Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Victory In Iraq And The Real Questions We Should Be Asking

The Wikipedia says that the US invasion of Iraq began at 05:34 on March 20th, 2003. 

That’s incorrect. 

It also says that “Polish commandos captured the oil platforms near the port [of Umm Qasr], preventing their destruction.

That’s also incorrect

Or rather, that second bit is only partly correct.  I certainly wouldn’t want to diminish the role of the GROM, the Polish special forces, but they were only part of the story. A significant part to be sure, and a proud historic moment for the GROM who had not fired a shot in anger since the early 1940’s. I had the privilege to serve with a few of them and they are fine soldiers, but they were only part of the story and a small  part at that. The inaccuracies in the Wikipedia article do great disservice to those other forces who were there in the coastal oil terminals of Southern Iraq on the night the war began. 

Whoever wrote that bit obviously wasn’t there and didn’t bother to do any actual research.

How do I know the writer wasn’t there?

Because I was.

I was there on the night it all began, 2300 hours local time, March 19th, 2003 in the Northern Arabian Gulf.

Honestly though, it began long before that night. 

We, those of us in the military, knew what was coming. Of course we did. War is our profession. It is our business to know. In 2003, the images of 9/11 were still fresh and raw in our vision and America was thirsting to make somebody pay. We’d been fighting in Afghanistan for a year and we were winning, but Afghanistan was like chasing chickens in a barnyard.  A vocal majority of the American people wanted revenge and a real enemy and a standup fight, not a bunch of raggedy-assed terrorist shitheads hiding in mountain caves.  Oh sure, nowadays, nobody admits that they wanted war, but back then a lot of people did.  President Bush had the support of a nearly unanimous Congress and an overwhelmingly large majority of the citizenry. 

I know it’s hard to believe now, but back then George W. Bush’s popularity was off the scale.

And in a way, Saddam Hussein was just asking for it.

By 2003, Saddam had painted himself into a fatal corner. 

He had been playing a very, very dangerous game since the end of the Tanker War, what most people nowadays call the Iran-Iraq Conflict, which kicked off on September 22, 1980 when Iraq invaded Iran.  That was a hell of brutal conflict, more than half a million soldiers died in trenches like a rehash of First World War France, complete with poison gas attacks and suicidal bayonet charges.  The war went on for eight years and left wreckage strewn from the Straits of Hormuz all the way to Turkey. When it was over, there was no victory, not for either side. Mostly the war just petered out in a sullen fog of lingering hatred and hostility – and it has stayed that way ever since.

Of course, the sullen peace lasted only a couple of years, then Iraq invaded Kuwait and ended up fighting America and her allies in what became known as the Gulf War.  You might have heard of it.  The opening engagements of the current conflict were fought back in 90 and 91.  A lot of folks thought we should have gone on up the Highway of Death right into Baghdad and gotten rid of that son of bitch Saddam Hussein back then, instead of stopping at the Kuwaiti border.  Woulda shoulda coulda.  It was what it was. And so we, the US Navy, stayed when the Army and Marines shipped out for home.  And we’ve been patrolling the waters of the Persian Gulf ever since, enforcing the UN sanctions, interdicting, boarding, searching, and seizing suspect vessels bound to and from Iraq.  Chasing pirates and smugglers and shitheads.  It was, and is, dangerous as hell, we lost a number of good people doing it.  The Air Force stuck around too, flying out of Qatar and Saudi Arabia and Turkey enforcing the no-fly zones, they lost people along the way too.

And so, there was Saddam. Two disastrous wars in less than a decade – surrounded by mortal enemies (enemies of his own making, but enemies nonetheless).  

Now, here’s the thing so pay attention, Saddam did, once, have weapons of mass destruction and programs to eventually develop more.  There is no doubt about that whatsoever.  He once had large stores of war gases and he used those weapons against Iran and against his own people.  And Iran remembered, oh yes they did, they still do.  In the Iran-Iraq war, those weapons were used to support Saddam’s army as a force multiplier. Now, at the end of Gulf War, they were even more important – as a threat, as a weapon of Information Warfare.  See, it didn’t matter if Saddam actually still had chemical weapons, or biologicals or even nukes – so long as his enemies, especially Iran, believed that he did.  His army was in shambles, many of his troops dead or fled, his equipment and armor smashed and burned, his war industry and production facilities destroyed.  Iraq was under interdiction, they couldn’t sell the one thing they had plenty of, oil – at least not easily or in large enough quantity to matter, though there was plenty of smuggling.  He couldn’t trade oil for weapons and he didn’t have the cash, not in the amount needed to rearm and rebuild.

Worse, he’d burned all his bridges.

Saddam had no real friends anywhere (including us, oh yes, that’s right. See, back during the Iran-Iraq conflict, we were his pals.  Look up the pictures of one Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam shaking hands and yukking it up in Baghdad following that conflict. But I digress).  If Iran invaded Iraq there would have been absolutely nothing to stop them.  And Iranians remembered Saddam, oh yes they did.

Would Iran have invaded Iraq?

Beats me. But Saddam sure thought so.  And so he walked a tightrope, balanced precariously between bluster and bluff.  He played a very, very dangerous game. He needed those UN weapons inspectors.  He needed Hans Blix to complain loudly and voice suspicions in front of the Security Council but without any out and out proof – at least not enough to goad the UN into action.  He needed Blix and the UN and most especially the United States to convince Iran that he was still armed.  For almost a decade, Saddam played us all.

And it worked. The UN weapons inspectors and the CIA ate it up and danced to Saddam’s little tune.  And it would likely have kept working too, because the only way to call his bluff would have been to invade. And nobody, especially the UN was going to approve that – not with China and Russia and France playing spoiler on the Security council.


Then 9/11 happened.


9/11 was horrifying for the United States, but it was a disaster for Iraq.

The terrorists who perpetrated 9/11 wounded us, but they killed Saddam Hussein.

Bluffing only works if your adversary doesn’t call – or doesn’t just kick over the table and start shooting.

And so, on the night of 19 March, 2003 I was onboard the finest warship ever to put to sea, the Aegis Guided Missile Cruiser USS Valley Forge, in the Northern Persian Gulf, a hundred yards from the massive Iraqi Mina Al Bakr Oil terminal – commonly called MABOT.  US Navy SEALs operating from Valley Forge and supported by her helicopters, weapons batteries, communications, and intelligence operators, took the terminal in a surprise assault without a shot fired or a life lost on either side.  Simultaneously, several miles away, also supported by Valley Forge’s helicopters, guns and C3I systems, the Polish GROM took the smaller Kwor Abd Almaya terminal (KAAOT), again silently and without casualties.   My part and that of my team is something I can’t talk about, but that operation kicked off the war and opened the way for the Navy amphibs and Marines to reach Iraqi shores without giving Saddam warning that we were coming – and despite being enormously complex and difficult, it may have been the only operation of the war to go down 100% as planned.

Despite all that has transpired since, I am still enormously proud of my role and that of the men I led.   We did what we were ordered to do, and we did it extremely well.

But the reason we went into Iraq was a lie.   We’ve known that for a long time.  It would, of course, be easy to blame George Bush, or Dick Cheney, or that arrogant little pissant prick Rumsfeld, or any of a dozen others.  And certainly that motley cast of characters deserves much of the scorn and derision that’s been heaped upon them these last eight years.  Sure Saddam was playing a dangerous game of information warfare, but the administration had the best intelligence network in the world and it was their job to get at the truth.  Perhaps they lied on purpose. Certainly they did to some extent.  But, saying that Bush wanted war is a massive oversimplification, he already had a justified war – and the kind of invasion we waged in Iraq takes a lot more than just a war maddened President to pull off. The whole nation was in on it.  Personally, from my own experience in Washington D.C. and twenty years in the intelligence community, I think they fell victim to hysteria and politics and the artificial fantasy world that is the self-licking ice cream cone inside the Beltway. If we are to be charitable, they allowed themselves to be fooled, they wanted to be fooled, they wanted a scapegoat for 9/11 and Saddam made an easy target.  Americans needed to hate somebody and Saddam was easy to hate. They figured four weeks to Baghdad and the population would cheer us in the streets. We’d be home victorious by the fourth anniversary of 9/11. 

It would be easy to blame Bush and his cronies for that, and many  of us do, me included (remember, whatever else, it was us who got used as pawns in this idiotic affair). However, reality is always more complex and less emotionally satisfying. Ultimately a lot of people bear responsibility for this war.

Saddam himself bears the lion share of responsibility for the events that led to war – he could have opened his arsenal to the Inspectors. He would have had to bear the consequences of that, but hell, he could have demanded UN protection from Iran.  Of course, he would have then appeared weak to his own people. Such is life. He made the decision to bluff it out.

The UN bears responsibility for not doing a better job.  Russia, China, and France bear responsibility in part creating some of the conditions that led to war, if they had supported the UN sanctions instead of actively helping Saddam to circumvent them, war might have been avoided. Then again, it might not.

Ultimately of course, George W. Bush as president of the United States bears full responsibility for giving the order, for sending us into battle – as do the leaders of our allies who went along and gave their own orders to their own troops.

The American people are responsible in part for keeping it going.  They reelected the president who took us into this conflict, they could have given a vote of no confidence in 2004. They didn’t.  And they elected and reelected the senators and representatives who actively assisted in perpetuating the conflict – as is their right.

The Iraqi people are to some extent responsible for keeping it going.  So are the Iranians.  So are the insurgents, whatever their allegiance.

There’s plenty of responsibility to go around.

The reason we went to war was a lie certainly. And because it was a lie, the objectives for ending it were never defined. The goals kept changing. 

When we went into the oil fields that night, it was in search of weapons of mass destruction, weapons Saddam could sell to terrorists or could use himself to threaten another, worse, 9/11.  Saddam didn’t have those weapons, we didn’t know that then, but we found out in fairly short order.

We achieved the objective of the war as initially stated.  Mission Accomplished.

Then the objective changed. Get rid of Saddam Hussein.   And we did that too. And we turned him over to the Iraqis and they hung him and good riddance.

And then the objective changed.  Suppress the insurgency.  And then again.  Democracy. And then again. And again.

The simple truth of the matter is that there is no objective.  

And without a solid objective, victory becomes a chimera. A shimmering mirage, just out of reach, always shifting, always changing, never clear, never achievable. 

For example, the objective is now defined as a stable Iraqi government (and not be an asshole or anything, but Iraq had a stable government until we blew it up. But I digress). Who defines stable? How do you measure it? What are the parameters, i.e. how much are you willing to spend and how long are you willing to wait? Stable for who, every Iraqi? Or just some of them, and if so, which ones? And so on and so forth.  When Americans think of victory in Iraq, they picture WWII – cheering crowds, victorious troops marching through the streets of Paris, beautiful girls getting kissed in Times Square, streamers, ticker tape parades, and Johnny Comes Marching Home Again. 

That’s the first question we should be asking: what is victory?

Victory? Hell.  You are not going to get that little WWII victory fantasy.  The question is, what can we live with?

The reason for the war was a lie.  The responsibility for that lie was shared by many.  The responsibility for keeping it going is likewise shared by many.

The next question then becomes, how do we end it?

How do we end it when our own government can’t agree to anything?  Not even the simple stuff?


The real question is, who will take responsibility for ending it?

Obviously the answer to that particular question is Barack Obama.

And justly so, it was the President who gave the order to attack. It is the responsibility of the president to end it. No other.


But I would like to see these questions put to the candidates at the next presidential debate. 

Ron Paul has already answered that question. He says that he would make the same exact decision that Obama just did. End the war. In fact his complaint regarding the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq is that Obama isn’t doing it fast enough.  I suspect Paul fails to grasp the scale of the evolution and the complexity of bringing home 30,000 troops and their gear.  But then I’m still trying to figure out how Paul has managed to disagree with Obama on this matter even though the President did exactly what Paul claims he would do in the same position.

Not surprisingly Paul’s disagreeable agreement with Obama is the minority opinion. The rest of the opposition wants to keep the war going.

Mitt Romney says he opposes withdrawal.  He says he would defer to the military.  A number of things come immediately to mind, 1) Romney assumes that Obama didn’t ask the military. There is no evidence of that.  2) Romney assumes the military would recommend staying. With the exception of certain retired generals, that may very well not be the case.  3) Wait, what? President Romney would abdicate his authority as Commander in Chief to the military? You wanna run that one by me again?  We let the military decide?  Uh, speaking as a retired military officer, bad, bad, bad, bad idea there, Mittens.  There’s a reason why the Constitution didn’t put that power into the hands of the generals.

Michelle Bachmann says we’re being kicked out by the very people we liberated.  She thinks Iraq should pay us back for blowing up their country.   I don’t think she understands how extortion works.  You get the money before you burn down the building.

Two days before Obama announced the end of the war, Gingrich said that we should withdraw.  A day after Obama made the announcement Gingrich said Obama was wrong and we must stay. I don’t know about you, but I think whether or not we continue to wage war should be based on something a little more objective than the Monty Python Argument sketch.

Rick Perry says he would withdraw, but he’d keep it a secret.  He wouldn’t tell the American public or the Iraqis or the soldiers.  I’m not sure that how that would work.  If you’re going to move 40,000 troops and all their equipment in the next two months, you’re going to have to tell somebody – like maybe Congress for starters, so they can maybe plan next year’s budget which is due, oh you know, now.  Seriously, how you keep this a secret is beyond me and it used to be my job to keep secrets. 

Rick Santorum says Obama is responsible for Iran’s influence in Iraq in the first place.  Obama, the magic time travelling Negro, is there no end to his power?

Herman Cain thinks ending the war is just “stupid.”  He didn’t go into specifics.

All the opposition candidates have said or insinuated that withdrawal from Iraq is a defeat. I think their views are best summed up by a Yahoo commenter who said:

USA lost another war. USA lost ALL wars after 1945


And so, we’re back to the real questions: what is victory?

These are the questions I want answered by those who would be President:

As president, how would you define victory in Iraq?

Please clearly state the objectives of the mission in measurable terms.  Hand waving and undefined terms are not allowed.  State the objectives of the mission and how you will determine, as President, if they have been met.

As president, would you be willing, now, to end this war?

If not, then how much are you willing to spend on it? Vietnam cost us 54,000 lives, will you spend that much? We’ve got 50,000 to go. If not 54,000, then how many? 30,000? 20? 10? Another thousand? Five hundred? One? How much is your vision of victory worth? In lives, in years, in dollars. Be specific.  Don’t look away, answer the question. How much?

If not where Barack Obama drew the line, then where? How many more of other people’s children are you willing to sacrifice?

Is the only way to prevent Iranian influence in Iraq by occupying Iraq? If so, for how long?  Specifically how long? We stayed in Germany for fifty years after WWII in order to contain the Soviet Union, is fifty years in Iraq a reasonable timetable? Yes or no.  If not, then how long?  Another ten years? Another twenty? 

Here let me make it simple for you: Yes or no, do you believe that Iran should dictate how long we stay in Iraq?

If not Iran, then should Iraq have a say in how long we stay?  You claim you believe in self determination, does that only apply to American states or does it apply to sovereign nations as well? Iraq would have allowed our forces to stay only if they were subject to Iraqi law, perhaps even Sharia law, would you have allowed that to happen or would you have overridden Iraqi sovereignty and self determination by fiat and military force if necessary?

If the answer to the previous question is yes, then as President of the Federal Government could states expect you to exercise the same action against their right of self determination? If not, why not?

If the answer to the previous question is no, then the only options for maintaining troops in Iraq would have been to subject them to Iraqi law, withdraw, or topple the Iraqi government, what would your choice be? Please face the audience and speak directly into the microphone.  Address your answer to the families of the troops.

Now, let us discuss Afghanistan.



I’m not a candidate for President, but I’ll tell you how I define victory.

Thirty thousand America troops home by Christmas. 


The war is over and it’s about goddamned time.


  1. Thanks for your service in the military, your analysis and your cogently written work. (Minor quibble 911 is to call in an emergency, 9/11 is a date of a horrible event. I know, because I lived in Manhattan and my office was across from the NYSE at the time--while many people called 911 for the first responders, the date of the event is more like 12/7.)

  2. Another excellent post, made perfect by your reference to Rumsfeld as an "arrogant little pissant prick" because that is what he has always been and always will be.

    I would love a post on how fucking rich he has become as a result of the TSA......

  3. That part of the world is always at war with each other. Very little peace has ever been had. This is why I've always thought it ludicrous that so many of my countrymen demanded a total victory, Iraq and Afghanistan true democracies, before we could leave. Is that truly our business, our job, to try to make everyone else like us? That's actually leftover Cold War thinking: it's either be like us or the Russkies, either democracies or communists. No middle ground.

    I remember us (my parents as well as Huntley and Brinkley) getting all worried when the USSR built the Aswan Dam for the Egyptians in, I think, 1959, and in return the Egyptians gave them some pretty-headed but conformationally disastrous Arabian horses to "improve" their breeding program at Tersk (I know because both my boys have lines back to those.) Not much of an exchange. Egypt didn't turn Commie, either, so I'll say they got the best of the deal.

    Can we truly maintain the same Cold War attitude that took us into Korea, Vietnam, and I don't know how to count the lesser-known conflicts? All it seems to be doing these days is feeding the big-weapons suppliers. And here's the ultimate pisser for me: if the Supercommittee doesn't do its job and cuts to defense fall into place, it's NOT the equipment that there will be less of, it's pensions and benefits of our people. Damn.

    Oh-- and for more about how Rumsfeld, Goggle "Rumsfeld and Aspertame" and read about how, as a top executive of Searle during the time they were acquired by Monsanto, how Rumsfeld got a fake sugar that was patented as a roach killer (works on fire ants, too!) accepted by the FDA for human consumption!

  4. That was one serious analysis. Can you moderate the next GOP POTUS candidate debate?

    I think you'd make most of them wee-wee their pants (and skirt.)

    I also think undefinable goals make it impossible to run a nation-wide occupation, and I've only taken a conflict-resolution class in college. But this thinking should fall in line with those famous brands of Palin's "common-sense" and "time-tested truths," but as we all know, anything less than 50 year occupation is just 'waving the white flag of surrender.'

    Quyana, Thank you for your service, and for hanging your hat in Alaska. Your birch bowls are sublime and I can't wait to own one soon.

  5. Now I'm really not sure, it's a very tough issue, I'm no expert & I don't claim to have any answers. I see what you are saying here and you make a good case for it. But. But.

    What happens next?

    Say we withdraw from Afghanistan and the Taliban take over and turn the place into the sort of hell it was before. Are we happy with that? Can we live with Afghanistani women, their children being oppressed and brutalised as they were before like we'd never been there? All the progress we made gone? (Did we make any? I hope so?) How about if Afghanistan becomes a terrorist training ground & base again?

    As for Iraq, it seems (I may be mistaken & let me know if I am) the problem there is really Iran not Iraq.

    Can we allow Iran to develop nukes? Is it true that they might actually be crazy enough to use them? Can we stop them? Should the West, the USA, Israel or some combination of those take military action to prevent Iran getting nuclear WMDs before its too late - to stop Iran while it *can* still be stopped?

    As for victory - for me it'd be defeating the Jihadist ideology. Getting them to stop their campaign of hatred against us and agree to leave the rest of the world in peace without trying to terrorise us. How do we do that? How do we de-Islamicise or de-Jihadise the region? Wish I knew. But until we do that I don't think we can leave out of sheer self-protection.

    I'm torn on this. What are your thoughts on those questions, please?

  6. StevoR, this picture was taken within 40 miles on NYC.


    When we make the men stop harassing women who are American citizens and in the US, perhaps then we can tell the Taliban that they can't.

    I will probably have a longer comment later.

    There was good reason, at the time, to think that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and had been much more actively involved in 9/11 than Saudi Arabia.

  7. Amen.

    You've said about Saddam what I've been saying for two decades, ever since *my* time in that sunny little "paradise;" He was a high-stakes gambler, and sooner or later, no matter how good you are, gamblers crap out. As he did.

    I'd call Gulf War 1 a pretty clear-cut victory; Say what you like about Bush the Elder, he defined the mission, built the alliance, and drew a line under it when the job was done. Clean, clear, unambiguous. No mission creep. No moving the goal lines. A marvel of modern power-politics on the grandest scale.
    A shame he fell to domestic issues, but hey, that's politics on the national level. So be it.

    Gulf War 2 was dirty - We went in dirty (politically-speaking), and we're going to leave having smeared ourselves liberally in murk and uncertainty. Saddam was a nasty, vicious SOB, and his sons were worse. They needed to *go away,* but I don't really think blowing up much of the country was the right way to get rid of those murderous SOBs. Frankly, a series of accidents would've been more useful all the way around.

    But he made himself too perfect a foe - Manifestly evil, loud, obnoxious, arrogant, powerful on paper, but incredibly vulnerable in reality. I'm only surprised that it took so long to gather enough approval to go after him and his regime directly.

    Folks giggle about the 'Mission Accomplished' grand-standing, but at that time, with the goal posts planted firmly in the sand, the mission *was* done - until the sand turned into quicksand, and folks started pushing the goal posts hither and yon.
    But that's *also* politics, of a much nastier variety.
    So be it.

  8. The Weinberger Doctrine:

    Before the U.S.A. commits troops to war--

    1. Either the United States' or its close allies' vital national interests have to be at risk.

    2. The war has to be fought "wholeheartedly, with the clear intention of winning".

    3. We should employ decisive force in the pursuit of clearly defined political and military objectives.

    4. We must constantly reassess whether the use of force is necessary and appropriate.

    5. There must be a "reasonable assurance" of Congressional and public support.

    6. Force should be used only as a last resort.

    When did we move away from those common-sense policy guidelines?

  9. We learned nothing in Korea, we learned nothing in Viet Nam (where I served). As a nation, we are pretty much stupid. We'll learn nothing from our murderous rampage in Iraq, ditto Afghanistan (and, of course, we learned nothing from every other nation's failed adventures in Afghanistan).

    We are broke, we are tired, and we have no idea what to do about either. I have heard not a single useful idea about anything from President Obama, and none from the pretenders to the throne.

    Of course, I don't think the terrorists of the world are smarter than us. They'll learn nothing from their losses at our hands. I think about this every time I go to a public place.

  10. @ gerryrosser;

    I wouldn't say *nothing* was learned - Certainly, Korea was a righteous fight, and properly so. Ultimately, we got the only thing out of it that could be legitimately claimed - South Korea restored to it's agreed borders.

    Not sayin' it would've been a bad thing if NK went away, but ultimately, we got what we said we were there to do.

    Other lessons are learned, too - But do recall that this country, by its very constitution, has a mini-revolution every four years. Institutional memory doesn't last long, under those conditions.

  11. Jim,

    Excellent. Your explanations of the military operations are so informative, even a non-military person can understand what happened. Thank you so much for everything you do to educate the civilians out here.

  12. SteveoR: I know your questions were for Jim, but let me take a few stabs at them.

    The thing that I think sort of provides an umbrella for all of your concerns is understanding the limits of American power. We have, actually, a spectrum of choices: at one end of the continuum, we can become an openly imperialist state that devotes all of its resources to policing the world and imposing a Pax Americana upon it, preferably with the burden shared by our allies, but since our allies (understandably) have their own agendas, prepared to do this alone; at the other end of the continuum, we can try to work within the limits of what we're willing and able to do, and accept that while there will be some things that we might be able to accomplish (again, preferably in the context of a multinational approach), there's a helluva lot that will always be beyond our grasp.

    The first extreme, which seems to be the one neoconservatives gravitate towards, isn't sustainable. This is the thing. I don't know that we could do it even if we had the will to do it, and we don't: it's hard to imagine we could sustain the manpower without reinstating the draft, or sustain the materiel resources without increasing taxes and vastly inflating the military budget. And even if we bankrupted ourselves to arm ourselves to every inch and invaded every country that looked at us crosseyed, going it alone is an impossible, lonely path: how long would it be before our allies and trade partners became outraged and/or frightened? Before we faced their constant resistance, before they refused to let us refuel in their territory? Is it possible we could antagonize everybody to the point it was no longer self-destructive for other nations to impose trade sanctions on us, and what would we do then?

    The G.W. Bush administration took the tack that America doesn't need allies, that if France or whomever wasn't on board with us, well, to hell with them. But that's just stupid. Everybody needs friends, or "friends", whether it's friendship from genuine common goals and mutual interest, or "friendship" because we'll take what you won't give. Well. Are we ready to try that? It's a terrible idea.

    And aside from the pragmatic reasons it's a lousy idea, there's the fact that this path is a radical departure from American tradition. We're the non-imperial empire, the one that conquers by selling Coca-Cola and Mickey Mouse to the locals and we're all friends, not the one that conquers by gunboat (well, at least that's how we like to see ourselves, and it isn't wholly self-delusional, is the thing). We've never been any good at the colonialist game, and the very idea has made our skin crawl since the 19th Century.


  13. (cont.)

    Which leaves the other end of the stretch: accepting our limits. The truth is, if somebody is suicidally intent on developing The Bomb (suicidally intent not just because of reprisal, but because it turns out getting The Bomb requires deep pockets and perhaps outside help, and it turns out few states can sustain the effort without trouble of some sort), there's not a lot we can do to stop them unless we're going with the other end of the line, above: occupying everybody who's close to getting a device. What we can do is delay states (Stuxnet, anyone?) and deter them, but if they want it badly enough, eventually they'll get it and we'll just have to settle for warning them they better not use it lest the whole world come down on them. Nor will we ever eradicate jihadist ideology: how do you kill an idea? Ideas the best we can hope to do is damage control and marginalization.

    And I agree with you, Steve, that it would be tragic if the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan. But here's the counter-question: are we prepared to occupy Afghanistan forever, and make it a United States colony? Otherwise, at some point, we have to accept that the people of Afghanistan are going to choose their own path. We run the risk, for instance, that a democratic society will voluntarily elect people we don't like into office--that's how democracy works (we'd do well, perhaps, to remember that point at home, too: that a President or member of Congress of The Other Party is still an elected leader representing the will of some majority). There's the possibility a corrupt or unstable regime will fall; again, though, them's the breaks, and maybe we can intercede at some point then or maybe we can't--or maybe we shouldn't, which is a consideration, too.

    I don't know if that's useful perspective or not, Steve; I hope that it is.

    (Sorry for the long/double post, Jim, but I was too lazy to self edit.)

  14. Is there a way you can clean up some of the more colorful language and submit as an op/ed to the major news carriers? Especially the parts about asking the GOP candidates what/why/how - define, define, define.
    I'll do my part by sending your blog website to all that I think might read it.

  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. Eric said it better, so I deleted my comment.

  17. I seriously hope this one goes as viral as your "America" posts. It deserves to. Doing my part--just shared it on fb. Thanks, Jim. You make me think, you move me to tears, I'm proud to know (of) you!

  18. Another wonderful post, thank you.


  19. Jim, you are an excellent writer. Thank you for sharing your unique perspective and insight on the Iraq war. I agree with the previous commenter who said that it would be great if you could moderate one of the Presidential debates--what a hoot that would be!

  20. What Eric said.

    I read 'Killing the Cranes' by Edward Girardet. Afghanistan's answer to 'Street Without Joy', Bernard Fall's classic about Vietnam . Anyone looking for answers about Afghan issues could start there.

    As far as Iraq goes, I get so ticked off it's hard to do research, much less ponder solutions. I think mistakes were made when we went to Iraq. Unilateralism was a bad sign. Torture, as state practice? Humiliating captives? Aside of getting more flies with honey than vinegar, that's just isn't how we roll.
    It wasn't. Sure that stuff has happened before. On an individual, case by case basis. War is ugly. Always. War brings out the worst in people. It can bring out the best in them too. Historically Americans have striven for that better way. That is the way I want to go.
    Iraqis want us out. I don't blame them. By taking the low road on the way in, we poisoned our presence their. Getting out makes all the sense in the world.
    How do we win?
    We get behind our government and shove!
    All together, now.
    You go, Barack!

  21. With fantastic 20/20 hindsight, I can say that we should never have gone to war with Iraq before we finished in Afghanistan.

    Do I think we would've gone back to Iraq eventually? Yes, for two reasons:
    #1: S. H. would've ended up forcing our hand in some way, shape, or form.
    #2: Whether we admit it or not, oil is important to the U.S. way of life and that region is important because of the oil.

    Gloss it up all you want to, but if we insist that oil isn't a big reason we're involved in the middle east, we are lying to ourselves and there is no worse thing to do, either as a person or as a nation.

    Outstanding post, Warrant.

    As usual.

  22. An exceptional commentary! Little long-winded, but you covered a lot of ground.

    Extremely well done. I can't improve on it. I'm glad someone shared this with me.

    *Morris Workman

  23. The whole question of, "What is victory?" completely baffled me. I suppose "Saddam and his sons all captured or dead" is as good a definition as any, which means that the war was over in December 2003 when Saddam was captured and his sons were killed. Why did we stay after that? Because Dear Leader looked at daddy and said, "Your mistake was winning your war", and then moved the goal posts so that the war would still be going on in November 2004. That's why.

    The war in Iraq was over in December 2003. Our troops have been fighting and dying for no good reason ever since. Why is that so hard a concept for people to understand?

    Regarding the notions of nation building and such, utter nonsense. People are going to rule themselves however they want to be ruled. Military power is capable of going in and destroying any government that decides to do nasty things that threaten the USA, but creating a new government from scratch for a foreign culture and installing it at gunpoint then expecting it to survive by itself without massive military intervention has never, ever worked in any nation, ever. Just ask Nguyen Van Thieu. Oh wait...

  24. @BadTux,

    Without getting into just how much continued military involvement is necessary, I'd say Post WWII Germany and Japan are brilliant examples of what's possible in the realm of nation building. Two cultures utterly different from each other and from ours transformed into two of our most important allies.

    Unfortunately, we seem to be somewhat short on Gen. Marshall's these days.

  25. Thing is, Germany and Japan both had democratic traditions to fall back on, remember that Japan had modeled itself originally after Britain (a parliamentary democracy) before Tojo's military junta took over, and Germany had been a parliamentary democracy since the 1870's before Hitler took power. The U.S. did not so much re-make those nations as restore the prior governments. That's completely different from trying to create democracy where none has ever existed before.

  26. Victory, to be able to walk out, facing forward, and not get shot in the ass. It's a working concept.

  27. What about the personalities involved in post WWII Germany and Japan?
    Look at MacArthur, He and Roosevelt were political enemies. FDR considered MacArthur to be one of the two most dangerous men in the country.
    Nevertheless, FDR kept MacArthur on as Army Chief-of-Staff, the boss of the Army, for an extra year.
    FDR ordered MacArthur to implement the CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps, a program MacArthur detested. MacArthur obeyed orders and organized the CCC to the best of his ability.
    Later, when MacArthur occupied Japan, he disobeyed orders to not distribute excess rations to hungry Japanese.
    He is credited with saving millions of lives.
    Consider Marshall,
    a man of enormous integrity. During WWII he was Army Chief-of Staff. After the war he became Secretary of State. The administration wanted a bill to rebuild Europe. A tough fight led to What became known as the Marshall Plan. Europe and Japan rebuilt. We are allied with some of the world's economic juggernauts because of actions taken after the fighting by those folks.
    Win,lose or draw life goes on. Does the end of a war lead to peace? What happens in the peace?
    What will we do?

  28. I think it is funny and sad and ironic that people think that peace is the world's norm. It isn't. Even if we want peace, there are countries and groups out there that do not.

    If Iraq and Afghanistan did nothing else, they certainly pulled those who hate us into one place where we could get at them. They also let us know (confirmed suspicions, really) about bigger problems on the horizon: Iran, Saudi Arabia, China.

    And let us not talk of North Korea, since Kim Jong Il is even better at brinksmanship than Saddam Hussein was.

    If only for a little bit.

  29. I wonder what Charlie Wilson would say about the "end games" in Iraq and Afghanistan?

  30. Steve Buchheit said...

    "Victory, to be able to walk out, facing forward, and not get shot in the ass. It's a working concept."

    Totally agree, applies to Afghanistan as well. But since Iraq was a planning topic long before 9/11, let's not lose sight of the reasons we went into Irag:

    1. Poppy whupped ol' Saddam fair 'n' square, but he wouldn't take it like a man 'n' tried to git Poppy.

    2. If'n we beat up on them Eye-rackies, then we'll show them North Ko-reans they shouldn't mess with us.

    3. "Oil is too important to be left to the Arabs" - H. Kissinger.

  31. We must remember, or learn, that we are making the same mistake that the Soviets made in Afganistan.
    The Soviets tried to mold Afganiis into Socialist. They forced women to go to coed schools to make them Communists.
    Reagan and Bill Casey hated Russia so much that they truly believed Mohammed and the Pope could defeat Communism in Afganistan.
    We armed the Islamist in Chechnea.
    But, we are doing our dead level best to dig ourselves into the Russian grave.
    We just need to leave.
    If there is a problem, we can blow the bastards off the face of the earth, but we should not try and make Americans out of Afganiis, or Pakistaniis, or anybody else.
    It's hard enough making Americans out of Texans.
    And I am one.

  32. It's hard enough making Americans out of Texans.

    And that's going to win the internet for today. Well done, Master Chief.

  33. I don't mean to hog your blog, Jim, but I'm running out of time and your fans need to know who we are and where we came from.
    Before there were Crypto techs and Operation Specialists in the navy, there were Radiomen who had special talents.
    Before there were "Teams" and "Special Forces", there were offices in the military that recognised talents in some of there men.
    They sent these men orders to duty that was outside their normal ratings and those men went.
    I was told that our reciever transmitters, dropped on the Ho Chi trail, didn't work and "by God you guys are going to find out why."
    We did! Kids. North Vietnamese kids ran along, died sometimes, and disabled our tech.
    Later Jim belonged to a "TEAM" that was a direct result of our lessons learned in Vietnam.
    The lesson we learned and the knowledge that Jim and our current "Teams" have is that we do what we have to do, but we don't necessarily agree.
    We Are The Greatest and someday our country will understand that protecting America and keeping America IN America is the best that we can do.

  34. Great piece - as usual, I found myself nodding in agreement with you as I read. Winning ain't never gonna look like it used to. Unfortunately as long as our foreign policy continues to be carried out as an empirical order that seeks authority and dominance (coupled with those nifty little no-bid government contracts that benefit the lucky 1%), I'm afraid we're going to continue to be there in some capacity. If they start bringing those folks home at all, and start giving our servicemen and women some of the care they're gonna need, then that'll be a win enough for me.

  35. First let me say thank-you to you and all of the brave military men and women who put their lives on the line for all citizens of this great country. Your recount of the events do put things into perspective for me by someone who was there. What I can not get past is there is no mention of "who gets control of the oil". I think that the powers of influence (the real "people" Corporations) behind our government had and still have that objective in mind. $$$$$ I feel our men and women who serve have been put unjustly in harms way for that reason only. War is about control. I hate it.
    Please do not take this personally I am so grateful for your service I just want all this BS to stop and bring our troops home!

  36. Finally, someone who gets "it" and not only that, but is willing to say it openly and publicly. THANK YOU! I will be sharing this on my Facebook page. Keep up the good work! I love this blog.

  37. Thank you, Jim, once again!

    Some responses to various:

    The people are not really responsible for two reasons.

    First, It is much harder to be well-informed when a propaganda campaign is in full-swing. Most people just aren’t that curious, intelligent, or tenacious and most believed their elected officials. If they didn't, they believed Colin Powell.

    Second, the people did not reelect the Bush administration. Both elections were "won" through fraud and voter disenfranchisement.

    The country did not support war for revenge, but because it was made hysterical with fear and defensiveness. In the U.S., a national desire for revenge is short-lived once things settle down and daily life takes its toll. We just aren't a nation with a long memory. We are a forward-looking nation, which isn't necessarily always a good thing but it is us nevertheless. Fear, though, creates rage, irrationality, and lynch mobs. That's why we had a continual diet of fear-mongering fed to us.

    The Neocons did have a clear vision. Their goal was the one Eric described: Pax Americana. Invading Iraq was to give us a permanent military base right next to Iran and we would not be "guests" because we would control the country. Additional benefits were mucho bucks for private contractors and all that Iraqi oil. Win! Win!

    To protect U.S. corporate interests we used secret intelligence and training units to help puppet governments terrorize and hurt locals. There is no such thing as corporate America anymore. Now they are mega international corporations so powerful they don't need our military resources to hijack countries, including our own.

    We stopped using our “secret” forces to protect obvious corporate interests and switched to indulging anticommunist ideologies, but we aren’t afraid of communism since we spent the Soviet Union into the ground. Are we still engaging in the same games via our “war on terror,” but for international wallets this time?

    The Taliban was brutalizing and suppressing women before 9/11, so what changed for us?

    The Taliban was back in control of most of Afghanistan in quick time. We've only controlled its political center. Outside the big city, villagers were back to answering to the Taliban. Our being there or leaving doesn't seem to make a huge or long-term difference. We didn't listen to Charlie Wilson and that boat’s sailed.

    Saddam posed no danger to us because we'd cut him off and he was also old and sick, hence, his days were numbered. I doubt his sons would have lasted long without him because they were hated too and had less common sense. Once in charge, they would have been offed in short-order from within.

    Japanese military expansionists prepared for undoing the relatively new attachment to a parliamentary system by using school curriculum to glorify past and future military achievements and promoting Japanese racial superiority, readying the country for conquering in the name of their emperor. By the time Japan was razing the rest of Asia, the emperor had their civil-government cultural loyalty. It was also the authority rendered impotent by Japanese military leadership once they were entrenched in war with us.

    Germany really had very little experience with democracy, which made it easy to undo in short-order.

    Still, because there was some experience with democracy in both countries, they were different from these countries we think we can turn into clones of us. Plus, many Americans were of German descent. Our two cultures weren't so vastly different that our perceptions of the world were entirely alien concepts.

    Japan resented us deeply for “humiliating” them after their surrender. Because Americans had no real knowledge of Japanese culture or the internal battles among its leadership factions, they had no way of knowing anything other than the Japanese were to be feared and deserved nothing but unconditional surrender.

  38. Part two:

    BadTux is correct about nation building. People at the local level will eventually determine their own lives, one way or another. That's true of cities and neighborhoods in the states, and of countries around the world.

    Well intended do-gooders never seem to learn that helping is great but can be truly successful only when they don't dictate what that help is or how it is used. The people they are serving must make those decisions or ultimately the result is failure. (Then the recipients of the help-with-strings-attached are blamed for the failures.)

    The reference to the Soviet Union's demise is right on target. We will bankrupt ourselves like they did if we continue to allow our military resources and people to be used to enrich the "1%" and for jobs programs for certain legislators.

    War for profit; continuing our dependence on oil instead of investing in cheap, clean, renewable energy sources as well as clean, efficient technologies and local renewable resources; and keeping weapons systems in the federal budget that the military doesn't even want or won't use merely to keep the same jobs in certain states is bleeding us dry and forcing us to unnecessarily sacrifice Americans we send to fight the surreptitious and open battles.

    Minds need to start thinking out of the box and ahead, or be voted out of office.

    Sorry to be so wordy Jim. Just no time to go back and cut this down. I won't even get started on the TSA! (<;

  39. The country did not support war for revenge, but because it was made hysterical with fear and defensiveness. In the U.S., a national desire for revenge is short-lived once things settle down and daily life takes its toll. We just aren't a nation with a long memory

    @Beemodern, after the war started, those of us in the war zone started getting letters from the folks back home. One day we got a box of letters from a six grade class somewhere in Oklahoma. Allow me to quote one of those letters:

    Roses are red, violets are blue, kill a couple of ragheads for me too .

    Here's another quote, this time from a bumper sticker that I see several times a week on the Glenn Highway:

    Hanoi Jane. We will never forget.

  40. @Warner : "StevoR, this picture was taken within 40 miles on NYC."

    Yeah, I don't agree with that either but I will point out :

    1. That the Haredi woman living in NYC there has a lot more choices and opportunities to break out of that culture than the women in Afghanistan have.

    2. That Haredi women and her culture aren't going around violently imposing themselves on anybody else. Least not as far as I know. I certainly haven't heard of any Haredim being homicide-suicide bombers or preaching genocidal hatred of other ethnic groups or imposing the death penalty on everyone who disagrees with them and blowing up ancient treasures and icons of other religions like the Taliban did.

    @Eric : "StevoR: I know your questions were for Jim, but let me take a few stabs at them."

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. Sorry its taken me awhile to check up here again, been busy thees last few days.

    I'd still love to see Jim Wright's thoughts on the issues I've raised too.

  41. Excellent piece, Jim. The present crop of rethug candidates is beyond ludicrous, they have crossed into insane territory.

  42. With regards to Afghanistan, it wasn't revenge, it was a clear cut case of extradition. They had someone who had plotted a devastating and cowardly attack on our civilians, and instead of handing him over, they defied the US and sheltered him. That was a dumb idea. We took decisive action and toppled the regime that would shelter those who attacked us. But like everything in the administration of Bush the lesser, we tried to do it too cheaply, and then we got distracted when we should have doubled our focus. Perhaps the problem is the limited amount of easily exploited resources in Afghanistan, but as soon as we had it licked, we turned away. If we had devoted the resources we wasted in Iraq, to finishing Afghanistan, every family could have been given a dozen goats, every major town could have seen a paved road and the poppy growers could have been given enough incentive and threat to choke off the heroin supply for the Taliban completely. There was a chance to change Afghanistan, if we didn't try to make it into a US territory, but just give it the ability to be Afghanistan.

  43. Victory? Tough question no doubt. Try this one on for size:

    Victory is the awakening of We The People to the fact the incessant spending on wars overseas is the direct cause of our failing states and public services.

    At some point, we may realize that the cost is a generation of lost souls, uneducated children, and a public with little sympathy for its own. Only when this happens will be able to see past the obvious lies being promulgated by our leaders and force them to provide more butter and less guns.

    Until then, the ideologues will continue to rule at the beck and call of the oligarchs.

  44. Yes, invading Afghanistan was for defense, not revenge.

    There were heated speeches right after 9/11, but that is always the case right after a tragedy. (My Dem senator lost my support after she gave an emotinal, war-mongering speech on the floor of Congress right after the attacks. I don't want leaders like that in emergencies.) Some Americans fooled into blaming Iraqis for 9/11 wanted revenge against them and some used the excuse of fear to seek revenge, but they were not representative of the entire country. Many wanted bin Laden hunted down only because they thought it was both just and a good defense measure.

    Anger is a secondary emotion following directly on the heels of an initial negative emotion such as disappointment, embarrassment, humiliation, sadness, grief, anxiety, and fear. Fear expressed angrily can look like revenge-seeking.

    After a steady diet of fear-mongering until we were polarized against each other, fear made people want to believe authorities and support whatever they deemed necessary. In fact, I know a few liberals who supported invading Iraq at first for that very reason. 9/11 and a mercenary presidential administration turned us into a nation of quivering, confused sheep.

    I was the last of my friends and relatives to reach a conclusion about Iraq because I supported a preemptive strike if there were weapons pointed at my children. With no interest in revenge, justice, or the "Are you saying we should be the world police?" argument, I was concerned only with whether we were in actual danger from WMD pointed at us and did not choose a side until I'd researched everything I could find.

    As soon as the White House floated the "invade Iraq" balloon, it was a given we were going to attack Iraq regardless of what was found to justify it. The Bush administration had already proved themselves to be brazenly uninterested in the people's democratic republic and their proper role in it. They'd disregarded our rights, public processes, and protections, actively undermining all of them from the first day they took office. They felt so safe they didn't even pretend they weren't doing those things. They just ignored all critics and ignored Congress' authority (to the bitter end).

    The Bush administration was merely preparing us for the action, making us used to it before it happened, not floating the balloon to test our support for the idea. It was clear they had their own agenda so it must have been my own fear that made me search hard before I accepted just how cynically low the Bush administration was willing to go.

    Lastly, it is true we are stretched too thin regarding military spending but other influences also contributed to ruining our once thriving economy.

    Add to military spending a broken (even corrupt in some ways) healthcare system with outrageous cost growth that far exceeds any other sector, thieving insurance companies, a predatory financial sector, jobs shipped overseas, stagnant and lowered wages, prisons and jails so full we can't build them fast enough, a huge transfer of the nation's wealth into a few hands, the nation's resources bleeding out to war profiteers, corporate welfare, corporate bail-outs, and international stockholders instead of using it on our own infrastructure/new technologies/education/job growth, and the middle-class paying a disproportionate share of taxes from their incomes to pay for everything and we find ourselves in the eye of a perfect financial and infrastructure meltdown storm.

  45. Jim, thanks again for another informative post that sparked interesting discussion, and thanks for providing the space for it.

    Re: Hanoi Jane bumper stickers - Me thinks fellows still obsessed with that young woman's misguided efforts all those decades ago probably need to get to those therapy sessions they avoided for far too long. They've got to have "issues" beyond Ms. Jane. (<;

  46. Jim, over the years, you've written a lot of things I either enjoyed or was enlightened by, and some other stuff.

    But this may be the most cogent summing up of a large, messy issue I've read by you.



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