Murtha and Hastert are both correct
about the war in Iraq
As reported in the New York Times, "Representative John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, a Vietnam combat veteran who voted for the Iraq war, said that after more than two years of combat, American forces had united a disparate array of insurgents in a seemingly endless cycle of violence that was impeding Iraq's progress toward stability and self-governance." He called for a withdrawal of American troops in six months.
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, a Republican, called this "a policy of cut and run." Both are correct. This should bring us to an understanding of why George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq in the first place was so terribly wrong.
There are two times to fight a war. One is when the nation's survival is at stake, and there are only two choices: win or perish. The last war where that was the clear-cut situation facing the United States of America was World War II. Our parents and grandparents (for younger readers, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents) acted like it. Blackouts, civil defense, rationing of gasoline and meat and sugar, victory gardens, scrap metal drives, liberty bonds, saving fat from cooking meats to be turned in for making ammunition... Not so with Iraq. Has anyone given up one cup of latte for the war effort this year?
The other time to fight a war is when a nation sees something to gain by going to war, and has the power to win. That may or may not be a moral choice, but what is going to stop us? Morality depends on what is to be gained, and the nature of the enemy. Hitler thought he had an invincible military machine, that is why he went to war. He was wrong. Moral or immoral, no anti-war movement has ever prevented such a war. It is too easy to go along, and enjoy the ride. Win the war, and drink your latte too.
A majority of Americans believed that in Iraq, we faced one of these two situations. Frankly, most Americans, and most of the Bush administration, leaned heavily on the second possibility: hey, we can run right over anything Iraq can put in the field, so why not do it? Colin Powell knew better; that is why he isn't in the Bush cabinet any more. He warned the little boy in the White House that once we took out Hussein's armies and government, we would be responsible for everything that happened in Iraq. George didn't want to hear it. He never had a plan for what to do next. It must have made his head hurt to try to think about it.
The truth is, nothing going on in Iraq inspires Americans to make any and every necessary sacrifice to win. There are many forces in Iraq that are willing to make any sacrifice to win. That is why we are not winning against them. Most of them are pretty nasty characters, but they are willing to do whatever it takes to win. We are not. Some of those Iraqis are currently allied with us, some are fighting against us, none of them particularly respect us. Any sane, rational, well-informed leadership should have understood that before going into Iraq in the first place.
There was no such thing as "the Iraqi people" waiting for us to liberate them from Saddam Hussein. There were several factions of religious Shia Muslims, several factions of religious Sunni Muslims, some secular-minded men and women (who all have loyalties to clans that as a whole are either Shia or Sunni). There were Christian minorities, Jewish minorities, two competing armies of Kurds. Most of these groups were represented by open or clandestine political parties, many of them ready to bring armies or militias into existence once Hussein's government was knocked over by the U.S. Not exactly a foundation for a pluralistic democracy to flourish within six months to a year.
We could have, possibly, flat-out conquered Iraq, if we put sufficient resources and effort into it. We conquered Germany. We didn't go in to "liberate the people of Germany from Adolf Hitler." They were the enemy. We conquered their land, we established our armed forces as THE source of law and order. We called the shots. Nothing moved on any large scale unless we said so. We set up military occupation zones. THEN we picked those we wanted, and established them as the nucleus of a new, more or less democratic, German government. They set up elections that elected the government we appointed.
In Iraq, we went in "to liberate the people of Iraq." So, we had to deal with whichever Iraqi politicians and would-be politicians came out of the woodwork to say "Here we are to represent the people of Iraq." Our legacy may be an Islamic Republic. It might be Shia, aligned with Iran. It might be Sunni, aligned with al-Qaeda, or hostile to al-Qaeda. Whatever we leave behind, whenever we leave, it will not be a free, happy, prosperous, democratic nation. We are already being undermined by our own Iraqi allies. Aside from wanting our troops to die for them, they would like us to get out of their way as soon as possible.
The best thing for the United States about a Shia-led Islamic Republic is that bin Laden and Zarkawi despise the Shia, as heretics to Islam. They love each other the way the Spanish Inquisition loved Dutch Protestants, or the way Sir Francis Drake loved the Spanish Armada. Under Shia rule, Iraq will not be open to use by al-Qaeda as its base, but it won't remain close to U.S. policy either. That is about what we had to deal with when Hussein al-Takriti was running Iraq. Back where we started from, with over 2000 dead.
Murtha is correct: our armed forces have done everything that has been asked of them, that could be asked of them. Our soldiers are doing their job superbly, but our nation is not willing to make real sacrifices to back them up. Oh, there are many Americans collecting videos and DVDs for the troops, putting together care packages, sending emails to encourage them. All very good. But how many people have volunteered to give up half of their tax cuts, to buy the troops armor? Yellow ribbons don't stop explosives.
When American forces started moving into Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh said that as American soldiers came home dead, American mothers would want to know why. He knew that there was nothing going on in Vietnam which would pose a serious threat to Aberdeen, South Dakota. It took some time for most Americans to recognize that. As with the Iraq war today, civilians didn't have to share the sacrifices being made by the troops on the front lines. In the end, we weren't willing to make any real sacrifices to win.
The Republican leadership correctly says that we may suffer some losses in the war against al Qaeda if we pull out of Iraq. But they cannot inspire themselves, much less their constituents, to actually commit to do what it would take to win. It would require money but we won't raise taxes to pay the bill. It would take a mobilization of troops but we can't get that many volunteers, and we won't support a draft. It would take industrial output and massive overtime but we depend for our industrial goods on China, Korea, and other nations that cannot be mobilized for our war effort as American industry was mobilized for World War II.
All of this should have been considered before we went into Iraq at all. If we had never invaded, Iraq would not be the free-fire zone for al-Qaeda that it has become. Saddam Hussein was brutal, ruthless, self-centered. So are most of the likely future leaders of Iraq, those we have brought to power. Saddam Hussein was a mortal enemy of Osama bin-Laden, who called his regime socialists and apostates. Now, Iraq is wide open for al-Qaeda, because we took Hussein out, and we cannot keep al-Qaeda out.
We should not have gone into Iraq unless we were either prepared to conquer the country, which would not have come cheap, or we had reliable allies to fight for, who could govern the country successfully. We didn't have any allies worth fighting for, but our president sold us on a cheap and easy war. There used to be an argument that "I opposed going in, but now that we are there, we have to finish the job. It would be even worse if we pulled out." It is becoming clear that we can never "finish the job," no matter how long we stay, and the longer we delay, the worse it will become.
And so, the Bush administration have shown themselves to be that classic Maoist cliche, a paper tiger. Rep. Murtha is more than correct to say of Vice-President Cheney, of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, "I like guys who've never been there that criticize us who've been there. I like that. I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done." Murtha knows from personal experience what it takes to fight a war, what it takes out of the men and women on the front lines, and what it takes to win. Nobody in the Bush administration has a clue.