Saturday, April 25, 2009

Conflicted on Iraq

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.
Groucho Marx

Try as I might, I can't figure out why the United States really went into Iraq.

WMD was the purported reason. We could have used the United Nations process, but no. The fearmongerers in Washington, lead by Dick Cheney, scared the populace into going to war with photos of mushroom clouds. And unfounded rumors of yellow-cake uranium going into Iraq.

So in we went. With only 150,000 ground troops. We sent almost 500,000 to invade Panama. Nice planning Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and General Franks.

The war planners assumed we would quickly overwhelm the Iraqi Army (which we did) and be met with happy throngs celebrating us as liberators (which didn't happen).

We captured Saddam in December 2003. If that was the objective, we should have left then.

As a friend in the Pentagon recently said to me, the war with Iraq ended in 2003. Since then we have been fighting a proxy war with Iran.

Ever heard that before? I have not.

Iranian arms and military trainers have been flowing in for years to arm the Shiite militias. Iran is Shia, and Shiites in Iraq had been treated terribly by the Sunni minority (which was headed by Saddam). Iran would like to own Iraq and it's oil and land. So for years, our military has been trying to prevent a Shia and Sunni bloodbath. Why? Why is this bloodbath more important than those taking place in Africa?

We didn't send enough manpower to seal the borders. al Qaeda fighters flowed in from all over. And no, al Qaeda was not in Iraq training during Saddam's reign. al Qaeda hated Saddam. But with Saddam gone, AQI had US targets on the ground and a Muslim land they might shake with fear and take over as they have in Afghanistan and Pakistan with their Taliban brethren. General Eric Shinseki said so in 2003 as Army Chief of Staff. He was vilified by the Bush administration.

I have read every book I can find. I have asked elected officials, senior military personnel, intelligence experts, Iraqis, Iranians. No one can explain, no one understands why the Bush adminisration went into Iraq.

Personally, I think it was two things. Neo conservative macho men who wanted to take out Saddam. Macho men who had never been to war, and in fact had dodged it when it was their turn to serve.

Secondly, money. Money from oil. The US oil companies needed the cheap Iraqi oil. Money from infrastructure. Halliburton and KBR are all over the friggin country building stuff, serving food, providing non-potable water, you name it. Money from arms. Billions of dollars for guns of all kinds, ammunition, radar, planes, vehicles.

In his farewell address, President Eisenhower warned about the "military industrial complex". We have failed to heed his warnings.

President Eisenhower's granddaughter, Mary, was on this trip. She heads a global non-profit that was started by her grandfather, People to People International.

Their mission statement reads as follows. "The purpose of People to People International is to enhance international understanding and friendship through educational, cultural and humanitarian activities involving the exchange of ideas and experiences directly among peoples of different countries and diverse cultures.

People to People International is dedicated to enhancing cross-cultural communication within each community, and across communities and nations. Tolerance and mutual understanding are central themes. While not a partisan or political institution, PTPI supports the basic values and goals of its founder, President Dwight D. Eisenhower."

A man that saw war first hand started a foundation to foster understanding. He warned about the military industrial complex. I don't think he would approve of this mess in Iraq.

Mary Eisenhower is a smart, humble, compassionate woman. She and I had a long talk in Kuwait. She had visited the USS Eisenhower. She felt like she had a new family. The sailors and officers adopted her and she felt so humbled and thankful.

I got the sense from Mary that she probably would agree with her grandfather.

But, after the massive FUBAR of the original dumbasses that got us into Iraq, some smart people figured out that we needed a different strategy. Colonel H.R. McMaster pointed the way when his unit settled things down in Tall Afar. Colonel McMaster is the author of "Dereliction of Duty". In his book, he scorches the military leadership in Vietnam for not standing up to the politicians and doing the right thing.

In Tall Afar, he scattered his troops amongst the populace. Gaining trust and information, he was able to work with the locals and root out the bad guys. It became the road map for General Petraues and the surge. The surge worked, not only because of more troops, but because of the new strategy.

The briefing that we received in Balad was a result of this strategy of intermingling with the locals to understand the fabric of Iraq.

So, now after two years of progress, a politically mandated deadline for troop withdrawal is upon our military. The transition has already started. Combat troops will be withdrawn by the end of June.

And in the last week, Iraq has started going crazy again. Huge suicide bombings. Bloodbaths outside mosques. The fabric is starting to shred.

Now, President Obama and Congress face a new dilemma. Will they allow Iraq to disintegrate? Or, will they push back against the politics and make a decision to reverse course and stay?

President Obama, your photo op visit last week only encouraged the enemy. Your message to the troops was clear. We are leaving Iraq.

For what?

Just because the Bush adventure was a colossal mistake, the gains that have been made in the last two years shouldn't be junked. It is not in America's best interest to have an unstable Iraq.

And, while troops are moving out of Iraq, they are moving into Afghanistan.

For what?

The Obama administration admits they have no clear mission for Afghanistan. That is as muddled as Iraq. So we are going to send more troops into another battle for which we have no prescribed objective?

The only thing I know is I don't know. But, I do know that the people on the ground know alot. And, I don't believe many elected people in Washington know squat about the realities of Iraq or Afghanistan.

President Obama and Congress, please listen to them. Listen to your intelligence people. Your military leaders. And don't be afraid to ask hard questions and make sure you aren't hearing what the military wants you to hear. Dig in and talk to the officers that are on the ground.

Don't use your politics to bully them. Listen.

Then do what is right for America.

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