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Rumsfeld's Amateurs In Iraq


Rumsfeld's Amateurs In Iraq

By Brian Cloughley - Also published in The Nation (Pakistan)

The study of war covers much more than examination and analysis of the application of force - or should do if undertaken properly. The Principles of War, as ameliorated by commonsense and strategic imperatives, with a well-considered approach to cooperative internationalism, remain the best guidelines for the conduct of conflict, and the first of these principles is "the Objective" (US) or "Selection and Maintenance of the Aim" (British and most Commonwealth).

It is almost a truism that the aim of a military campaign is political, even if it is expressed as "to eject the Iraqi invader from Kuwait" (which was a laudably simple - and legal - declaration of intent), because the outcome will inevitably be "of or concerning the state", which is the essence of politics. To a defeated country the aftermath of conflict is of more pressing significance than its recent and demonstrably humiliating lack of military prowess. There is an inevitable catharsis, a release of national emotion, that if taken at the tide can result in acceptance and even endorsement of the conqueror's position. It is the Stockholm Syndrome of invaded nations : the bonding of the overwhelmed with the victor to the point that desire for willing cooperation can be harnessed to mutual benefit.

But there has to be a plan made well in advance of invasion that covers in fine detail the restorative aspects of occupation. It must resolve and dictate methods of channelling national energy towards achieving not just reluctant and surly acceptance of the occupying power, but long-term agreements that will assuage national humiliation and promote harmony and prosperity. War is not a video game that can be switched off when the goodies overcome the baddies. There has to be mature thought given to the aftermath.

In the Bush-Blair war on Iraq, we were told, the Aim of the United States and Britain was to free the world of Iraq's alleged vast holdings of "weapons of mass destruction", these being defined as nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and their means of delivery. Bush and Blair told us that Iraq had "beyond doubt" an active nuclear weapons' programme ("What more proof do you want?" said Bush at a joint press conference, when citing a non-existent UN report quoted by Blair). Vice-president Cheney went much further in announcing the existence of Iraqi nuclear weapons and Bush enumerated the "25,000 litres of Anthrax, 500 tones of chemicals" and so on, while Blair told Britain that Iraq could "at 45 minutes notice" launch chemical and biological attacks. None of these statements has been proved correct, and it seems they were lies told us by the president and vice-president of the United States and the prime minister of Britain. These dishonourable men fooled their own citizens and bombed Iraq and killed, at the smallest estimate, 2400 Iraqi civilians. Last week Bush exulted in victory over a fifth-rate, rag-bag, incompetent army that had dilapidated weapons more suited to museums than battlefields and no air force whatever. And now he is making a hash of administering the country he invaded.

Even in the first, darkest, years of the Second World War the British began formation of an organisation eventually known as AMGOT : the Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories. It was composed of experts, mainly civilians in uniform (some of whom became absurdly pompous in the ranks they were granted), who knew all about railways, economics, water reticulation, coal mines, ports, vegetables, airfields, government and a great deal more. In short : they could run a country. They were especially knowledgeable in political, social and religious affairs, and understood exactly what made everything tick in the region to which they were accredited. (This was notable in Italy when the Sicily invasion force included a vast AMGOT team which in a remarkably brief period established total empathy with some elements of the population. Unfortunately the US mission had been taken over by a uniform-clad member of the New York Mafia, Colonel Charles Poletti. Mussolini, for all his faults, had almost eradicated the Mafia, but the American liberators brought it back to lucrative life. Such are the ironies of life.) Somewhat unkindly, AMGOT became known by its denigrators as 'Amateur Military Gentlemen On Tour', but it cannot be denied that the organisation conducted effective administration of occupied territories.

Good planning ensured there were enough soldiers to ensure immediate security on invasion. Good advice by AMGOT resulted in fresh troops arriving quickly and in greater numbers to perform hands-on restorative tasks in concert with such local authorities as still might be functioning. It wasn't easy, but in general the work of the occupation authority was done efficiently and with dispassionate attention to conquered peoples. This is far from the case in Iraq, where the main occupying power, the US, has cocked the whole thing up in spades. (British-run Basra is a quiet success story.)

First, the US Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, ignored advice that an invading force needs twice as many troops coming behind as there are in the first waves. The man knows nothing of the art of war, and is an arrogant, blinkered oaf.

Second, the administrator appointed by Rumsfeld to run Iraq was a known supporter of Israel. No way could General Garner have been accepted by a Muslim nation, and anyway he is not a "people person". This was just another stupid move by Rumsfeld, who was warned that the appointment was inadvisable. On arrival Garner and his staff took over a presidential palace. They slept on camp beds - but in a comfortable mansion having enormous electricity generators. They should have pitched tents and used hurricane lamps, with provision of electricity being confined to communications' trucks. Their luxury greatly annoyed the locals without electricity - but they, incidentally, are laughing themselves silly about almost the entire team of administrators having been stricken by Montezuma's Revenge. Well, they haven't got much else to laugh about, because their conquerors have loused up the occupation.

Next, the officials of Garner's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) who venture out of the former palace - apparently a rare occurrence - are driven around in SUVs escorted by a troop of armoured vehicles bristling with machine guns. This is dumb, too, because they should be on foot or in a jeep, unarmed and escorted by an interpreter. That creates confidence. But nobody thought about interpreters (except the State Department's Barbara Bodine, and she was sacked for her temerity in pressing to have them, and for criticising the shambles), so ORHA, the AMGOT de nos jours, can't speak to many people, and none at the basic working level. Then ORHA found it had no say as to what facilities should be commandeered by the army, which resulted in schools and hospitals being taken over as barracks - a major disaster that has had wide-reaching effects in fuelling contempt for the invader. This was almost as stupid as making a Sunni Muslim mayor of Najaf, the Shia city, to which the reaction has been amazed incredulity.

The whole operation was bungled, and this was entirely the fault of Rumsfeld and his immediate circle. The US Army chief, General Shinseki, was sidelined and vilified by Rumsfeld's people after he said "several hundred thousand soldiers" would be needed in post-war Iraq. He was right, of course, but Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld's arrogant and equally ignorant number two, said he was "way off the mark". Shinseki was thereafter a non-person, and Rumsfeld made a point of calling on Shinseki's deputy to attend him for public appearances. (And, I hear, will promote him to take over. There's a moral there, somewhere.) Then last Thursday Rumsfeld admitted to a Senate Committee that another 15,000 soldiers were being sent to Iraq. In fact there are many more on the way, and units expecting to return home have had their tours extended.

Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz ignored the requirement to make an occupation plan, then chose a team at the last minute while fighting with the State Department over who should have responsibility. Most people selected were either incompetent (Garner) or competent to the point of embarrassment (Bodine), so were sacked after only three weeks. But can Iraqis regard the new supremo, the abrasive counter-terrorism expert, L Paul Bremer III, with other than suspicion? His background is State Department but he reports direct to Rumsfeld, which is the kiss of death for transparency, flexibility, decency and honesty. 'Amateur Military Gentlemen On Tour' may have been an appropriately humorous translation of the acronym AMGOT sixty years ago. In Iraq ORHA is supposed to means Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs. Perhaps it would be better described as the Office of Rumsfeld's Hamfisted Amateurs.

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