October 29, 2003, 9:15 P.M.
Today's news from Iraq included a report of an Abrams tank being attacked and disabled, with two of its crew being killed. This brings the total number of soldiers killed in Iraq since the “cessation of hostilities” to 115, more than the number killed during the invasion phase of Iraq operations.
It is equally significant that the casualty count continues to rise in Iraq, and that the latest assault involved a successful attack on the most sophisticated piece of military hardware on the ground in Iraq today. This demonstrates once again that the “resistance” is better organized, better equipped and better trained than the administration wants us to believe. As I said in a previous post, this does not bode well for the long term stability of the region or for the safety of U.S. troops.
On the issue of U.S. troops, much was made recently of a letter purportedly distributed among troops stationed in Iraq that was signed and sent home by a number of G.I.s at the “request” of their commanding officer. Reports describe the 5 paragraph letter as saying, in part, “[t]he quality of life and security for the citizens has been largely restored, and we are a large part of why that has happened.” The officer who wrote the letter wanted to focus America’s attention away from the casualties, and on the good things going on in Iraq such as the opening of schools and hospitals in Iraq since the end of the war. The credibility of these letters was seriously undermined when it was discovered that they were not spontaneous outpourings in reaction to negative media coverage, as was first thought. What is more important, however, is the anecdotal evidence that the situation in Iraq really is as bad as we think. This information comes to us from families of soldiers and service personnel in Iraq, and can be derived from the casualty count alone. The fact is that when 35 attacks a day are occurring, the situation is not under control.
Richard Perle was a guest on CNN this week and he mentioned that there was good news in Iraq: schools and hospitals were opening and the lights were coming on. Perle’s comments were played against a backdrop of absolute carnage at the Red Cross headquarters in Baghdad – another television moment rich in irony. I want to know what schools and hospitals have been opened because of our efforts, as opposed to those that have simply been reopened since the end of the war, or that have been opened by the efforts of the Iraqis themselves.
The Iraqi infrastructure has not been restored, so a rocket launcher, disguised as a mobile generator, could be moved to within striking distance of the al Rashid hotel, where Paul Wolfowitz was staying a few days ago. This could happen because there are mobile generators everywhere. There are also long gas lines, continual shortages and a general disdain for the occupying force evidenced by our inability to capture Saddam Hussein, and the ability of his supporters to mount and sustain an active and effective guerilla campaign.
Does any of this sound familiar? A puppet government, propped up by American dollars and American troops, operating in an atmosphere of mistrust, danger and corruption, in a country where outsiders have never been welcome. U.S. soldiers used as shields to protect and nurture a locally recruited police force and army, which might someday shoulder the burden of uniting a fractured country on their own: a hearts and minds campaign aimed at replacing a dictatorship that catered to the everyday needs and wants of the people with a democratic system that has no roots or history in the region. This is Viet Nam, folks: same idea, different jungle.
I have said all along that our policy in Iraq suggests that our major policy planners do not understand or accept the culture and history of the Middle East and therefore, we are doomed to repeat the folly of our past. When the U.S. entered Viet Nam, we had no understanding of the history or the culture of the region and thus continued to try to pound a square peg into a round hole, with our attempts to create a western democracy in the east.
It’s almost worse in Iraq because Iraq is not now and has never been a country with a single identity. Viet Nam was at least that. The times have also changed. There is no shortage of manpower for the holy war against the U.S., and access to the battleground of Iraq is a lot easier for those groups than targets in the U.S. Inflammatory invective from the likes of our deputy undersecretary of Defense, Lt. Gen. Boykin, will result in fanning the flames of hatred and instilling in those soldiers of Jihad a sense of religious righteousness in their cause. With friends like Boykin, who needs enemies?
Before this conflict gets too much more involved, the U.S. needs to step back and seek regional and international input on how to resolve this situation. I don’t think the solution is to find a way to let go of the tar baby; it has to be more than that. The solution has to be home grown, though, or it will never take root.