Bush Speech Offers "Clear Strategy" For Disaster?
Bush Speech Offers "Clear Strategy"- For Victory or Disaster?
By Ray McGovern
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Thursday 01 December 2005
He says "victory." But the bromide-heavy speech that President George W. Bush gave yesterday at the Naval Academy presents a clear strategy for quagmire and eventual disaster. Despite the gathering storm of opposition to his approach to the war in Iraq, the speech was bereft of new ideas, calling to mind the words of Emerson: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."
The problem is that this hobgoblin has consequences. Bush's renewed warning of a future "Islamic empire from Indonesia to Spain" at first seemed to me as outlandish as President Ronald Reagan's warning that the Russians planned to transit Nicaragua to invade Texas. On second thought, Bush's concern may become self-fulfilling prophecy, since the course he is on could hardly be better designed to usher in an eventual Islamic, rather than American, "empire."
Iraqi Security Forces: A Pathetic Pillar
The president indicated that in the days ahead he would be addressing various pillars of his policy in Iraq. Yesterday's speech was devoted largely to the training of Iraqi army and security forces, and he protested too much in his efforts to accentuate the positive. His tortured attempt to explain why, after so many months of US training, only one Iraqi army battalion can fight independently was no more convincing that earlier attempts by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his star-bedecked generals. Statistics just confuse the issue, we have been told; progress is being made. Trust us.
All this is reminiscent of the rhetoric at a similar juncture at the beginning - yes, the beginning - of US involvement in the Vietnam War. The Lyndon Johnson tapes show how in February 1964 President Johnson found fault with a draft of a major policy speech by then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara:
LBJ: "I wonder if you shouldn't find two minutes to devote to Vietnam."
McN: "The problem is what to say about it."
LBJ: "I would say that we have a commitment to Vietnamese freedom ... Our purpose is to train [the South Vietnamese] people, and our training's going good."
The training was not going good then, and it's not going good now. The Johnson administration's self-deception helped usher in a decade of war resulting in 2-3 million Vietnamese and 58,000 American servicemen killed. The parallel is eerie. Just a few months ago Rumsfeld was talking about the need for US forces to remain in Iraq for perhaps as long as 12 years.
Let "Freedom" Ring
As for LBJ's commitment to "freedom" for a foreign client, Bush's speechwriters would not be outdone. In his speech the president used "freedom" or "free" no fewer than 36 times. The nine-paragraph coda, apparently orchestrated by Bush speechwriter and ambassador Karen Hughes, Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, was a veritable free-for-all - with 19 "frees" or "freedoms."
...and "Real Progress" in Preparing Iraqi Forces
I found it embarrassing to listen to President Bush stretch for evidence of "real progress" in readying Iraqi army and security forces to "stand up [so that we] can stand down." Did you know that, because of our help, the Iraqis now have their own supply depot north of Baghdad; simulation models for roadblocks; a bomb disposal school; a training program for squad leaders? Bush even quoted a US soldier saying, "We have turned the corner." For veteran observers of the Vietnam, this brings on a very troubling flashback.
How Many "Insurgents?"
Missing from the president's words was any information on how many "insurgents" there are. No surprise here. Rumsfeld, whose fingerprints are all over the speech, is apparently still seeking "situational awareness," the lack of which he has famously bemoaned time and again.
Those of us with experience on Vietnam remember only too well that the Pentagon kept the count of Vietnamese Communist forces at an artificially low level, lest its claims of "real progress" be given the lie. It is hard to know which is worse - artificially low numbers, or none at all. It is, in fact, quite telling that Rumsfeld and the president prefer to leave enemy strength in the Rumsfeldian category of "known unknowns." And it is small solace that this category is one step higher than the "unknown unknowns" in his lexicon.
Still, does it not seem odd that no figures are ever offered on the "insurgents" that are causing such havoc in Iraq; or on whether we are "killing or capturing more terrorists each day than are being recruited against us" - the question Rumsfeld posed to Pentagon brass more than a year ago?
A pity that those running the war in Iraq found ways to sit out Vietnam. For there, too, was a guerrilla war in which it was very difficult to estimate the number of "insurgents," without including thousands and thousands of the populace supporting the resistance, with many of them acting as night-time guerrillas. The lesson is that an army trained and supplied by foreign occupiers can almost always eventually be outmatched and out-waited in a guerrilla war, no matter how many billions are pumped into things like simulation models for roadblocks.
Don't take my word for it. Professor Martin van Creveld of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the only non-American military historian on the US Army's list of required reading for officers, recently criticized President Bush for "launching the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 BC sent his legions in to Germany and lost them."
Staying the Course
The president's words struck an overall defensive tone, especially when he took on critics of his policy of "staying the course." Bush rang a number of changes on the theme of how "flexible and dynamic" our military has become in "adapting and adjusting" to the situation in Iraq. As an example, he noted: "We have changed the way we train Iraqi troops."
There was no sign in the president's speech that this flexibility includes openness to the step that is the sine qua non for the US to climb out of the Iraqi quagmire. As author Robert Dreyfuss has emphasized, that step is to sit down face-to-face with representatives of the Baath party - not the Quisling Sunnis with whom US officials prefer to deal. Why? Because the Baathists are the backbone of the resistance/insurgency.
The good news is that a peace process has begun, despite Washington's decision to boycott it because of its allergic reaction to dealing with the real resistance/insurgents. At a Reconciliation Conference ten days ago in Cairo, Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish representatives sat down together under the auspices of the Arab League and reached a surprising degree of consensus, including agreement on a demand for a timetable for withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq. A second, much larger session will convene in February but, if the president's speech is any indication, Washington will continue to frown on such talks, and may continue to shun them. This, of course, raises the question as to whether the Bush administration really desires a political solution at this point.
The failure to take advantage of this potentially fertile path out of Iraq opened up in Cairo, together with the "Same Old, Same Old" character of yesterday's speech, strongly suggest that the "Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal" is still telling the president what to say and do.
Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, the
publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in
Washington, DC. He was a CIA analyst from the administration
of John Kennedy to that of George H.W. Bush, and is
co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for