Monday, September 13, 2004

Decisions in Detail

From today's Washington Post, September 13, 2004:

The outgoing U.S. Marine Corps general in charge of western Iraq said Sunday he opposed a Marine assault on militants in the volatile city of Fallujah in April [after four American contractors were killed and mutilated by an mob] and the subsequent decision to withdraw from the city and turn over control to a security force of former Iraqi soldiers.

"We felt like we had a method that we wanted to apply to Fallujah: that we ought to probably let the situation settle before we appeared to be attacking out of revenge," [Lt General James Conway] said in an interview with four journalists after the change-of-command ceremony. "Would our system have been better? Would we have been able to bring over the people of Fallujah with our methods? You'll never know that for sure, but at the time we certainly thought so."

He echoed an argument made by many Iraqi politicians and American analysts -- that the U.S. attack further radicalized a restive city, leading many residents to support the insurgents. "When we were told to attack Fallujah, I think we certainly increased the level of animosity that existed," Conway said.

The story does not identify the source of the attack order beyond Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, the American commander in Iraq. Speculation is that it came from the White House. Wherever it originated (and I am certainly willing to believe that it came from the Chickenhawk commanders in Washington) it demonstrates yet another lost opportunity in Iraq. The Marines arrived in Fallujah determined to avoid the mistakes of the 101st Airborne Division. The 101st took the area in the initial invasion and had patrolled it aggressively in the months since. The Marines hoped that a more community oriented reconstruction program would produce progress and peace. They never got to try.

The Marines were the victims of events and decisions beyond their control. The killing and public mutilation of the four contractors was an act of anger and frustration. Maybe it was deliberate, intended to provoke a response from the US forces. And respond we did, turning the Marines into the combatants they are, unleashing the fury of our destruction on the town and its inhabitants. All because, someone in the American chain of command was determined to teach Iraqis a lesson. After three days, long enough to kill six Marines, numerous civilians and create a hostile population, the attack is called off. Maybe the chickenhawks got squeamish or just came to their senses. In the end, nothing was gained for the loss of life and lost opportunity for a new beginning.

These events are a microcosm of America’s war in Iraq. Our actions in Fallujah were rash, emotional and, ultimately, counterproductive. The local commanders disagreed with the attack. The US could have waited and responded in a less overwhelming manner. But the need for Strong Action To Protect America called for an attack that cost this nation dearly. So, too, with the entire war. America under George Bush does not think through the consequences of its actions. The invasion and occupation of Iraq has severely limited this nation’s ability to respond to other crises around the world. Terrorist groups and cells continue to operate, plotting attacks more attacks on the US and other infidel nations. Se we are spending a lot of money and lives but are actually no safer for the effort. I would argue that, given the hostility our invasion has created in the Muslim world and America’s loss of credibility in its justification for the war, the United States is less safe than on September 11, 2001.

That, in a nutshell, is why George Bush is unfit to be President of the United States. He and his minions trumpet 9-11 as the day that changed everything but act as if nothing has changed. His course was set before 9-11 and has only altered to wave the 9-11 bloody shirt to justify his actions. He chose to invade another country without fully understanding or caring about the consequences. I think he did so for political reasons, believing that he would be invulnerable to criticism as a “war president”, his political lust blinding him to the reality of his actions. But even if his motives were not political and Bush was pursuing genuine national interests, his failure to realistically consider what he was getting this nation into was a grievous omission. I expect a responsible leader to seriously consider and critique all aspects of major decisions, especially the decision to launch a pre-emptive war in a region of high strategic value and great instability. Bush’s lack of curiosity and thought about Iraq has had disastrous consequences for America and the world.

Is George Bush a cynical politician using American troops as pawns in his electoral game? Or does he simply lack good judgement? I say he’s a cynical politician but for the moment, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Either way, he should not be President of the United States.

Thinking About That Day

Three years after the 9-11 attacks America and the world are changed. Not for the better in my view. America is at “war” now and American liberty erodes while the world lives with the destruction we have wrought in our quest for security. Fundamental American values of open government are compromised by an administration that claims all power in the name of national security and safety. Congress has abdicated its Constitutional authority to this same renegade regime. The world has changed since 9-11 but America has failed to understand the lessons of that change.

What America under the Bush Regime does not understand is that there is no absolute safety in the world, especially when your society has it all and so many others do not. The dispossessed and deprived will always envy and maybe even hate those of us who have. Bob Dylan had it right in Like A Rolling Stone: “When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” Jealousy, fear and anger are good media for growing suicide bombers. Our real security lies in their security. Satisfied people, content with their lives and prospects, will not support radical leaders and causes. America and the other rich nations will be safer only when people expect more from life than death.

On September 11, 2001 and the days after I, too, watched in horror and anger as innocent civilians were killed in the most spectacular attack in American history. I saw the images, read the stories, felt the pain and horror. The war had come home. Now we were all grunts walking into who knows what ambushes. The sense of fear was palpable. Except that it wasn’t that bad. At least now that I have a few years’ perspective. I mean this in the sense that America survived. Yes, our losses were great and we have every reason to take action to prevent more such attacks but much of America’s response to the 9-11 attacks has been neither proportionate nor effective.

American foreign policy since 9-11 has certainly not been proportionate. They killed over 3,000 Americans on that day. We killed about 6,000 Afghanis, most of whom had no responsibility for the 9-11 attack. . The war in Iraq is an even more disproportionate response to 9-11. The US and its coalition partners have killed over 10,000 Iraqis and destroyed homes, businesses and towns. At times our tactics (prisoner abuse, attacking civilian areas with bombs and artillery) resemble those of the dictatorship whose overthrow we celebrate as our one signal accomplishment in Iraq. Thus, to avenge a terrorist attack, the United States has killed over three times the number of civilians that we lost and inflicted untold damage on two civilian populations who had no responsibility for the attacks..

Maybe if all this death and destruction contributed to American security in an age of terrorism, it could be justified. But it has not. Even Afghanistan, which was a legitimate target because of its support for al-Qaeda, has not been a success. Our mission there remains incomplete. The Taliban and al-Quaeda are still holed up on the Pakistani border and al-Quaeda cells continue to operate around the world. Warlords have divided Afghanistan into fiefdoms, creating the instability that gave rise to the Taliban in the mid-90's. In Iraq, we have destabilized a secular Arab state and created and environment that has fed longstanding religious, ethnic and tribal rivalries. Bush’s failure to understand Iraqi society and nationalism, combined with his casual understanding of war have tied American forces down in Iraq indefinitely. The US military is now focused largely on one country–Iraq–and has little or no capability to serve elsewhere in the world.

Looking back, Bush has ill served this nation in dealing with the 9-11 attacks. He wasn’t at the helm on that grim day. He was flying from one secure location to another while his staff manned the war room. And when he came back to duty it was to make symbolic gestures (needed at that time of grief and shock) and lead America exactly the wrong way. Rather than looking for effective, collaborative solutions to an intractable, international problem, Bush chose the most simplistic, the most dangerous course.

Three years after September 11, 2001 the death toll continues.