Thursday, November 24, 2005

Have We Been Misled, or Mis-Led?

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With the heat increasing in DC over the war, the hurricane Katrina fiasco, the CIA lead issue, and added to it all the mess with who gets to play on the Supreme Court, the Bush administration has been taking some punishment. Given its enormity and the long-term repercussions of getting it all wrong, it's the war that matters the most. With Iraq we're in a situation that situates this country to lose a great deal in terms of human capital, specifically the lives of men and women sent to carry out the administration's doings, monetarily, and prestige, and the latter is especially ironic when one considers that we went into this war with the predominate idea was to build prestige, not undermine it as we seem to do every day we're there.

In this week's U.S. News & World Report Michael Barone, who writes a weekly column for the magazine, goes on about how the president didn't mislead us into the war. He's not a liar, Barone informs us, he was making judgments based on information that other countries had and which on the whole resulted in not just the Bush administration thinking that Sadaam was a threat, with a WMD potential that called for concern and quite possibly action. Barone may well be right, I mean I really have no way of knowing for sure and I don't suppose any of us will until history puts this into a new spot light at some point in the future - or somebody comes forward unexpectedly now. Heck, this may well all be an honest mistake or an honest set of actions resulting in unexpected and unanticipated consequences/results for which Mr. Bush and company can hardly be held accountable. So for the sake of argument I concede the point to Mr. Barone, Bush hasn't misled us, as many would suggest, but then I think that's besides the point. What he has absolutely done, and it's not going to take a team of forensic historians another fifty years to figure this one out, is mis-led us and he should certainly be held accountable for that.

How has Bush and his people mis-led us? To start with he went rushing into a war in Iraq without a viable plan as to what to do after the inevitable victory was had. I don't think there was anyone on the planet who had any expectation that the U.S. wouldn't win, I mean it had to be a foregone conclusion for anyone that had any sense of reality. So what was MORE important, planning for a victory that basically only required that the U.S. military show up, or for what was to happen AFTER the victory? I offer this as something of a rhetorical question punctuated with "duh!" As this whole thing has unfolded there is one thing that has become painfully apparent and it's that there was next to NO realistic planning for the post-war reality that we'd have to deal with, a reality that was fraught with far more complications than anything on the scale of how to defeat the Iraqi army.

We win the war and there was no plan to restore order in the country, essentially we opened the door to looters who proceeded to make off with anything not nailed down and who formed gangs to terrorize fellow Iraqis, all while we stood by and watched. This wasn't so much the military's fault as it was the administration's. The one person who told Congress that we'd need 2 1/2 to 3 times as many personnel as we ultimately did use was the then (not for long, though) Army chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki. No sooner than had he spoke his mind, based on his own personal experience in Bosnia and Vietnam no less, he found himself hounded by Rumsfeld and his neo-con lackeys, led by Paul Wolfowitz, and ultimately found himself pushed into expedited retirement for his honesty. Gen. Shinseki's understanding of the situation entailed an expectation that we'd have to deal with not just the war but the peace, and unfortunately this didn't jive with Rumsfeld's new, improved, and significantly leaner Army.

We needed more troops just to make sure that there wasn't the anarchy which did result after our victory, but they were also needed in large numbers to help sustain law and order, and in that vein to provide for prisons and prisoner management. Of course that wasn't considered to be important and those sent in to take care of that particular dirty work tended to be anything but the best and the brightest, giving us Abu Ghraib. Abu Ghraib is not just a matter of too few personnel to keep proper law, order, and good discipline, it's also symptomatic of an administration that bellows to the world that this country doesn't engage in torture, yet made no attempt to clarify the rules regarding how to prevent torture and otherwise apparently has a nasty inclination to export its torture needs to other countries which aren't as sensitive about their association with torture.

The latter consideration, and the recent revelations of CIA planes dropping off detainees in Eastern European countries, serves to undermine any prestige or moral high ground this country may have with regard to human rights or what it states it's ultimately trying to achieve in the Middle East. What's truly amazing is that somehow this consistently seems to escape the higher mental functions of those responsible for setting the stage for all of this.

So we get off to a bad start and then we make matters much worse by sending in a bureaucrat, Paul Breemer, whose ham-handed leadership resulted in indiscriminately firing the Iraqi Army and the Ba'ath party leadership, which ultimately was a positively outstanding way of first cultivating and then later harvesting a crop of insurgents. Yes, there's a foreign component to the insurgent problem in Iraq, but how is it that these foreigners aren't being fingered by the Iraqis? I mean are they all living in holes in the desert everywhere and then sneaking in at night to lay IEDs in roadways and then send in the occasional suicide bomber, all without the support of the Iraqi people? The large number of Americans killed or maimed, and let's not even get into the number of Iraqis, in the country are in no small part due to Paul Breemer and Bush's people setting the stage for what we're now working our way through.

2,000 lives and growing, and $200 billion and that's growing like an untreated infection, and all this started out as something that was sold as a Middle-Eastern excursion that would, in short order, pay for itself. I will never forget that Wolfowitz actually had the nerve to go before Congress to testify that the Iraqis would be paying for their country's reconstruction, and our Army would be welcome in the streets of Baghdad for liberating the people.

What's really galling, and not with regard to just this, is that all of this was predicted by people who were well respected in their fields, who had some sense of the geo-political terrain we were going to alk our way into, but because these people were not directly in the administration or otherwise a part of the Pentagon, or otherwise "on message" in the way the administration wanted them to be, they were ignored, resulting in the price we and the Iraqi people are all having to pay now. So bottom line, the issue is not whether Bush lied, but how he's botched this fiasco to the extent that he has, and done so by and large due to hubris and an obtuseness focused by ideology and thoroughly misplaced certitude, and that's what I want this man and the people who work for him held accountable for.

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