doesn't understand
It is perhaps more curious that they say this even
as they are obviously scrambling behind the scenes to change the
plan and bring in more troops and supplies. Do they think that any
serious person takes them seriously?
I'm not saying there isn't a small shred of truth
in the assertion that what's going on amounts to minor adjustments
rather than major rethinking. I have little doubt that before the
war planners considered all kinds of possible scenarios, including
something rather similar to what is happening now and probably a
number of far worse situations than what the U.S. military is staring
in the face.
So somewhere in the depths of the Pentagon there no
doubt exists a draft of a war plan that includes contingencies similar
to what's happening now, along with contingency plans to handle
them. So in some sense the current situation could be viewed, if
you stretch far enough, as just part of the original plan.
(while I might be prepared to change my mind when the secret stuff
is released 25 or 30 years from now) there can be little doubt that
the war has not gone the way the planners had in mind. It was hardly
wise for Peter Arnett to go on Iraqi television and say anything,
and to assert, as he did, that "the first war plan has failed
because of Iraqi resistance" is probably an overstatement.
But it contains a good bit of truth, and that, rather than his saying
it on Iraqi TV, is almost certainly the reason so many people have
their panties in a twist.
can be dangerous to any political regime, but especially during
For all the chest-beating boasts of advancing 300
miles in four days, there's virtually no evidence that the U.S.
military expected anything like the level of guerrilla and unconventional
resistance it has faced in southern and central Iraq. Perhaps nobody
but Ken Adelman actually used the term "cakewalk," and
most of the top brass, including even President Bush, were cunning
enough to warn that it might not be easy.
But the administration, the war whoopers and most
of the military clearly expected it to be pretty easy and straightforward,
and they conveyed that impression strongly during the buildup. It
wasn't only the Sean Hannitys and Rush Limbaughs who were babbling
about how the Iraqi people would be dancing in the streets and handing
out flowers the moment the first U.S. – er, coalition – soldier showed
up on Iraqi soil.
This is pretty clear from interviews in Germany from
some of the first American soldiers wounded and taken out of Iraq
for hospitalization and treatment. U.S. military leaders led the
grunts on the ground to believe it would be a pretty simple and
swiftly victorious operation – not perfect and not without some
pockets of resistance, of course, but not a whole lot more dangerous
than a live-fire exercise.
Our leaders discounted to the point of ignoring entirely
the possibility that the Iraqi Shia in the south would not trust
the Americans much. Did they forget that the Shia had recent experience
with American promises?
Having risen up against Saddam back in 1991 when Poppa
Bush told them to and then did nothing to help – as I recollect
because his deep thinkers expected and wanted a military coup rather
then a genuinely popular uprising – tens of thousands of Shia were
slaughtered by Saddam's regime and their waterways, the center of
their ancient culture, were drained. It would take more than a couple
of tanks and a steely-eyed speech from Dubya to convince these people
that the Americans really meant it this time.
The small-scale harassment of American and British
supply lines seems to have taken almost everybody by surprise. The
troops were not nearly as well prepared to handle such attacks as
they might have been. So the advance was slowed, cities the planners
clearly thought should have been centers of assistance have instead
become centers of resistance. It looks as if there will be serious
resistance to an invasion of Baghdad, and it is increasingly possible
that resistance will continue, at some level at least, whether Saddam
Hussein is alive or dead.
heavens, we're all human beings and we all make mistakes. What would
be so terrible about our military leaders admitting that they made
one this time? I can understand (without condoning) the pervasive
desire on the part of political leaders to appear to be infallible
and pretend that a mistake wasn't really a mistake. But I had some
hope that military leaders, who not only have to deal regularly
with life-and-death situations where honesty with yourself is essential
but have at various times had something resembling a code of honor
and integrity, might be less political this time around. Or is the
military now thoroughly politicized and bureaucratized?
In fact, admitting a miscalculation or several might
increase both credibility and the ability to carry this war to a
successful conclusion. The losses in personnel have actually been
rather modest to date, but it would be well to keep them that way.
It would certainly be important to the hope of avoiding future mistakes
that could result in cataclysmic losses to develop a sense of honesty
and realism about how the war has gone so far and what kind of effort
might be needed in light of what the leaders have learned from past
so far our leaders – not to mention the conservative
media have kept the rose-colored glasses on. So far as I know,
only Andrew Sullivan, among the more prominent hawks, has admitted
on his blog that he miscalculated the extent of Iraqi resistance
during the run-up to the war. Most of the others are insisting that
the plan is still in place and they never promised an easy victory
and those who seem to remember rosy no-resistance scenarios emanating
from war-whooping quarters are simply deluded. And articles suggesting
that the war could grind on for months, as Billy Kristol recently
put it, come close to being disgraceful.
I don't know enough from my vantage point – perched
in front of the TV, reading wire stories daily as part of my job,
interviewing both military and civilian officials and former officials
– to know just how much longer this war will grind on. I know more
than most people, but I know enough to know that I don't know anything
close to enough. I still hope, as a pragmatic assessment, that it
will be over more quickly than I suspect it will be. I still think
that will be the least damaging scenario.
there is any hope to be garnered from the war so far, one may hope
that it discredits the war whoopers of the future. The American
public has, perhaps, come to understand that war is not just a video
game or a move on a geostrategic chessboard. War is about death
and destruction, about snuffing out the lives of young people who
should have promising futures in front of them, who have wives,
husbands and children.
We should have learned enough just from the first
few weeks of the outright combat part of this war that future wars
are not to be entered into lightly. We should be in a better position
to question than we were after the apparently antiseptic wars of
the recent past, whether it is worth it to spill American and foreign
blood for the deluded, juvenile – and ultimately tragically unserious
– dreams of neoconservative intellectuals with a vision of planting
democracies and straddling the earth with benevolent hegemonic power.
This war will give us a platform from which it is
possible to question with more credibility whether it is still a
wise policy to have U.S. troops in substantial military installations
overseas. Is it time to pull troops out of Germany, out of Okinawa,
even out of Korea? Having deposed a dictator our leaders told us
was a uniquely dangerous madman and tyrant (whether they really
believed it or not), will we be in a better position to question
the next proposal to depose some run-of-the-mill tyrant? I suspect
that memories of this war that went off the tracks (however the
hawks would deny it) before ultimate victory will remain in the
American psyche for some time to come – not as long as the memories
of quagmire in Vietnam, perhaps, but a while – and deter the next
round of open empire-building through military force.
So, are the dreams of remaking the Middle East and
establishing a real, honest, open empire instead of the de facto,
makeshift empire we have now dying in the sands of Iraq? We can
only hope so. Of course, we can be sure that those whose perverse
love of war, and especially preemptive war, as the centerpiece of
American foreign policy, will not give up their hopes to have our
young people fight the next war and the next one and the next one.
So we must be more persistent, more intelligent, more sober, and
eventually more persuasive than they are.
I have it from somebody fairly well connected in Washington
that President Bush himself does not harbor dreams of empire, that
he wants to win this war, get rid of Saddam, keep the occupation
brief, then turn to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a roadmap
for a Palestinian state that he won't allow the Israelis to veto,
and let that be his legacy rather than a series of endless wars.
I don't know if it's true, and I don't know if the president can
adhere to that course of action, given the complications and temptations
that are bound to ensue as the destabilizing consequences of the
wake of war manifest themselves. But I permit myself to hope.
But those of us who love peace and freedom and America
can't count on hope. We must redouble our efforts to prevent the
next war, even as we try to keep the consequences of this one from
becoming too disastrous.
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