The editors of the New York Times this
morning feign shock that in his speech at Fort Bragg yesterday evening President
George W. Bush would "raise the bloody flag of 9/11 over and over again
to justify a war in a country that had nothing whatsoever to do with the terrorist
attacks." Kudos for that insight! Better three years late than never, I
Forget the documentary evidence (the Downing Street minutes) that the war on
Iraq was fraudulent from the outset. Forget that the U.S. and UK started pulverizing
Iraq with stepped-up bombing months before president or prime minister breathed
a word to Congress or Parliament. Forget that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and
his merry men – his co-opted, castrated military brass – have no clue regarding
what U.S. forces are up against in Iraq. The president insists that we must
stay the course.
As was the case in Vietnam, the Iraq war is being run by civilians innocent
of military experience and disdainful of advice from the colonels and majors
who know which end is up. Aping the president's practice of surrounding himself
with sycophants, Rumsfeld has promoted a coterie of yes-men to top military
ranks – men who "kiss up and kick down," in the words of former Assistant
Secretary of State Carl Ford, describing UN-nominee John Bolton's modus operandi
at the State Department. So when the president assures us, as he did yesterday,
that he will be guided by the "sober judgment of our military leaders,"
he is referring to the castrati.
This is all lost on doting congresspeople like Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), who
has been around long enough to know better than to recite oxymorons. Most striking
last week was his quixotic appeal to the military's top brass to give a candid
assessment of the situation.
Is there no top military official – active-duty or retired – around to tell
it like it is? Active-duty? No. Retired? Sure there are. But the latter get
little or no ink or airtime in our domesticated media. There are, for example,
Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, or Gen. Brent Scowcroft (USAF), who was national
security adviser to George H. W. Bush and, until this year, chair of the President's
Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. If their remarks are reported at all, one
must dig deep into the inside pages to find them.
A General With the Courage to Speak Truth
More outspoken still has been Lt. Gen. William
Odom (U.S. Army, ret.), the most respected senior intelligence officer still
willing to speak out on strategic and intelligence issues. Unfortunately, you
would have to understand German to know what he thinks of "staying the
course" in Iraq, because U.S. media are not going to run his remarks.
Here is my translation of what Gen. Odom said last September on German TV's
"When the president says he is staying the course, that makes me
really afraid. For a leader has to know when to change course. Hitler did not
change his course: rather he kept sending more and more troops to Stalingrad,
and they suffered more and more casualties.
"When the president says he is staying the course, it reminds me
of the man who has just jumped from the Empire State Building. Halfway down
he says, 'I am still on course.' Well, I would not want to be on course with
a man who will lie splattered in the street. I would like to be someone who
could change the course….
"Our invasion of Iraq has made it a homeland for al-Qaeda
and other terrorist groups. Indeed, I believe that it was the very first
time that many Iraqis became terrorists. Before we invaded, they had no
idea of terrorism."
At Fort Bragg yesterday, the president spoke of the need to "prevent al-Qaeda
and other foreign terrorists from turning Iraq into what Afghanistan was under
the Taliban: a safe haven from which they could launch attacks on America and
our friends." Too late, Mr. President; has no one told you that you've
succeeded in accomplishing that yourself?
Gen. Odom, now professor at Yale and senior fellow at the conservative Hudson
Institute, does not confine his criticism to the president, Rumsfeld, and the
malleable generals they have promoted. Odom has also been highly critical of
leaders of the intelligence community, an area he knows intimately, having served
as chief of Army Intelligence (1981-85) and Director of the National Security
Agency (1985-88). Commenting on the farcical pre-election-campaign "intelligence
reform" last summer, he wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post, observing:
"No organizational design will compensate for incompetent incumbents."
Odom is spot-on. In my 27 years of experience as an intelligence analyst, I
learned the painful lesson that lack of professionalism is the inevitable handmaiden
of sycophancy. Military and intelligence officers and diplomats who bubble to
the top in this kind of environment do not tend to be the real professionals.
And who pays the price? The young men and women we send off to a misbegotten,
When the president spoke last evening, Medal of Freedom winners former CIA
director George Tenet, Gen. Tommy Franks, and Ambassador Paul Bremer no doubt
were cheering him on from their armchairs. A most unsavory spectacle.
"If they question why we died,
Tell them because our fathers lied."
- Rudyard Kipling
A pre-Fort Brag-speech version of this article appeared yesterday