We are not doing well in Iraq, or for that matter the people who are supposed to be running what constitutes the Iraqi government, according to our Administration’s pre-lem report on the benchmark progress, which is why we will need to be in Iraq even longer, naturally. You have to love this type of logic. It is the kind that produces such absurdities as director of the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture exclaiming how bountiful the crops are in 1960, that the great French cavalry will run right over those German machinegunners in Alsace-Lorraine and ride on to Berlin, or that victory in Vietnam is just around the corner.
By now, it should be obvious we are rationalizing failure. The reasoning is purely an issue of ideology and accountability, or the lack thereof, because there is so much politically invested in “winning” Iraq that those who were the lead supporters of the venture cannot own up to being wrong about its outcome. Instead of declaring “victory,” with the capture and death of Saddam Hussein (similar to what Senator George Aiken of Vermont proposed to do on Vietnam in the early ‘70s), we are treated to the illusion of the creation of Iraqi “democracy,” the achievement of which consist of parliamentary elections where approximately two-thirds of the vote went to Islamic, pro-Sharia Law parties (and those are the wonderful “democrats” we are sending our own people do die for).
From most military reports, we do not have enough soldiers on the ground to “win” Iraq in the way the Administration wants us to. Such a victory, which is denoted by establishing a viable state that can enforce its laws and maintain its territorial sovereignty, is going to require a lot more troops than we currently have stationed. I have seen estimates from 300,000 to 500,000 soldiers being necessary, just to take complete control of Baghdad and begin the process of sealing off the borders with Syria and inevitably Iran. With the “surge,” our troop operations are barely a half to a third of what we need.
What is needed to win Iraq in the way the Administration proposes? We currently do not have the manpower or resources to insert a half million soldiers in Iraq. To accomplish this feat, it would require the reinstitution of a military draft. This is not some kept secret. People in the military establishment are well aware of this, and it has almost certainly occurred to members of the Administration.
The problem with the draft is threefold. One, the military leadership is almost unanimously opposed to a draft, remembering the morale problems of our forces during the Vietnam War. It is much easier to control a soldier that volunteered, knowing what he/she was getting into, than someone that was drafted against his/her will. Two, there is no political will on the part of the two parties, Congressman Rangel notwithstanding, to bring back the military draft, especially within the ranks of the Administration. Third, there is no political will on the part of the American population, who has become increasingly critical of this war, for anything resembling conscription. This last factor influences and determines the first two, which is why the necessary option for the imaginary victory is politically unfeasible.
What Is Happening?
If we are not really trying to win Iraq, then what is the purpose of this benchmark report? Basically, it is a political cover, which will justify maintaining the mission in Iraq, at least until after the 2008 elections. By that time, the current Administration will be out of office, and whoever replaces the President given the unenviable task of finally shutting down the operation, knowing full and well what this means politically (i.e., accusations of “not supporting the troops,” anti-American, pro-terrorist, etc.).
Accordingly, the last act of this Administration, already pre-determined by the benchmark progress reports drawn by its own appointees, will be to pass on the responsibility of ending a war to someone else. The last President to do that was Lyndon B. Johnson (to Richard Nixon). As much as we like to think of President Nixon as a failure (largely because of the Watergate scandal), most would probably still remember Johnson as a greater failure because of the Vietnam War.
Legacy of Iraq
Will Iraq be like Vietnam? In terms of outcome, probably not. In Vietnam, we were basically fighting one enemy, Communist Vietcong insurgents in the South, who were receiving aid and support from the Communist government in the North. In Iraq, we are fighting three groups of people. Sunni and Shia insurgents, as well as religiously-motivated foreign fighters, who are also fighting each other in what has obviously transformed into a civil war, as much as a fight against American occupation. To that extent, the outcome of Iraq will be much worse than Vietnam, because any exit of the US will likely create a power vacuum, since the so-called Iraqi government is in reality a subsidiary of the American taxpayer.
Nevertheless, in terms of perception, Iraq is becoming all too much like the Vietnam War, both for the Bush Administration and our soldiers. This is the greatest tragedy of all--not so much for the civilian politicians who thought the US would “roll into Iraq” without any problems, but for the lives of those soldiers being taken or wounded in this conflict. That is the heartbreak of this conflict. I am sitting here, writing this, knowing that we will not leave Iraq before 2009, knowing this will cost the lives of several hundred more of my countrymen because someone else cannot take responsibility for putting us in the situation we are in.
The one positive legacy of Vietnam, however, which we sometimes forget, is that is has served as a demonstration effect for how not to operate a war, and when to disembark once the costs have become greater than the benefits. This was certainly in mind this past week when several members of the President’s own party (including Senators Hagel, Lugar, and Warner) offered legislation restricting the US mission in Iraq. Of course, there is a vested interest involved with Republicans in Congress, since this war and its unpopularity helped turn them into a minority party in the House and Senate. What is noteworthy is that two of those Senators, Lugar and Warner, were previously strong supporters of the military invasion and occupation of Iraq. It is this recognition of reality, that ultimate debunker of ideological myths everywhere, which is most encouraging (even if it is a political ploy to stunt criticism of their prior support for this war), but unfortunately it will not accomplish anything, since we live in an era of Presidential prerogative on matters of foreign policy and military intervention.
When Congress conceded to the President the right to create the benchmark reports, written by members of his Administration, they surrendered any chance of this conflict ending before 2009. It had to be known that those reports were going to exculpate the operations. Ultimately, even with the demonstration effect of Vietnam, the lessons learned were not able to prevent the blunders from reoccurring. The saddest aspect in all of this is that if our government cannot prevent itself from repeating historical mistakes, and assuming the cycle repeats itself, what and where will be the next Iraq?