Tuesday, February 07, 2006

War is money

Commander Cuckoo-Bananas

Iraq is not Vietnam. It is worse. When North Vietnamese forces marched into Saigon in 1975 and renamed it Ho Chi Minh City, the result was a united Vietnam that had little or no power to harm significant American interests. By contrast, when our actions turn Iraq into an Islamic republic allied with Iran, we will have created a new monster in place of the one that was already there. And it will be rich with the oil we crave.

The despotic Saddam regime was a secular institution whose numerous atrocities were based on power politics rather than any religious ideology. We were willing to look the other way for many years while Iraq was one of our client states in the Middle East. The U.S. showered Saddam with attention and visits by such high-ranking government officials as Donald Rumsfeld. Then Saddam made his ill-advised incursion into Kuwait and we suddenly noticed he was a bad guy.

The fall of a cruel dictator should always be occasion for celebration, but the Bush administration's incompetent handling of the short, glorious war (now approaching the end of its third year) has plunged us into a morass of our own making. Iraq is now a pesthole of insurgency, terrorist strikes, and suicide bombings. Our troops are not being showered with flowers. Even our chronically dishonest Commander-in-Chief has admitted that 30,000 Iraqis have died as a consequence of our invasion of their country (it's probably significantly higher). At this time, American fatalities are edging past 2500, while non-fatal injuries are much greater than that. Our soldiers were sacrificed to settle George W. Bush's grudge against Saddam Hussein and to permit the president to portray himself as a greater warrior than his father, who permitted Saddam to remain in power after the first Gulf War.

And then there's the money.

We are pouring money into Iraq with a fine disdain for such details as record-keeping and accountability. No-bid contracts are bestowed on Bush's business sector allies, notoriously including such amoral gougers as Halliburton. In addition to the over-billings for which these contractors are famous, they are wondrously in tune with the Bush administration's tradition of incompetence. (See, in particular, Tim Lambert's observations on our inability to provide Iraq with better energy supplies.)

We pay huge amounts to contractors to perform tasks that could be performed much more economically by troops we already have in place. Are the expensive contractors in Iraq being used to free up more of our over-extended troops for military action? No, that would make too much sense. Instead our troops end up babysitting the contractors.

This is not idle speculation on my part. It comes directly from Iraq via the observations of an Army captain who is frustrated by the abuses he sees every day:
[T]roops are deployed and providing redundant support backing up civilian contractors. This is what is happening to my unit.... At 3 of 4 points we are providing support that the civilian contractors, which are already on site, are capable of providing. As a taxpayer I think this is a terrible waste of our tax dollars. The DoD pays those contractors outrageously to ensure they do not fail, and then we put soldiers next to them to double ensure they don’t fail. What a waste—not to mention putting troop in danger needlessly.

The disgruntled captain is a career soldier whom I have known for many years. He hopes that American citizens will take more seriously their right to call their government to account:
I am glad to hear people are starting to publicly take Bush to task over his conduct of the war in Iraq. I felt that in the past he hid behind soldiers by saying that anyone critical of the war didn’t “support the troops.” I honestly feel great support from most Americans, and I think there is nothing more American then questioning the policies and techniques for our government. We should never forget the philosophies that drove our forefathers to rebel against the English Government.
The captain is particularly concerned that Bush's “Great War on Terror” seems to be a mission without a goal or definition. He is accustomed to following orders with content and specificity. He lapses into Army jargon when describing his concerns:
As I hear the arguments I come with several questions I would like answered. One of the Principals of War is to have a clear, definable objective. What is our clear, definable objective in Iraq and the Global War on Terrorism? Bush's benchmark of an Iraqi government that can maintain stability is vague and easily re-definable. What forces are actually required in theater? Not a list of just the Brigade Combat Teams (BCT), but a carefully analysised list by Table of Organization and Equipment (TOE) or Modified Table of Organization and Equipment (MTOE) of currently required forces. MTOEs (which we pronounce emm-toe) give each unit our mission and authorize troops and equipment. Making the CENTCOM justify each and every MTOE they want to continue the fight is only way we will know who can go home.
And when.

The captain is concerned that the war is being conducted by amateurs, ideologues who try to force reality to conform to their astigmatic vision rather than bothering to comprehend how things really are. He was impressed with the effectiveness of the initial invasion plan that allowed a light-weight American force to topple the Saddam regime in a matter of days. He despairs, however, that anyone has the vision to craft a rational post-Saddam program and withdrawal schedule. It may even be too late to salvage American credibility now that Iraq is embroiled in what amounts to a civil war. What are we really doing there now?

The comments that I quoted from my friend the captain were contained in an e-mail message he sent to me in early December of last year. He told me I was free to share his observations, but to please leave out any details of his posting or identity. He knows that a member of the armed forces cannot criticize the Commander-in-Chief in public and he did not want to get in trouble because of a private message to a friend.

But I wonder. I have not heard from him since he wrote that e-mail more than two months ago. And I worry about him every day.


Nick Barrowman said...

Very interesting to hear the perspective from someone on the ground.

But I think you're off target when you write:

Our soldiers were sacrificed to settle George W. Bush's grudge against Saddam Hussein and to permit the president to portray himself as a greater warrior than his father, who permitted Saddam to remain in power after the first Gulf War.

To what extent George W. Bush's grudge against Saddam was a motivating factor for him is not something I can judge. But I don't think the brains behind the Bush administration were primarily motivated by a grudge. "It's the crude, dude!" to borrow the title of a recent book by Canadian writer Linda McQuaig. Iraq is a geopolitical prize because it sits on the world's second-largest proven oil reserve.

Zeno said...

I have no doubt that oil is a major factor for the war in Iraq as far as the president's inner circle is concerned, so I concede that point about the "brains" of the Bush administration. Oil might even be a major concern of George W. Bush's own. But the president's go-it-alone bully-boy approach to politics is a dramatic contrast to the coalition-building his father practiced. It may just be pop psychology, but I think George W. Bush delights in the knowledge that he took out Saddam Hussein while his Daddy didn't. His advisors probably don't care too much about what actually motivates the president, as long as the end result is what they were hoping for.

Thanks for the comment and the useful book reference.