NYT - Dangerous Incompetence
New York Times
June 30, 2005
By Bob Herbert
Blah, blah, blah.
The president who displayed his contempt for Iraqi militants two years ago with the taunt "bring 'em on" had to go on television Tuesday night to urge Americans not to abandon support for the war that he foolishly started but can't figure out how to win.
The ware was started a long time before we invaded Iraq. One would think even a New York Times employee might have noticed the Twin Towers collapsing. Although even that came years after war was declared by UBL.
Iraq is only one theatre in the current war. It's possible to more-or-less honestly disagree whether or not Iraq should have been chosen by the president as a central campaign in our conduct of our side of that war, but that doesn't make it a separate war. Perhaps if I'd gone to J-school my thinking would be sufficiently muddied that I wouldn't be able to comprehend that.
The Bush crowd bristles at the use of the "Q-word" - quagmire - to describe American involvement in Iraq. But with our soldiers fighting and dying with no end in sight, who can deny that Mr. Bush has gotten us into "a situation from which extrication is very difficult," which is a standard definition of quagmire?
I bristle at the use of the "Q-word" too, recalling how it was used up to and during our initial initiation of operations in and around Afghanistan. Its use seemed to be abandoned with the greatest reluctance in that regard, only when it became apparent even to network talkingheads that the Taliban was getting the stuffing kicked out of it.
More than 1,730 American troops have already died in Iraq. Some were little more than children when they signed up for the armed forces, like Ramona Valdez, who grew up in the Bronx and was just 17 when she joined the Marines. She was one of six service members, including four women, who were killed when a suicide bomber struck their convoy in Falluja last week.
Little more than children? Cpl. Valdez was much more of an adult, taking adult responsibility for her adult citizenship, than many members of our Fourth Estate seem to be capable of doing.
Corporal Valdez wasn't even old enough to legally drink in New York. She died four days shy of her 21st birthday.
And that's the fault of Congress and the New York state legislature. Me? I'd have bought her a beer.
On July 2, 2003, with evidence mounting that U.S. troop strength in Iraq was inadequate, Mr. Bush told reporters at the White House, "There are some who feel that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, Bring 'em on."
It was an immature display of street-corner machismo that appalled people familiar with the agonizing ordeals of combat. Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, was quoted in The Washington Post as saying: "I am shaking my head in disbelief. When I served in the Army in Europe during World War II, I never heard any military commander - let alone the commander in chief - invite enemies to attack U.S. troops."
There was no need. Our enemies in Europe at that time weren't shy about being our enemies. They wore uniforms and behaved oftentimes in accordance with Western traditions of the law, customs and usages of war. In this conflict, our enemies most often have to be provoked into attacking us just to make it clear who they are, the rest of the time they're hiding among the populace, making them hostage and human shields.
The American death toll in Iraq at that point was about 200, but it was clear that a vicious opposition was developing. Mr. Bush had no coherent strategy for defeating the insurgency then, and now - more than 1,500 additional deaths later - he still doesn't.
Our opposition was always vicious. We didn't make them that way, it must have been a combination of heredity and environment or something.
The incompetence at the highest levels of government in Washington has undermined the U.S. troops who have fought honorably and bravely in Iraq, which is why the troops are now stuck in a murderous quagmire. If a Democratic administration had conducted a war this incompetently, the Republicans in Congress would be dusting off their impeachment manuals.
He just couldn't resist using the "Q-word" himself, could he?
The administration seems to have learned nothing in the past two years. Dick Cheney, who told us the troops would be "greeted as liberators," now assures us that the insurgency is in its last throes. And the president, who never listened to warnings that he was going to war with too few troops, still refuses to acknowledge that there are not enough U.S. forces deployed to pacify Iraq.
This is the downside of our president's refusal to follow in the footsteps of that great Democrat president Lyndon Baines Johnson and micromanage his commander's decisions. Unfortunately, his SecDef didn't learn that lesson as well as he did.
The Times's Richard A. Oppel Jr. wrote an article recently about a tragically common occurrence in Iraq: U.S. forces fight to free cities and towns from the grip of insurgents, and then leave. With insufficient forces left behind to secure the liberated areas, the insurgents return.
This is also a mistake made in Vietnam, bleeding over worthless terrain and then abandoning it once the battlefield was won. At least in Iraq you're fighting for population centers such as Fallujah or An-Najaf. The lack is in enough troops to occupy and pacify these cities while you get the new Iraqi government forces up to snuff.
"We have a finite number of troops," said Maj. Chris Kennedy of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment. "But if you pull out of an area and don't leave security forces in it, all you're going to do is leave the door open for them to come back. This is what our lack of combat power has done to us throughout the country."
The latest fantasy out of Washington is that American-trained Iraqi forces will ultimately be able to do what the American forces have not: defeat the insurgency and pacify Iraq.
"We've learned that Iraqis are courageous and that they need additional skills," said Mr. Bush in his television address. "And that is why a major part of our mission is to train them so they can do the fighting, and then our troops can come home."
The president is not fundamentally incorrect about this.
Don't hold your breath. This is another example of the administration's inability to distinguish between a strategy and a wish.
Hope is not a plan.
Whether one agreed with the launch of this war or not - and I did not - the troops doing the fighting deserve to be guided by leaders in Washington who are at least minimally competent at waging war. That has not been the case, which is why we can expect to remain stuck in this tragic quagmire for the foreseeable future.