Henry Porter writes for The Observer about Patrick Cockburn’s new book, The Occupation.
Cockburn describes a visit to Dhuluaya, a fruit-growing region 50 miles north of Baghdad, where, early on in the occupation, the American military cut down ancient date palms and orange and lemon trees as part of a collective punishment for farmers who had failed to inform them about guerrilla attacks. This vandalism will be remembered for generations because it was senseless and to the Iraqi mind powerfully symbolises the malice of the occupiers.
‘At times,’ Cockburn says of the period just after the invasion, ‘it seemed as if the American military was determined to provoke an uprising.’ Well, now they’ve got it, a ferocious war that in the last three months alone has cost 10,000 lives, most of them Iraqi. There seems no end to it and as Cockburn writes in his conclusion, instead of asserting America’s position as the sole superpower, the occupation has amply demonstrated the limits of US power.
The precise opposite of the desired effect was also achieved in the idiotically named ‘War on Terror’. By the admission of intelligence services on both sides of the Atlantic, Iraq has galvanised terrorism. Sections of a US National Intelligence estimate that were declassified last week say the war has become the ’cause celebre for jihadist’ and that ‘jihadists regard Europe as an important venue for attacking Western interests’. This is not the view of a few CIA desk officers, but the shared verdict of 16 branches of US intelligence.
That’s so disappointing. I expect that kind of arrogance from the righties, but I thought the professional military knew better. I’m so naive sometimes.
In his radio address yesterday, President Bush refuted the NIE: “We do not create terrorism by fighting terrorism.” Any minute how we’ll all be ordered to write that on a blackboard 500 times. But, of course, Bush doesn’t have a real counterargument. He has misdirection and straw men. He also has A Lot of Capital Letters.
When “State of Denial” arrived at the White House Friday morning, a team of aides went to work deconstructing the 576-page volume. Some of Woodward’s revelations, like the scenes of Bush rejecting pleas for more troops in Iraq, the White House tried to dismiss as old news. Woodward’s depictions of tensions within Bush’s inner circle were played down or denied. It was not true, White House aides told reporters, that First Lady Laura Bush wanted to see Rumsfeld fired. Harder to slough off was Woodward’s account of the role played by former chief of staff Andy Card. The White House made no serious attempt to refute Card’s campaign to unseat Rummy. (Card himself quibbled over the word “campaign,” telling reporters that the discussions about Rumsfeld’s future needed to be seen in a “broader context.”) Instead, White House spokesman Tony Snow took a dismissive, this-too-will-pass tone. Woodward’s book is like “cotton candy,” Snow said. “It kind of melts on contact.”
They needn’t have bothered; the White House could issue a banana cream pie recipe labeled “The Truth About Woodward” and the rightie base would embrace it as proof of Bush’s innocence — “Place egg yolks in mixing bowl and beat on medium speed of electric mixer, gradually adding sugar. So true. Eat that, leftie scum.”
Having ignored the facts through each avoidable disaster, the White House wonâ€™t change its game plan now. Quite the contrary. Its main ambition seems to be to prop up its artificial reality no matter what the evidence to the contrary. Nowhere could this be better seen than in Ms. Riceâ€™s bizarre behavior after the Bill Clinton-Chris Wallace slapdown on Fox News. Stung by the former presidentâ€™s charge that the Bush administration did nothing about Al Qaeda in the eight months before 9/11, she couldnâ€™t resist telling The New York Post that his statement was â€œflatly false.â€
But proof of Ms. Riceâ€™s assertion is as nonexistent as Saddamâ€™s W.M.D. As 9/11 approached, both she and Mr. Bush blew off harbingers of the attacks (including a panicked C.I.A. briefer in Crawford, according to Ron Suskindâ€™s â€œOne Percent Doctrineâ€). The 9/11 commission report, which Ms. Rice cited as a corroborating source for her claims to The Post, in reality â€œfound no indication of any further discussionâ€ about the Qaeda threat among the president and his top aides between the arrival of that fateful Aug. 6 brief (â€œBin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.â€) and Sept. 10.
That the secretary of state would rush to defend the indefensible shows where this administrationâ€™s priorities are: itâ€™s now every man and woman in the White House for himself and herself in defending the fictions, even four-year-old fictions, that took us into the war and botched its execution. When they talk about staying the course, what they are really talking about is protecting their spin and their reputations. Theyâ€™ll leave it to the 140,000-plus American troops staying the course in a quagmire to face the facts.
Speaking of which, a New York Times editorial says,
Even if there were a case for staying the current course in Iraq, Americaâ€™s badly overstretched Army cannot sustain present force levels much longer without long-term damage. And that could undermine the credibility of American foreign policy for years to come.
The Army has been kept on short rations of troops and equipment for years by a Pentagon more intent on stockpiling futuristic weapons than fighting todayâ€™s wars. Now it is pushing up against the limits of hard arithmetic. Senior generals are warning that the Bush administration may have to break its word and again use National Guard units to plug the gap, but no one in Washington is paying serious attention. That was clear last week when Congress recklessly decided to funnel extra money to the Air Forceâ€™s irrelevant F-22 stealth fighter.
As early as the fall of 2003, the Congressional Budget Office warned that maintaining substantial force levels in Iraq for more than another six months would be difficult without resorting to damaging short-term expedients. The Pentagon then had about 150,000 troops in Iraq. Three years later, those numbers have not fallen appreciably. For much of that time, the Pentagon has plugged the gap by extending tours of duty, recycling soldiers back more quickly into combat, diverting National Guard units from homeland security and misusing the Marine Corps as a long-term occupation force.
Yet the Pentagon and Congress remain in an advanced state of denial. While the overall Defense Department budget keeps rising, pushed along by unneeded gadgetry, next yearâ€™s spending plan fails to adequately address the Armyâ€™s pressing personnel needs. Things have gotten so badly out of line that in August the Army chief of staff held up a required 2008 budget document, protesting that the Army simply could not keep doing its job without a sizable increase in spending.
A bigger army does not fit into Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeldâ€™s version of a technologically transformed military. And Congress prefers lavishing billions on Lockheed Martin to build stealth fighters, which are great for fighting Russian MIGâ€™s and Chinese F-8â€™s but not for securing Baghdad. Army grunts are not as glamorous as fighter pilots and are a lot less profitable to equip. …
… Americaâ€™s credibility in that fight depends on the quality, quantity and readiness of our ground forces. If we go on demanding more and more from them while denying the resources they so desperately need, we could end up paying a terrible price.
In today’s Los Angeles Times, Philip Gold and Erin Solaro predict that one of these days we’ll be talking about reinstating the draft.
There is a process in American political life by which the unthinkable becomes the inevitable. Ideas and proposals float around for decades, going nowhere. Then events demand, or seem to demand, quick action. We act. And then we wonder how it ever came to this.
Today, the issue of conscription is deader than last week’s roadkill. But it will not stay dead much longer. Iraq will continue to fester. Our armed forces are imploding when they should be expanding — the Army and the National Guard, especially. The world is not getting less dangerous. A year or two from now, a disaster or two from now, expect the issue to re-emerge.
I’d be very surprised if the issue re-emerges while George W. Bush is president, however. Admitting the army is being destroyed and conscription, however, unpopular, might be necessary would require the President to face reality and take responsibility. As they say … when pigs fly.