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Iraq: What went wrong

By John Bender
web posted December 11, 2006

What went wrong in Iraq?  We are about to start withdrawing our troops from the country and turn the fighting over to Nuri al-Maliki's government even though nobody but Bush, and a few of his die-hard worshipers, believe that the Iraqi military can control the country.

Although, Bush isn't calling it "Iraqization", it is, none the less, the equivalent of "Vietnamization" and will produce the same result.

But, how did we get to this point?  How did, what should have been a relatively easy victory go so very wrong?

To answer that question one must look at the planning for the war and at the execution of the military conquest of Iraq.  The planning for the war did not include any realistic planning for the occupation after the Iraqi government and military were defeated.

Bush and his neo-conservative advisors made no plans to deal with a resistance movement after Iraq fell.  They didn't believe there would be any resistance once Saddam's government fell.  Just weeks before the invasion of Iraq, Vice President Cheney appeared on Meet the Press and wouldn't even entertain the idea that there might be a resistance.

MR. RUSSERT: If your analysis is not correct, and we're not treated as liberators, but as conquerors, and the Iraqis begin to resist, particularly in Baghdad, do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly, and bloody battle with significant American casualties?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I don't think it's likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators. I've talked with a lot of Iraqis in the last several months myself, had them to the White House. The president and I have met with them, various groups and individuals, people who have devoted their lives from the outside to trying to change things inside Iraq. And like Kanan Makiya who's a professor at Brandeis, but an Iraqi, he's written great books about the subject, knows the country intimately, and is a part of the democratic opposition and resistance. The read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want to the get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.

The administration's refusal to even consider the possibility of a resistance in Iraq and failure to realistically plan for the occupation is the reason we have the current mess in Iraq.  Bush made the same mistake Hitler made when he invaded France.  Hitler didn't expect a resistance movement after defeating the government and setting up a new "independent" government.  Nor did he want to destroy enough of the country to break the will of the people to resist.  Bush expected to be greeted as a savior and didn't think there would be any resistance movement.  Like Hitler, Bush didn't let the military destroy the cities, food supplies, utilities, their industries, etc. Both of them thought they could win without destroying the infrastructure of the enemy.

Hitler ordered his army to do as little damage as possible to the country and still conquer it.  As a result, the French mounted a resistance movement that killed Germans and French collaborators during the whole time the Germans occupied the country as the "guests" of the Vichy Government.

Bush did the same thing in Iraq.  He ordered the military to do as little damage as possible while taking Iraq.  In both cases the "victor" didn't break the will of the conquered people to resist and paid a high price for that mistake in blood and treasure.

Contrast that with how we prosecuted WW II against the Germans and Japanese.  We fire bombed German and Japan cities. Napalm was created in WW II to bomb German cities.  We bombed their factories, utilities; water, sewer, electric plants and their roads and rail lines.  We also bombed their dams flooding their farm lands destroying their food supply.

By the time we conquered their government the people had no will to resist.  V.E. Day was May 8, 1945 and V.J Day was September 2, 1945.  There was no resistance in either country.  By January 1946 battle casualties had all but totally ended.

In 1946 we occupied Germany, Japan, North Africa and Italy and we had just 6 battle causalities world wide that whole year.  Contrast that with our occupation of Iraq.  We've had U.S. 2,756 dead in Iraq since Baghdad fell. That means 95.8% of our battle deaths occurred during the occupation rather than during the war.

Bush apologists like to compare the country's attitude about the Iraq war to the country's attitude about WW II, but never want to compare how we fought WW II with how Bush and the neo-cons fought the Iraq war.  They want to pretend the war is still going on, but don't want to say we are fighting the Iraqi people.

Well, Saddam's Iraqi government is gone.  We sure as hell aren't fighting the new Iraqi government we set up there.  We are fighting an Iraqi resistance that shouldn't have been there, and wouldn't have been there had we fought this war like we fought WW II.

During the occupation of Germany and Japan the people depended on the army of occupation for their daily survival.  The occupation forces had the food, water, clothing, oil and coal, controlled shelter for those whose homes were destroyed, and all money.  People were worried about getting a drink of water and a meal rather than who was running the government. They no longer had the will, or the popular support, to mount a resistance movement.
Compounding his failure to destroy the people's will to resist, Bush started nation building before the country was pacified.  That never works. 

Iraq is a country of 28 million people and 80% of them don't want us there.  Nation building under those circumstances is, to be charitable, not smart.  It divides the military's efforts and provides targets for the resistance without providing us with sufficient indigenous support to eliminate the resistance.   

Because Bush pretended there was no indigenous resistance movement and the violence was mostly the work of foreign trouble makers rushing into Iraq to fight against the U.S. military, the resistance is no longer just a resistance to foreign occupation.  It is now a civil war with a large number of factions fighting for political power.  Within just the Suni and Shiite groups there are some 80 or so sub-groups fighting for political dominance.  Armed militias control more neighborhoods than the police and militia members make up large portions of many police units.

Maliki's government is a joke.  It can't even control Baghdad, let alone run the whole country.

Now we have a mess that Pelosiand company are going to make worse.  There is no good option at this point.  The American people will not stand for the level of violence it would take to pacify Iraq now.  Nor is it clear that any level of outside generated violence can really pacify the country at this point.  The window of opportunity for that may well be closed. 

But pulling out of Iraq will leave a power vacuum that Iran will rush in to fill.  The consequences of that happening would make the current situation look desirable.  That is the worst possible option.

At this point, the best we can do is maintain a force powerful enough to protect the oil production and shipping, protect the Kurds, and keep Iran from taking control of Iraq's oil.  We need to kill, or arrest Muqtada al-Sadr, disband all militias, and protect the borders.

Of course, this will take a larger force than we have in the country now which will demand increasing the size of our regular army.  But we can also make better use of our military by pulling them off nation building tasks and using those troops to fight the resistance.  There is no reason our military should be building schools, building power plants, and teaching farmers how to increase crop yields while the country is in violent chaos.  But we will still need more troops in country for the short term. 

In the best case scenario an Egyptian style dictator will come to power and will stabilize the country. It will be in this dictator's self-interest to keep Iran out of the country so hopefully this new dictator will be nominally pro-Western on the order of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.  In the worst case, Iran will turn Iraq into a puppet and gain control of Iraq's oil.

Only three things are certain today.  We can't just pull out.  We can't keep doing what we've been doing.  We wouldn't be in this position today if Bush fought the war the way FDR and Churchill fought WW II.

God help us.  We need a leader who understands what needs to be done and who has the spine to do it.  Unfortunately, neither anyone in the administration, nor our any of our Congressional leaders, is up to the task. ESR

John Bender is a freelance writer living in Dallas, Texas. He may be reached at jbender@columnist.com.

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