Letter to a Pro-War friend
I have a friend who is rather conservative. We have a lot in common, but we do occasionally engage in a knock-down, drag-down battle over politics. Before the George W. Bush led America into war, we had a really big fight. On the war. I warned him that what is happening today, would happen. Recently he sent me something of an explanation. That he feared that America needed to do this or retreat into isolationism. He feels that America must be engaged if we are to build a better world. And that Iraq posed a danger that could not be ignored.
This was my reply to him:
My opposition to the war were never arguments for isolationism or withdrawal. Liberal is a political group that includes both pacifists and isolationists, but neither group occupies the liberal mainstream. A quick review of the history of the cold war indicates that Democratic congresses and presidents pursued the policy of containment with the same steadfastness as conservatives. Nor were they unwilling to use force. Jimmy Carter practiced containment and the rearmament of America actually began during the Carter Administration, when Defense Secretary Harold Brown convinced the President that America's conventional miltary faced severe challenges against an immense Soviet military and a then robust Soviet Union. Reagan may have greatly expanded the buildup, but it began under the 'mealy' Carter.
The issue for me was never isolationism, but rather, which fight shall we pick? I've studied a fair amount of wars, and the days leading up to them. From that study I can say with some authority that more people have screwed up starting a war than in trying to avoid one.
The problem America faced in 2002 was primarily an issue of terrorism. No conceivable alliance of nations could pose a signficant conventional military threat to the United States, and our nuclear deterrent ensures that any country threatening nuclear war would commit national suicide.
So the real problem for us is a very small group of disaffected people, who hate and fear Western Civilization with a fanaticism that defies explanation. America too produces such fanatics: ( e.g. Timothy McVeigh and Theodore Kascinsky}, whose rationality has left the building and been replaced with hatred. These evil ones live among others who while they many not love America, do not hate us.
That makes the battle against terrorism primarily an intelligence battle. The best information comes from the people who sit at the other end of Bin Laden's favorite coffee shop. Or the person who shines his shoes, sells him mutton. These people will not co-operate with people they hate. Sympathy is critical in gaining information. Good information allows action: you can interfere with their finances, you can seize their arms. You can even kill or capture them before they act. There is a role for military power, but it must be used, carefully, selectively and where possible, invisibly.
I agree with your engineering analogy, that to solve a problem first you have to know what you want. I want those people extinct, without spawning new terrorists.
The Bush Administration is quite correct in its diagnosis that much of the unrest in the Middle East comes from the fact that the governments and economies there by and large stink. Daresay no one would disagree on that point. I have no problem, and never did, with the proposition that removing Saddam and replacing him with a real, modern, democratic state would be a Good Thing. I even see why some think it might set off a landslide of change in the region.
What I never believed was that we could pull it off.
It is useful to read Col. Harry Summers book On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War One of the primary reasons Summers gives for our defeat in Vietnam is that the United States never fully prepared its people for the coming struggle, that we would have to stay there for years, and sacrifice many of our sons. We were never fully prepared as a people for the price we would eventually have to pay. America didn't wimp out on Vietnam. Any country that fought for nine years and gave tens of thousands of lives to that cause cannot be called wimpy. But in the end the Vietnamese cared more about their country than we did.
But in the end, we weren't willing to pay the full price necessary.
We aren't now either. We aren't a tenth as willing to pay that price as we were in Vietnam.
The truth is we began this war with totally unrealistic expectations. The theoretical basis for this war was laid by two Soviet specialists, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz. They seemed to assume the Middle East would be like Eastern Europe, that we would be welcomed as liberators, that people would assume because we were Americans, we were the Good Guys.
Okay, we are the Good Guys. But we have an oilman for a president and an insatiable appetite for the one commodity Iraq has in spades. We're really good friends with Israel, and that friendship has grown even closer under the fundamentalist Bush administration. Iraq has a long colonial history. The Brits too told them that they would bring civilization, democracy and prosperity. That didn't work out, so why should the Iraqis believe us?
Iraq had no opposition figure with legitimacy spread throughout all of iraq's ethnic groups. Even Winnie Mandela would have been a huge improvement over Ahmed Chalabi.
So here we are trying to remake this country that doesn't trust us, has not one natural leader to turn to, has nothing resembling a democratic tradition and the tradition it does have is for political violence and AK-47 in every family room.
This was, at best, a ten year job if we wanted to really accomplish the things we set out to do.
But did you hear any of that from the Bush Administration? Nope. Rumsfeld said we'd be pulling troops out within sixty days. He forced out General Shinseki for daring to disagree with their rosy pre-war predictions. Shinseki's numbers were telling because if true he was really warning the administration that the Army was not large enough to control Iraq if things went sour.
Not only that, the Bush Administration's actions in Afghanistan gave no indication the administration would take the job of nation building seriously. Their first aid offer was less than the cost of some buildings I've worked on. Then they 'forgot' Afghanistan in their very next budget request. How in the world do you forget a country you just made war on? This gave no reason for confidence that the administration would take the job of rebuilding Iraq seriously. The mess the politicos made of the post war has borne out my fears.
Ask yourself: was there EVER a single, solitary Middle Eastern specialist out in front of the administration? Instead, it was the old cold warriors, trying to apply cold war solutions to a very hot part of the world.
In truth, the administration isn't taking it the situation seriously. We have 8 of 10 Army divisions forward deployed right now. We've shot our bolt. If we are to stay there, the army has to grow. I have heard the number of 80,000 more troops bandied about, though I think that number low. Even so, if we want more troops, and we start drafting or recruiting them today it will be at least 18 months before the first new unit appears on the battlefield. Before that we will have to draw down the deployed units to create training cadres.
If we want more troops for Iraq in 2006 we have to start now. Today. But the Bush Administration isn't doing that, because the damned election is a lot more important to them than the soldiers they sent over there.
I knew this would happen. I knew that without a direct and clear link to the bombings of September 11 there was no way the American People were prepared to reinitiate the draft and lose their sons and daughters for a decade. No way. And I also knew that the conservative politicians pushing the war would never lay their political asses on the line in order to make this 'new Iraq' happen. They want re-election more than victory.
I knew we would win, and get rid of Saddam. That was good, no doubt about it. But I also knew that we would anger a lot of Muslims, which would work against the war on terror. And that we would leave before the job is done, which would make us look like a bunch of wimps.
If America is to make war, we need to agree to make war as a people. No show votes. No 'authorizations to potentially use force if something else doesn't happen', like happened in 2002. We don't need the Quakers and the Socialist party with us, but both mainstream Liberals and Conservatives both need to be in full agreement that this is something that really needs to be done, and that it is something worth paying a very high price for, and the assumptions they work on should be based on the worst case, not the best. We together need to face all that, then turn together and let the world we're coming.
We had that agreement in Afghanistan. We had it in 1991 when we fought the first Gulf War. Americans were ready to dig into their wallets and sacrifice their sons. We will come that that agreement again.
This wasn't isolationism. It was the wrong fight. Now I fear a much bigger, more serious fight is coming, one we will all agree on.
I fear the rehabilitation of genocide will come to pass.
And i feel like weeping.