Sunday, August 14, 2005

Before the Iraq war, it was easy to attribute the opposition among establishment figures (like Bush Sr.'s national security advisor, Brent Scowcroft) to Colin Powell's own "Pottery Barn rule." Far from it for me to explain Henry Kissinger's opposition to this rule, but a quote by Kissinger on the Vietnam War suggests he knew exactly what the risk of an invasion and prolonged occupation would be: "We fought a military war; our opponents fought a political one. We sought by physical attribution; our opponents aimed for our psychological exhaustion. In the process, we lost sight of one of the cardinal maxims of guerrilla warfare: the guerrilla wins if he does not lose. The conventional army loses if it does not win."

The U.S. has lost Iraq. The only ones unwilling to admit it, of course, are Bush and his loyalists. And although the schadenfreude of knowing that this has become apparent while the "war president" is in office, becoming his second-term ball-and-chain. Thus, the boy emperor's stubborness is beginning to look like an achilles heel that was first revealed by Paul O'Neill in his book with Ron Susking (where O'Neill described Bush as a "Blind man in a room full of deaf people") is being revealed in spades through his ham-handed reaction to vet mother Cyndi Sheehan's vigil outside the ranch in Crawford (where Bush is spending five weeks of vacation -- working out twice a day; yes, he's in good shape, Maureen Dowd notices -- but Iraq is not).

During my "vacation" I read two books on the Iraq war that take us through the first two years of the occupation and reveal how Bush, Bremer and co. lost:

The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq by Christian Parenti and
How America Lost Iraq by Aaron Glantz.

A few observations about these books: Glantz' book starts slow and almost even apologetic for the war, and gets better as it goes along. He repeatedly takes issue with his Pacifica editors and their leftist audience for having such a black-and-white perspective on the U.S. and ergo, failing to understand how Iraqis really wanted to oust Saddam, a criticism that is only fair if Glantz' experiences with his editors (who tell him they only want stories critical of the U.S. military in the first year, when according to his telling it was not yet a certainty that they'd lost Iraqi hearts and minds).

The good thing about Glantz is that he never shuts out his own or others' emotions to portray himself as a kind of macho freelancer in the war zone -- a common characteristic of so many American writers who seem to want to walk in Michael Herr's shoes. He discusses how frightening it is to go to Fallujah and Najaf after they are under seige by the U.S. The rewards are the personal stories he relates from those who fall victim to the U.S. military's indiscriminate violence.

Parenti comes off as a bit more adventuristic. And he is a bit more adventuristic, seeking for instance to interview a member of the resistance. While both writers eschew the regular Green Zone briefings that the mainstream broadcast correspondents use to report on the war, traveling to different parts of the country to get the story, Parenti's book has a little more muscle, Glantz' a little more heart. Both give you a sense of why so few reporters have the guts to go into Iraq, or report outside the Green Zone.

While it is now clear to most Americans (according to the polls) that the war in Iraq was based on a false premise and has only made us more hated around the world and vulnerable to terrorist attacks, most of that sentiment is based on the senseless loss of American lives, rather than the damage to Iraq itself and the virtual slaughter of so many innocent people. Both of these books provide an inside explanation of the latter that is heartbreaking and maddening. They both make it clear how the U.S. won the invasion but lost the war, from the battle of Fallujah, the seige of Najaf, the hypocrisy of shutting down the Shiite papers as part of a process to "bring Democracy" to Iraq (freedom of speech?), Abu Ghraib, etc. There isn't much treatment of the war profiteers and contractors, but the rest is there.

One of the more interesting moments in Parenti's book is the point where he reminds us of Scott Ritter's observations as a UN weapons inspector looking for WMDs. Instead of finding any, he describes how Saddam's M-14 -- the Iraqi Special Operations and Antiterrorism Branch -- undertook extensive planning for the use of IED's before the war:

"While I found no evidence of WMDs, I did find an organization that specialized in the construction and employment of improvised explosive devices -- the same IEDs that are now killing Americans daily in Iraq. When we entered the compound, three Iraqis tried to escape over a wall with documents, but they were caught and surrendered the papers. Like reams of other documents stacked inside the buildings, these papers dealt with IEDs. I held in my hands a photocopied primer on how to conduct a roadside ambush using IEDs, and others on how to construct IEDs from conventional high explosives and military munitions. The sophisticated plans -- albeit with crude drawings -- showed how to take out a convoy by disguising an IED and when and where to detonate it for maximum damage. ... I saw classrooms for training all Iraqi covert agents in the black art of making an using IEDs. My notes recall tables piled with mockups of mines and grenades disguised in dolls, stuffed animals, and food containers -- and classrooms for training in making car bombs and recruiting proxy agents for using explosives."

In other words, before the war, it was pretty well known what kind of war Saddam was preparing for.

And the fact that the U.S. military took so long to provide armored plating and reinforced vehicles shows just how either incompetent or criminally neglectful of their own troops they were.

And that neglect in turn is reflected in the lack of training to deal with Iraqis. How many, for example, do you think have been killed because U.S. soldiers have not been taught a minimum vocabular of words like "stop" so that they can direct traffic and not resort to shooting carsful of women and children who don't understand English and sign language?