Kicking Open the Gates of Hell
By Mike Whitney
“We have begun shredding documents that show local staff surnames. In March, a few members approached us to ask what provisions we would make for them if we evacuate.” Zalmay Khalizad “Baghdad-memo leaked to Washington Post”
06/22/06 "Information Clearing House" -- --- The prospect of an American defeat in Iraq grows greater with every passing day. A memo which was leaked to the Washington Post depicts a situation on the ground which is steadily deteriorating into chaos. The memo, which was written by Iraqi ambassador Zalmay Khalizad, contrasts dramatically with the confident “happy talk” of high-ranking officials in the Bush administration. It offers a bleak “insiders-view” of a society that is progressively crumbling from the nonstop violence and lack of security.
President Bush’s surprise appearance in Baghdad was supposed to shore up support for the flagging mission in Iraq, but according to the memo, even the Green Zone, that one safe-haven in an ocean of resistance, could come under attack in the very near future.
Clearly, if the militia violence and infighting increase much more, American troops will be forced to withdraw quicker than planned. In practical terms, the country is already ungovernable and the newly-elected regime is merely a face to show-off to the anxious American public.
There’s considerable disagreement among critics of the war about how we got to this point. Some believe that Iraq was never going to submit to occupation regardless of how it was carried out. Others argue that the resistance only emerged in reaction to a poorly planned occupation that was unable to provide even minimal security for Iraqi civilians. Most of the criticism has been directed at Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, a man of limited abilities who is incapable of learning from his mistakes. The most scathing rebuke of Rumsfeld came from his own Major General John Batiste in his article “Root Causes of Haditha” which outlines the many grievous tactical and strategic errors Rumsfeld made following the fall of Baghdad. Batiste says:
“America went to war in Iraq with the secretary of defense's plan. He ignored the U.S. Central Command's deliberate planning and strategy, dismissed honest dissent, and browbeat subordinates to build his plan, which did not address the hard work to crush the insurgency, secure a post-Saddam Iraq, build the peace and set Iraq up for self-reliance. He refused to acknowledge and even ignored the potential for the insurgency....Bottom line, his plan allowed the insurgency to take root and grow to where it is today. Our great military lost a critical window of opportunity to secure Iraq because of inadequate troop levels and the decision to stand down the Iraqi security forces.”
Most of what Batiste says squares with the facts as we now know them. There was no plan for occupation and Dick Cheney later admitted on FOX TV that they were frankly surprised at the amount of violence they encountered. The fantasists in the White House expected that the Saddam regime would fall like a house of cards and that the people would greet them as liberators. Contingency plans from the Pentagon and the State Dept were ignored in a breathtaking display of hubris. Even so, Iraqis seemed to take a “wait and see” attitude and it was almost a full year before the resistance was up and running at full speed. If the civilian leadership at the Pentagon had taken the mounting attacks on coalition troops seriously, they may have reversed their strategy and not brushed aside the perpetrators as “dead-enders and ex-Ba’athists”.
Falluja; the turning point
Then there was Falluja. After the killing and desecrating of the 4 Blackwater agents in Falluja, Rumsfeld decided to exact punishment by reducing a city of 250,000 to rubble. Nearly two years later, independent photographers and journalists are still banned from photographing the wreckage.
Many believe that Falluja and Abu Ghraib made the war “unwinnable”; that the “hearts and minds” part of occupation was no longer feasible. Now, American forces must depend on brute force and counterinsurgency operations to pacify an increasingly suspicious and hostile public. That project is failing and mayhem is spreading across the Sunni heartland making occupation more and more untenable.
But the Bush administration faces another dilemma that is even more basic than beating the resistance. They desperately need a strategy for victory and they have no idea of what that might be. There’s no way that Bush can achieve his goals without knowing what those goals are. It seems obvious, but the administration is utterly clueless. Up to now, the strategy has been to simply ensure that “we kill more of them then they do of us”, but that, of course, does not provide a political solution and an end to the conflict.
Representative John Murtha keeps harping away at this one point but, no one in the congress seems to grasp what he’s talking about. They look at him like a madman while they continue to dawdle on meaningless resolutions that merely extend the war into perpetuity.
“There's no plan!” Murtha said on Meet the Press. “You open up this plan for victory. There's no plan there. It's just, ‘Stay the course.’ That doesn't solve the problem. It's worse today than it was six months ago when I spoke out initially. When I spoke out, the garbage wasn't being collected, oil production below pre-War level -- all those things indicated to me we weren't winning this, and it's the same today, if not worse.”
Murtha’s frustration is palpable. He’s the only man in congress who seems to have a grip on the calamity that looms ahead. The rest don’t understand that the United States is losing this war and that a defeat in Iraq will precipitate a seismic shift in the lives of every American.
“The war in Iraq is not going as advertised” Murtha said. “It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion….It is time for a change in direction…. Our military has done its duty. They’ve been fighting a war in Iraq for over two and a half years and now the Administration agrees, Iraq can not be won ‘militarily.’…. We can not continue on the present course. The future of our country is at risk."
“Iraq can not be won ‘militarily’”.
Murtha’s pleas have had little effect on the political landscape. Bush still totters from one photo-op to the next, the media keeps fear-mongering on Al Qaida, and the Congress continues to regurgitate Rove’s silly “cut and run” mantra.
In 3 years of unrelenting bloodshed, the Bush administration has never pursued a political solution. No dialogue, no diplomacy, no negotiations. There’s still the naïve belief that violence alone can achieve their objectives and that America will prevail in any conflict. The administration’s arrogance has set them up for a crushing defeat.
Author Sidney Blumenthal says this about the administration’s approach,
“The Bush way of war has been ahistorical and apolitical, and therefore warped strategically, putting absolute pressure on the military to provide an outcome it cannot provide – ‘victory.’"
As the situation in Iraq continues to worsen, Bush refuses to make any adjustments to his approach; insisting that success is just a matter of “staying the course”. But “victory” is not achievable by perseverance alone; there must intelligence and concrete objectives. An army of 130,000 will not overcome a population of 25 million without tangible goals and a realistic plan for providing security.
Bush ignores military strategist Carl von Clausewitz axiom that “War is politics by other means” Von Clausewitz added, “Subordinating the political point of view to the military would be absurd; for it is policy that creates war. Policy is the guiding intelligence and war only the instrument, not vice versa.” (Thomas Barton)
Bush confuses missiles with foresight, and tanks with political acumen. The results are predictably disastrous.
For Bush, war is a self-ennobling activity that demonstrates the grandiose power of the aggressor but precludes any final resolution. It is merely mindless, indiscriminate violence directed outwards.
After 3 years, the administration still knows next to nothing about its adversary. So far, the resistance has succeeded in all its main aims; frustrating every attempt to establish security, rebuild infrastructure, or to transport oil. The administration has strengthened the resistances’ resolve and swelled their ranks by torturing prisoners, killing civilians, and decimating towns and cities. The vast majority of Iraqis now want the occupation to end and 46% believe that fighters are justified in killing American soldiers.
The United States is now fighting battle-hardened Iraqi nationalists who will not give up or give in until America is compelled to withdraw its troops. But, that is only a small part of the problem. As Khalizad’s memo indicates, the society has broken down into tribal units forming vast, fully-armed militias which have stepped up to fill the security vacuum. The militias have wormed there way into every area of Iraqi society and, now, are active even in the Green Zone; creating a viable threat to the American stronghold.
No wonder Khalizad is alarmed.
In a USA Today article about the memo, the editor says, (The memo) “underscores the uphill battle faced by the fledgling Iraqi government and US forces, the limited time they have to assert control, and even whether that is still possible. …The fundamentalists and militias are fast obtaining the kind of power that destroys governments. To whit: ‘The central government, our staff says, is not relevant.’”
The country is controlled by the militias and the resistance. The United States controls nothing beyond the block-walls and gun-towers of the besieged Green Zone, and now, even that may be in jeopardy. As Patrick Cockburn presciently noted, the memo “portrays a society in the state of collapse.”
Fisk’s Crystal Ball
Months ago, author Robert Fisk said that he could foresee a dramatic event taking place in Iraq that would reshape the public’s attitude towards the war; something comparable to the TET Offensive in Vietnam, which was the turning point for America’s fortunes in that war.
Could the disparate Iraqi resistance actually mount an attack on the Green Zone, the last refuge for America’s puppet regime?
Here’s what Fisk says:
“Sometimes I wonder if there will be a moment when reality and myth, truth and lies, will actually collide. When will the detonation come? When the insurgents wipe out an entire US base? When they pour over the walls of the Green Zone and turn it into the same trashed blocks as the rest of Baghdad? Or will we then be told—as we have been in the past—that this just shows the “desperation” of the insurgents, that these terrible acts only prove that the “terrorist” know they are losing?” (Robert Fisk, “What does Democracy really mean in the Middle East” Aug, 2005)
Khalizad’s frantic memo seems to indicate that such an assault is possible and that the occupants should prepare accordingly.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak anticipated the Iraqi debacle nearly two years ago when he cautioned Dick Cheney, “There’s no way to win an occupation. It’s just a matter of choosing the size of your humiliation.”
That was good advice, but it was ignored.
Bush was also warned strenuously before he began his Iraqi crusade. He was told that if he invaded he would be “kicking open the gates of hell”.
We’ll soon find out whether he’s prepared to deal with the trouble inside.