How many more innocent Iraqis and Americans have to die before the US and its allies admit Iraq is a lost cause? wonders AIJAZ ZAKA SYED
“We have found it to be like no other war than we have fought before … there are no moving front lines, just a changing picture of small actions scattered over the whole country. (But) we are winning (this) war of attrition.”
You would be forgiven to think these are the views of a US General serving in Iraq and he is discussing the strategy to win the war in Mesopotamia. But they are not the views of Gen David Petraeus, the US top gun and Bush White House’s new magician and rabbit foot in Iraq.
Watching Gen Petraeus deliver his much-hyped testimony before the US Congress and make his case for continuing the so-called surge in Iraq, I was reminded of a similar desperate attempt by another administration and another US commander 40 years ago – to defend their own war.
Just as Bush recalled his top general to defend his increasingly indefensible war in Iraq this past week, 40 years ago the then President, Lyndon B Johnson, brought General William Westmoreland back to Washington to defend the war in Vietnam. So the comparisons of Iraq with Vietnam are not after all totally inappropriate and farfetched.
Gen Westmoreland, the US commander in Vietnam, insisted in an address to the joint houses of Congress in 1967 that there was “light at the end of the tunnel.” He claimed the enemy was a defeated force and could no longer mount a credible offensive on the battlefield. To thunderous applause, Gen Westmoreland had proclaimed: “We will prevail in Vietnam over the communist aggressor.”
Put Gen. Westmoreland’s testimony next to that of Gen David Petraeus delivered this week and you are struck by the disconcerting parallels between the two reports, the circumstances in which they are presented and the conclusions they reach. Is it any wonder then that the disaster in Iraq is constantly compared to the blunders in Vietnam?
Like his Vietnam predecessor, Gen Petraeus read from the script penned by his White House masters insisting that the US is winning the Iraq war and that the so-called surge is working.
Petraeus declared: “The military objectives of the surge are, in large measure, being met. I believe that the best way to secure our national interests and avoid an unfavourable outcome in Iraq is to continue to focus our operations on securing the Iraqi people while targeting terrorist groups and militia extremists and as quickly as conditions are met, transitioning security tasks to Iraqi elements.”
Haven’t we heard that before? This is exactly what the US hawks insisted about another conflict, Vietnam, four decades ago. The more things change in Iraq, the more they seem to remain the same in Washington.
As the soldier-scholar Andrew Bacevich says: “The cult of David Petraeus exists not because the general has figured out the war, but because hiding behind the general allows the Bush administration to postpone the day when it must reckon with the consequences of its abject failure in Iraq.”
But no matter what Gen Petraeus and his bosses in the White House say in their defence, this is a war whose outcome will be little different from what eventually happened in Vietnam. Iraq is yet another war that America has already lost.
The US realised that Vietnam is a lost cause after spending 15 long and disastrous years in a battlefield that was literally on the other side of the world and after 1.5 million deaths on both sides. The US lost nearly 59,000 troops in Vietnam. Compared to Vietnam, the US losses in Iraq – 3,760 until this week – may be still relatively insignificant. However, the overall losses and costs of the Iraq war are much higher. According to independent estimates, nearly a million Iraqis have died for this pointless war.
Unfortunately, while there is increasing concern about the US loss of life in Iraq, there’s little or no mention of the real cost of this war that the people of Iraq are paying day after disastrous day. While the Iraqis are fighting for their lives literally, this is little more than an issue of academic interest for the Bush administration and the Republican and Democratic partisans.
For Bush and his juvenile ego, any course correction or admission about mistakes having been made in Iraq is just unthinkable. For the Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls, this war is nothing but yet another opportunity to score political brownie points over their rivals.
Just look at what they have done to Iraq, once one of the richest and most developed countries in the Middle East. Thanks to the gifts of freedom and democracy, bestowed on it by the neocons, Iraq today is the world’s most dangerous, poorest and chaotic country in the world, worse than sub-Saharan African badlands.
Two million people of a country of 27 millions have fled their homes. More than half the professional class has disappeared. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have taken refuge in neighbouring countries like Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and UAE. Those turned away at the borders face famine, disease and death. Basic utilities like water and electricity are in a shambles. Killer diseases like cholera are stalking the whole of Iraq. Child mortality is worse than during UN sanctions in the 1990s. Iraq’s rich heritage and its ancient historical sites have been looted. More importantly, Iraqis continue to die at the hands of marauding Shia militias, Al Qaeda militants and of course their original liberators.
And yet this administration flaunts the so-called success in Anbar province to assure us all is well in the free and democratic Iraq. Just as the occupation forces drove Sunnis and Shias at each other soon after the Invasion, they are now setting Sunni tribes against the insurgents in places like Anbar.
Bush’s ‘surprise’ presidential junket to Iraq last week was yet another desperate attempt to hoodwink the growing anti-war American public opinion and the rest of the world. Standing with the US troops in Iraq, next to a signboard that warned ‘Danger – Stay Back,’ the commander-in-chief declared that he was there to take the measure of success “on the ground here in Anbar” without ever leaving the heavily fortified US base where he landed. The president also declared Anbar province is “one of the safest places in Iraq” shaking hands with Sunni tribal leader, Shaikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha. This Thursday, a week after he met Bush, Abu Risha died in a blast near his home. So much for Anbar as a success story!
Who is this president fooling? Even the Americans have grown sick and tired of his repeated and trite histrionics. No wonder he continues to be the most unpopular president in US history for some time.
When will the US and its mighty Coalition of the Willing realise that this is a war they have already lost? Already a million Iraqis have paid with their lives for Bush’s war.
How many more innocent Iraqis – and Americans – have to die before this president allows common sense to prevail over his obstinacy?
Sooner or later, the US will have to do what its allies across the Atlantic, Spain and Britain, have opted to do: pack up its bags and leave Iraq.
So it is not the ‘stay-the-surge’ or troops cut that the US Generals and politicians should be debating but a total and early pullout. This is the only way to bring peace to Iraq and help it back to its feet.
The ‘after me, the deluge,’ doomsday scenarios in the event of the US exit from Iraq being spawned by the Americans and some countries in the region are highly exaggerated. In any event, no scenario can be worse than the current nightmare.
If Iraq’s Arab and Muslim neighbours are concerned about the consequences of a US withdrawal and a subsequent power vacuum, they should put together an Arab and Muslim force under the UN command to take over from the Americans. They can be there in Iraq as long as Iraqis need them. Any other alternative would only perpetuate the mess in Iraq and further destabilise the Middle East.
[Aijaz Zaka Syed is a senior editor and columnist of Khaleej Times. He can be reached at [email protected]]