Friday, February 6, 2009


Shortly after the attacks of 9/11 my Naval Reserve unit was called to active duty. It was a challenging time but I was lucky, I served for less than 12 months and ended up being assigned at the Defense Intelligence Agency near D.C. On one level my call to service proved to be a bit disruptive, my pay was cut in half and I did not get to see much of my family. But on another level I was proud to be a part of the team that was carrying the fight to the enemy in Afghanistan. At the time, like most Americans, I fully supported our President in his efforts to destroy the terrorist elements in that country. Looking back I remember it as a period of impressive national unity.

I had hoped that Mr. Bush would take advantage of that rare moment of unanimity to better fight the War on Terror. Instead he ignored the advice of General Brent Scowcroft who cautioned “any campaign against Iraq, whatever the strategy, cost and risks, is certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism.” This has proven to be a major mistake.

Unlike Desert Storm the current Iraq campaign, save for Great Britain, has garnered meager support from the international community, particularly from the Arab world. In Gulf War I America marshaled 540,000 troops, joining us were 118,000 troops from Saudi Arabia; 40,000 from Egypt; 11,000 from Kuwait; 25,500 from Oman; 7,000 from Pakistan; 40,000 from the U.A.E; and 17,000 from Syria! In addition Daddy Bush got Japan and the House of Saud to foot much of the bill.

Today's effort in Iraq dims in comparison. Some delusional types will point to the 30-nation "coalition." But even a casual observer of our efforts there understands that most of the countries that really matter have stayed away. Perhaps, like the Vietnam era, they once again sense that Uncle Sam has stumbled into a dangerous patch of hegemonic quick sand.

As the book, Churchill's Folly: How Winston Churchill Created Modern Iraq makes all too clear; Iraq has never really been a "nation.” Rather it is and has been an odd collection of Kurds, Sunni and Shiite Muslims, all of whom have their own agendas. The reality is that even if we are able to train large numbers of Iraqis, in the end they will likely opt to fight for their tribe or sect rather than their "country." I am an admirer of Winston Churchill but every day it becomes more apparent that his effort to create a Middle East state out of thin air has produced a situation that can only end in disaster.

Recently Dexter Filkins of the New York Times appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press to report on his recent trip to Iraq. He commented on what one has to go through simply to drive to the airport.

MR. RUSSERT: There is a road, a highway from the airport to downtown Baghdad that's called the Road of Death by many. I understand there's a taxi service on that road from downtown to the airport.
MR. FILKINS: Yeah. There's actually a company they've got an armored car and some guards. And they charge $35,000 for...
MR. RUSSERT: Thirty-five thousand dollars?
MR. FILKINS: ...for a ride to the airport. ...
MR. RUSSERT: How long--is it six miles?
. MR. RUSSERT: Why have we been unable--or the Iraqis unable to protect that road, that stretch?
MR. FILKINS: That's a real mystery. It's a really bad neighborhood that it goes through, you know, they'd have to occupy six miles of road 24 hours of day, and I think in the dead of night, people come out to stage attacks.

We need to be honest with ourselves, if we can't restore order on the six miles of road from downtown Baghdad to the airport how can we seriously think that we have the ability to secure the rest of the country. It is time for a calculated but precise withdrawal.

Some misguided patriots will protest claiming that America cannot cut and run from Iraq and hope to win the War on Terror. Nonsense, in the past our nation has lost many tough battles only to prevail in the end. I remember all too well the date of April 29 1975. I was 20 years old. I had been raised in an world where the United States had never lost a war and where American values were viewed as not only appropriate for our nation but for people everywhere. But on that day I had to watch the humiliating spectacle of thousands of frightened people scurrying to the top of our Embassy in Saigon to catch the last helicopters out of Vietnam. At the time I considered the possibility that this was the beginning of the end of the " American Century." But I was wrong; our nation would recover from the humiliation of that day and go on to win The Cold War. At the end of the millennium it would be American freedom and democracy that would be in ascendance.

In the same vein, pulling out of Iraq will have any number of negative consequences none of which will be easy to deal with. But the larger point is that it will not stop us from defeating terror in our time and in the end may actually free up dollars (380 billion dollars have already been spent) and resources that could be devoted to more important objectives.

The other day I heard a pundit on CNN asked what in his opinion was the difference between Iraq and Vietnam, he replied " less trees." Let’s not wait until we have another 50,000 dead before we understand that there are better ways to defeat terrorism than bleeding our Army and our country dry on the banks of the Euphrates River. Remember, Uses est Optimum Magister, experience is indeed the best teacher.

No comments: