This war in Iraq, which began as a lie, now continues as an illusion. The bloody deception is long since revealed, the pathetic perjuries by now grown stale.
Some of the experts and analysts say that with an increase of 100,000 troops, others perhaps 250,000 more, the country could be pacified. Interesting numbers, those: Take the midpoint, add it to the number of troops already there (132,000), and you’re in the neighborhood of 300,000, the number suggested by the then-chief of staff of the Army, General Eric Shinseki, at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 25, 2003.
At that session, Senator Carl Levin asked, “General Shinseki, could you give us some idea as to the magnitude of the Army’s force requirement for an occupation of Iraq following a successful completion of the war?” Note: Not to wage the war, but following its successful completion.
And Shinseki replied, “I would say that what’s been mobilized to this point — something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required. We’re talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that’s fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes a significant ground force presence to maintain a safe and secure environment, to ensure that people are fed, that water is distributed, all the normal responsibilities that go along with administering a situation like this.”
Shinseki had been in charge of peacekeeping in Bosnia and knew something about the tasks that await when an ethnic war subsides. But that did not deter Paul Wolfowitz, then deputy secretary of defense, from dismissing Shinseki’s estimate as “wildly off the mark.” (Wolfowitz went on the explain that there was no history of ethnic strife in Iraq.)
Power, as we have been taught, tends to corrupt. It also tends to breed delusions. The powerful mistake their power for omnipotence. With such limitless power, they believe that what they believe is so, or, if it is not, that they can make it so.
So: The “new strategy” the president has announced amounts to a belated adoption of the strategy the military proposed and Donald Rumsfeld et al. rejected in the run-up to the war. The major difference is that it is now almost four years later and conditions in Iraq have grown regressively more lethal.
The president did not, as he claims he did, benefit “from the thoughtful recommendations of the Iraq Study Group,” since he rejected the most urgent of those recommendations. Add that to the list of lies.
Now, at last and at least, we begin a genuine national debate. Almost $360 billion later — a sum sufficient to provide 17 million students four-year scholarship to public universities or to hire 6 million new teachers for a year — more then 3,000 dead and more than 22,000 wounded American troops later, and as many as 650,000 Iraqis dead — after all that, we are back to the beginning. Except that we cannot erase what has happened since the actual beginning, since the original lies and blunders.
But do not mistake the deceits of these zealots for stupidity. Their new gamble for success in Iraq, a desperate gamble with other people’s children as their chips, is diabolically clever. Consider: At some point in recent weeks, surely someone at the table wondered out loud what might happen if 153,000 troops could not accomplish what 132,000 troops have not been able to accomplish. What if six months from now, all that has really changed is the body count?
It can no longer be the case that President Bush seeks merely to stay the course until he can bequeath the quagmire he has sponsored to his successor. He must know by now that that is no longer an option. And he must know as well that 21,000 more troops falls far short of offering a guarantee of success.
Aha! Bush not only proposes 21,500 more troops; he also proposes “benchmarks” to judge the performance of the Iraqi government: “If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people.”
And there you have it, the perfect exit strategy: If things turn sour, as likely they will, just announce, with appropriate sorrow, that in the end the Iraqis did not “stand up,” that they failed to meet their sworn commitments.
And announce at the same time Plan B, whatever it is, our way of trying to avoid or at least prettify the calamitous consequences of defeat, consequences that have been widely and quite correctly predicted, potential consequences that would have deterred less arrogant leaders from commencing this war and that now move from the potential to the actual. We will leave, that is, not because we have been defeated, but because we have been disappointed.
Not so disappointed as the loved ones of the dead. Not so disappointed as American patriots eager to preserve — or, by now, restore — America’s stature and its good name.
All this for a fantasy and a trick of fame, and no place to hide the slain.