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Two Commentaries on Iraq   (May 20, 2008)

Paul T.

Outstanding essay on Iraq! Truly insightful and to the point.

By way of comment only, and not by any means criticism, I would like to say that many people are being manipulated by the Ministry of (mis)Information folks by repeating this misleading 4000 Iraqi death figure. The way this system works is that should a soldier be seriously injured in Iraq, he would typically be medivac-ed out and put on a hospital plane to be transported to Ramstein Air Base in western Germany, where a large military hospital in maintained. Should he subsequently die, because of his injuries suffered in Iraq, he would NOT be counted as a “combat death” associated with the Iraqi theater. That is to say the 4000 number would not be incremented. This would merely be a combat related death, because the death didn’t actually happen in Iraq. Moreover, were the soldier to die in route to Ramstein, onboard the hospital plane, same point.

What’s the number for combat related deaths? Nobody knows. Imagine the incentive in declaring DOA corpses having died “enroute”. Would this administration actually do such a thing?? Furthermore, because of medical advances the deaths to serious injury ratio is extremely low. While this may sound good, it hides the fact that a high percentage of injured veterans will now go through life with serious handicaps. As one doctor put it, yes we can save many soldiers now with serious head wounds, but what we don’t know, is several years from now, will they thank us?

Anyways I am writing you just to raise the level of awareness to what degree this war has been based on deception – both for the cause and the consequences thereof. I am a 5 year Navy veteran and not just an innocent “peacenik”. However, today it is usually the folks who have never served who have been the most gung-ho for “glorious war”. Chickenhawks!

Michael Goodfellow

I haven't read any of these insider books on the decision, so perhaps I'm completely out to lunch here. A few quick notes:

- Even if Gore had been President, there was going to be a military reaction to 9/11. The public wouldn't have stood for a "we'll bring the evil doers to justice" speech, then a long wait for Bin Laden to be captured. Even if he was captured, tried and executed like Saddam, people would have been unsatisfied. There are plenty more terrorists, after all.

- We tell ourselves now that we would never have supported the war if it hadn't been for lies about WMD. As I remember it, after 9/11, the country wanted blood. If the "damn Arabs" had attacked us, then we needed to attack them back. Any country would do, but Saddam had already been demonized in the Gulf war and the endless standoff since. The reaction to attacking Afghanistan was "so what?" Remember the jokes about "so you bomb it back to the stone age -- how can you tell?"

- The U.S. was already involved with Iraq before the war. Not only during the Gulf war, and all the politics that lead up to that, back at least to Iran-Contra, but also on a day to day basis. We were blockading the country, supporting the weapons inspectors and enforcing the "no-fly" zones. Protecting half the population of the country against its own government is pretty involved!

- Although the weapons inspectors had told them there were no active nuclear or chemical programs, Bush and company would have been right to be skeptical. After all, it was a big country, with lots of empty desert where you could hide secret bases. The inspectors hadn't even been granted permission to inspect Saddam's "palaces", which were large compounds with underground tunnels, capable of hiding anything.

- Saddam was acting as if he had an ace in the hole. He threw the weapons inspectors out of the country a couple of times. He'd been defeated militarily in the Gulf war and the country has been ruined by the sanctions, yet he still snapped his fingers in the face of the U.S. I think Bush and company must have suspected this was because he was working on a nuke, and thought that would change everything.

- If they left it at Afghanistan and there was another terrorist attack, it would be all over for Bush. He's a politician -- you have to think about what you'll be blamed for if you don't act. I think they wanted to go into Iraq anyway, to "finish off" the first Gulf war, but the risks of not going there were very high as well.

- Politically, they knew there was just this one chance to get world support for an attack on Iraq. After the crisis died down, the public was not going to support a war. Neither would the U.N. (they didn't give us much support even so.) So to "finish the job", it was now or never.

- The military did its job and took the country quickly. There's nothing to complain about there. Bush knew they'd have expenses, but perhaps thought it would all be paid for by the rest of the world (as in the Gulf War), or by Iraqi oil.

- They had demonized Saddam and the Republican Guard, and thought the situation was like Nazi Germany. Get rid of the evil dictator and all his supporters, and the country will go back to "normal". The splits between Sunny, Shi'a and Kurd go a lot deeper though.

- They had a naive, very American, belief that people don't want to fight each other. That people just want to live their lives, work their jobs, raise their kids, and war is the exception, caused by bad men. Remove the evil guy and people will settle down. Who would fight if they could lead good, peaceful lives just as easily?

- The knew Saddam and his sons were horrors. If we were running the place, how could we be worse? We're the good guys, so of course there would be less violence.

- They relied on the old boy network of companies like Haliburton, assuming that with enough money (and there would be plenty due to the oil revenues), that the entire country could be rebuilt in no time. It was just a third world hole in the wall anyway. How much could it cost to replace their power system? How long could it take? Not years!

- They had a Washington view of how a country works. First, you write a constitution, then you staff up a government, then you have law and order, then you have prosperity. Once people are getting richer, they won't complain. Hold an election or two to give the whole thing legitimacy. In other words, a top-down view. In fact, I suspect it's the other way around -- once you have an economy, people have a vested interest in a fair government, and in law and order. You need a large middle class first though, to anchor the whole thing. Iraq still doesn't have a real economy outside oil revenues and U.S. aid, so it's not going to be self-sustaining or stable.

- We always ignore the desires of Iraqis, and don't even consult them much on rebuilding the nation. If they had hated us and put roadside bombs everywhere, had snipers on every rooftop, we'd never have made any progress. Instead, they gave us a chance. When Anbar switched over to helping the U.S., that was due to decisions by tribal leaders, who were sick of Al Queda, not due to increase in military force by "the surge." The Kurdish areas are working because of their own efforts, not ours. I've read in several places that the only reason the surge has worked is because we've finally gone out into the community. The extra number of soldiers are secondary.

The bottom line for me is that I don't think we can get that place put back together until it has a real economy. I don't think we have the money to stay the course. Pulling out will really damage our reputation though, and damage our internal politics too. The Democrats will be tarred as losers for another generation, and the miltary would (rightly) distrust the civilian leadership even more than it does now. And who knows what the Iraqis will do to one another, and whether it will spill over into the entire region? Pulling out does risk a disaster, so I doubt even a President Obama is going to be able to just leave.

I think the whole thing is a tragedy, brought on by the 9/11 attacks. I think Bush could have done better, but any President would have been pushed to make the choices he made.

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