Monday, August 13, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- August 13th edition

August 13, 2003: U.S. soldiers scan the area after their convoy came under attack in Mosul.

August 13, 2002:

The GOP’s Iraq Problem

In his history of the Punic Wars, Brian Caven describes the change in strategic thought that took place in Republican Rome in the 2nd century B.C., "Moderation had been the keynote of Rome's traditional foreign policy, and as a result there was hardly one of her defeated enemies whom she was not obliged to fight at least a second time. The opinion was gaining ground that Rome had been too generous in the past." Rome then changed its strategy from limited to total war, destroying both Carthage in North Africa and Corinth in Greece, and placing their lands under the rule of friendly regimes. Centuries of peace in those regions followed.

The Bush administration is displaying a similar strategic change. Even before September 11, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz had unveiled the concept of "decisive warfare" defined as the ability to march on an enemy's capital and impose fundamental political change. At an August 16 briefing, Wolfowitz compared the doctrine to that of "unconditional surrender" in World War II. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz have focused their attention on Iraq with the same determination the great Roman Senator Cato the Elder showed Carthage 2,150 years ago.

The American people support President Bush's desire to oust Saddam. A CBS poll released this August 8 found 66 percent in favor of using military force against Iraq, with 57 percent saying that the U.S. has the "right" to overthrow governments that pose a threat to America. A successful campaign will push approval ratings even higher, as Americans love nothing better than victory.

Prominent Democrats have also come on board. After chairing Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on Iraq, Sen. Joseph Biden (D, Del.) said that the United States has "no choice but to eliminate" the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D, Conn.) followed, saying that he supported action against the Iraqi leader "because every day Saddam remains in power with chemical weapons, biological weapons, and the development of nuclear weapons is a day of danger for the United States of America."

The real barrier to the effective implementation of the "Bush Doctrine" may lurk within the Republican party as it struggles to shake free of its past disdain for world affairs and power politics.

Decisive war is about politics, the governing of land and people. Precision-guided weapons make for wonderful television, but technology is not strategy and wars are about more than just blowing things up. When the smoke clears, it still takes "boots on the ground" to gain a victory that really matters. A cruise missile is not an adequate substitute for a Roman legion when it comes to changing regimes.

Unfortunately, Republicans have too often shown a preference for "clean" technological approaches to military problems, such as bombing campaigns. They have also blanched at the cost of postwar reconstruction efforts required to build a better order than the one that produced the war. House Majority Leader Dick Armey's recent warning to President Bush against an "unprovoked war" was less about the libertarian congressman's concern for international law, than about the cost of a military campaign and lengthy occupation. Jack Kemp, Sen. Chuck Hagel, and others from the economic wing of the party have voiced similar concerns.

It is this kind of misplaced fiscal conservatism has often hobbled GOP foreign policy. The Republicans then act on the reverse of Teddy Roosevelt's famous dictum: they talk loudly while refusing to carry a big stick.

In 1953, the Eisenhower administration told the military to think in terms of "greater reliance upon our allies for the provision of indigenous forces, particularly ground forces" while the U.S. concentrated on more "bang for the buck" nuclear weapons that would deter war. In 1969, President Nixon said that in future crises, "we shall look to the nation directly threatened to assume the primary responsibility for providing the manpower for its defense" with the U.S. only providing support with air and naval forces.

Both Eisenhower and Nixon were channeling negative reactions to recent land wars that had become unpopular through mismanagement. Yet, the reason Washington had sent large armies to Korea and Vietnam — and would do so again in the Gulf, was precisely because local allies could not match the onslaught of better-armed neighbors who were nor deterred by "over the horizon" threats.

Even in victory, the first Bush administration failed to march on Baghdad, rushed the troops home before disarming Iraq's WMD, and then sliced Army force levels by over a third from what had been built up under President Reagan.

The current Bush administration still suffers from the GOP's traditional reluctance to deploy ground troops or engage in "nation building" to convert defeated enemies into allies. There are persistent reports that Secretary Rumsfeld still wants to make major cuts in American ground forces, perhaps eliminating one or two Army divisions and canceling weapons programs critical to land combat. Yet, real war cannot be waged, and the conditions of a stable peace established, without a strong army.

Typical of the old Republican line against overseas entanglements is Brent Scowcroft, who has been talking down an Iraqi campaign in any venue he can find. Scowcroft and the elder George Bush co-authored the 1998 joint memoir A World Transformed. They argued that to have overthrown Saddam in 1991, the U.S. "would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq." They characterize this as "mission creep" with no "exit strategy."

Such a view shows not just a lack of strategic foresight, but also a distaste for the hard, dirty — but necessary, tasks of world leadership.

To the extent Saddam believes he can survive in power, it is because he doubts American troops will march on Baghdad. He has organized his military and secret police to handle any uprising by the unprepared Iraqi democrats, Kurdish rebels, or mutinous army units. And, unless a lucky hit kills Saddam, his regime can ride out air strikes. There is only one thing Saddam knows he cannot stand against, and that's an invasion led by U.S. armored forces, air cavalry and Marines.

Liberating the people of Iraq from Saddam's brutal dictatorship will boost America's position in the Persian Gulf. Placing a friendly regime in Baghdad will give the U.S. access to new bases and oil supplies, and tilt the regional balance of power decisively in Washington's favor. Rather than recoil from an increased U.S. role, Americans should embrace it as they did in Europe and Japan after World War II.

Read the rest at the National Review

August 13, 2003:

Campaign unites military families, veterans pleading to bring troops home

Ever since his son, Jesus, a Marine lance corporal, was killed in Iraq in March, Fernando Suarez del Solar has been speaking out against the war and the occupation of that country by U.S. troops, taking him far from his Escondido home.

On Wednesday, Suarez joined a group of other military families and veterans as it kicked off a campaign here to pressure the Bush administration and Congress to end the occupation.

"I don't want families like these to suffer what I and my spouse are suffering right now," Suarez said through an interpreter, his words in Spanish quaking with emotion. "Mr. Bush, enough of this. ... We want our children back home. My son will not return, but I want these other children to return to their homes."

While some of the groups and individuals organizing the "Bring Them Home Now" campaign have been denouncing U.S. policy in Iraq for months, they are counting on the experiences of Suarez and other military families to add emotional weight to their cause. There have been 60 deaths from continuing hostilities in Iraq since President Bush declared on May 1 that major combat had ended.

"We now have 600 families and we're growing daily," said Nancy Lessin, a co-founder of Military Families Speak Out whose son, a Marine, returned from Iraq on Memorial Day.

But the Pentagon took issue with that assessment.

"This small group is clearly out of step with the vast majority of service members, families and veterans who clearly understand that we can fight and win the global war on terrorism in places like Iraq or we can lose it in the streets of America," said Army Lt. Col. James Cassella, a Defense Department spokesman.

"Our hearts go out to anyone who's lost a loved one in Iraq or who have loved ones still in harm's way. But the best way to honor them is to accomplish the mission that they sacrificed so much to achieve," he added.

About 150,000 soldiers are deployed in Iraq and public support for the war remains strong in the United States. In a poll released Wednesday by The Washington Post, 60 percent of those surveyed said the war was worth fighting and 56 percent approved of President Bush's management of the situation.

Read the rest at the San Diego Tribune

August 13, 2004:

Editor admits laxity on Iraq

Editors at the influential newspaper The Washington Post have acknowledged that they underplayed stories that questioned the President, George W. Bush's claims of threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in the months leading up to the war.

In a front page write-up, The Post's media critic, Howard Kurtz, has written that editors at the paper resisted stories that basically questioned if the President had the real evidence that Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction. "Days before the Iraq war began, veteran Washington Post writer Walter Pincus put together a story questioning whether the Bush administration had proof that Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction.

But he ran into resistance from the paper's editors and his piece ran only after assistant managing editor Bob Woodward ... `helped sell the story' Pincus recalled," writes Mr. Kurtz. That piece by Mr. Pincus made it but only on Page 17 of the main section.

In an interview, Mr. Woodward has said: "We did our job but we didn't do enough and I blame myself mightily for not pushing harder. We should have warned readers we had information that the basis for this was shakier. Those are exactly the kind of statements that should be published on the front page." As the United States gets deeper into the morass in Iraq there have been a number of views expressed on whether or not the media, including The Post, should have been tougher on the kind of information dished out by the Bush administration on Iraq.

Read the rest at the Hindu

August 13, 2005:

U.S. Lowers Sights On What Can Be Achieved in Iraq

The Bush administration is significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq, recognizing that the United States will have to settle for far less progress than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four months, according to U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad.

The United States no longer expects to see a model new democracy, a self-supporting oil industry or a society in which the majority of people are free from serious security or economic challenges, U.S. officials say.

"What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground," said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."

Administration officials still emphasize how much they have achieved despite the chaos that followed the invasion and the escalating insurgency. "Iraqis are taking control of their country, building a free nation that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself. And we're helping Iraqis succeed," President Bush said yesterday in his radio address.

Iraqi officials yesterday struggled to agree on a draft constitution by a deadline of tomorrow so the document can be submitted to a vote in October. The political transition would be completed in December by elections for a permanent government.

But the realities of daily life are a constant reminder of how the initial U.S. ambitions have not been fulfilled in ways that Americans and Iraqis once anticipated. Many of Baghdad's 6 million people go without electricity for days in 120-degree heat. Parents fearful of kidnapping are keeping children indoors.

Barbers post signs saying they do not shave men, after months of barbers being killed by religious extremists. Ethnic or religious-based militias police the northern and southern portions of Iraq. Analysts estimate that in the whole of Iraq, unemployment is 50 percent to 65 percent.

U.S. officials say no turning point forced a reassessment. "It happened rather gradually," said the senior official, triggered by everything from the insurgency to shifting budgets to U.S. personnel changes in Baghdad.

The ferocious debate over a new constitution has particularly driven home the gap between the original U.S. goals and the realities after almost 28 months. The U.S. decision to invade Iraq was justified in part by the goal of establishing a secular and modern Iraq that honors human rights and unites disparate ethnic and religious communities.

But whatever the outcome on specific disputes, the document on which Iraq's future is to be built will require laws to be compliant with Islam. Kurds and Shiites are expecting de facto long-term political privileges. And women's rights will not be as firmly entrenched as Washington has tried to insist, U.S. officials and Iraq analysts say.

"We set out to establish a democracy, but we're slowly realizing we will have some form of Islamic republic," said another U.S. official familiar with policymaking from the beginning, who like some others interviewed would speak candidly only on the condition of anonymity. "That process is being repeated all over."

Read the rest at the Washington Post

August 13, 2006:

The Guns of August

Two full-blown crises, in Lebanon and Iraq, are merging into a single emergency. A chain reaction could spread quickly almost anywhere between Cairo and Bombay. Turkey is talking openly of invading northern Iraq to deal with Kurdish terrorists based there. Syria could easily get pulled into the war in southern Lebanon. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are under pressure from jihadists to support Hezbollah, even though the governments in Cairo and Riyadh hate that organization. Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of giving shelter to al-Qaida and the Taliban; there is constant fighting on both sides of that border. NATO's own war in Afghanistan is not going well. India talks of taking punitive action against Pakistan for allegedly being behind the Bombay bombings. Uzbekistan is a repressive dictatorship with a growing Islamic resistance.

The only beneficiaries of this chaos are Iran, Hezbollah, al-Qaida and the Iraqi Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr, who last week held the largest anti-

American, anti-Israel demonstration in the world in the very heart of Baghdad, even as 6,000 additional U.S. troops were rushing into the city to “prevent” a civil war that has already begun.

This combination of combustible elements poses the greatest threat to global stability since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, history's only nuclear superpower confrontation. The Cuba crisis, though immensely dangerous, was comparatively simple: It came down to two leaders and no war. In 13 days of brilliant diplomacy, John F. Kennedy induced Nikita Khrushchev to remove Soviet missiles from Cuba.

Kennedy was deeply influenced by Barbara Tuchman's classic, “The Guns of August,” which recounted how a seemingly isolated event 92 summers ago – an assassination in Sarajevo by a Serb terrorist – set off a chain reaction that led in just a few weeks to World War I. There are vast differences between that August and this one. But Tuchman ended her book with a sentence that resonates in this summer of crisis: “The nations were caught in a trap, a trap made during the first thirty days out of battles that failed to be decisive, a trap from which there was, and has been, no exit.”

Read the rest at the San Diego Tribune