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The Bitter Middle East Trade Off
Young American & Iraqi Blood
for Political Ambitions

Terrell E. Arnold

Since the beginning of the George W. Bush administration, the American people have faced an ever more militarized government. As this writer observed in the introduction to his 2005 book, A World Less Safe:  " It is an appalling truth that we entered the 21st century with global conditions as peaceful as they had been at any time in the 20th century, but by the end of the year we were back at war." This was not entirely a bolt out of the blue. At the time, the United States operated out of air, land or naval facilities in nearly a hundred countries.  Even so, operations were friendly or at worst watchful, because we faced no national enemy. For decades in the future, historians may debate what brought us so quickly to the present conflicted extremity we face. However, there is ample evidence that unbridled ambitions, not threats, brought on our situation.
Iraq is the chief example of our deepening corruption. Behind such innocent sounding terms as "surge", US forces continue the indiscriminate destruction of Iraq. We read daily about the skirmishes of US troops in and around Baghdad as they battle insurgent fighters in their various ethnic communities. We do not usually read, however, about the ongoing hail of death from Iraqi skies. In two nights a few weeks ago, US Air Force B-1 bombers carried out 32 air strikes against Iraqi targets. Air warfare experts call these "precision" bombings, but there are no significant Iraqi military targets; there are only areas of towns and villages, including mosques, where insurgents allegedly hide. Thus, the "surge" of armed forces on the ground is only part of the chaos the US routinely visits on the Iraqi landscape. In addition, the US continues to build up, fortify and equip major US air bases in Iraq.
Thus, the surge is a façade, a ground campaign that gets headlines for successful but generally limited sweeps. The dirty war comes from the air, and from the private forces of the Blackwater and other security companies. The private security teams (a) may well outnumber US ground forces in Iraq, (b) are virtually unsupervised, (c)  conduct a covert war that is not assigned to uniformed troops, and (d) combined with the high death toll of air operations daily anger and increase the number of Iraqis who are prepared to fight back.
This brutal formula sustains the war in Iraq. Our young troops on the ground take the heat for it. It kills or dismembers hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.  It has rendered an estimated four million Iraqis homeless. In that light, it is not surprising that Iraqi Prime Minister al Maliki has said that our troops can go home "anytime they want to."
While that mayhem goes on, the number of our troop losses rises steadily toward 4,000; the number of white crosses creeps along the beach at "The Arlington West Memorial" of Santa Barbara, California, and millions of Americans feel the losses of sons, daughters, friends, and neighbors. Why?
Four and a half years after we invaded Iraq, we still do not know the answer to that question. The assertion that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction was not only false but US leadership knew it was false. The charge that Iraq represented a threat to the United States was phony, because he had no weapons to attack us. The charge that we went to war to gain control of Iraqi oil has some merit, but oil companies have recently said they just want to make deals with Iran and would make them with Iraq, as some of the majors are now actively negotiating with the Kurds. That does not quite jibe with the fact that Iraq's new petroleum law seems hung up on an effort of British and US companies to take over much of Iraq's oil future. But it makes some sense, because those companies, and their mostly western counterparts, control most of the world's oil demand infrastructure.  World oil mostly cannot move without them.
We are simply in a war bereft of necessity. Next month Ambassador Ryan Crocker and our commanding General David Petraeus are scheduled to tell us why we should stay there. The White House, we are informed, is busily crafting what they will say. That means we may never hear what either professional actually thinks. Meanwhile, however, the sixteen agencies that make up the American intelligence community have rendered their judgment in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). Their overall view is that "levels of insurgent and sectarian violence will remain high and the Iraqi Government will continue to struggle to achieve national-level political reconciliation and improved governance." That is a backhanded way of saying that the Bush "surge" is not working.
Equally, if not more devastating to the asserted success of the "surge", is the judgment of seven US Army non-commissioned infantry officers. Based on fifteen months of hard coping with the Iraq facts on the ground, their op-ed in the August 19 New York Times ( The War as We Saw It at nytimes.com) concludes that any assertion that the US is in control of the Iraqi battlefield is based on "a flawed, American-centered framework."  That stops barely short of asserting that American politics drive the war. A major reason for their pessimism is that Iraqi forces, no matter how well or badly trained, comprise a military force over which US military commanders "have little to no influence." In essence the loyalties of those forces run back to their communities and militias and not upward to the occupying Americans or the Iraqis who collaborate with them.
While saying, "As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through", these seven fighting men define the future with unflinching clarity: "Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms." In the end, judge these soldiers, we may have "released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant," but we "robbed them of their self-respect." Their bottom line is that in due course the Iraqi's will "call us what we are-an army of occupation-and force our withdrawal."
The Times op-ed tells us that our troops on the ground understand what they are up against in Iraq as well as what we are up against in Washington. We must somehow separate the future of this war from the futures of the egos who planned it. The compelling logic of the problem is that military engagement is a lost cause. That is the combined judgment of our troops on the ground and our intelligence analysts in Washington.  But the fluffy judgment of many Washington politicians and potential candidates for the presidency is that we must stay on the present ruinous course.
All Americans must confront what that really means. In Iraq our forces are fighting a battle in which, more often than not, they fight against the people we are allegedly there to help. If we continue on that course, we will simply pay precious American blood and scarce American resources, while further destroying Iraqi lives and property, for no gain.
As the Times op-ed shows, our troops are loyal and will do what their leadership demands of them. It is treasonous of leadership, however, to take advantage of that loyalty for purposes that do not serve America's vital interests.
In recent days, over 100 experienced experts have concluded, as outlined in the Foreign Policy magazine Terrorism Index ( <http://www.foreignpolicy.com>http://www.foreignpolicy.com) that if we leave Iraq, whatever violent aftermath may ensue will simply stay there. In short, the safety of our country is not at issue. The blood of young Americans and countless Iraqis is the issue. Any decision to continue this war to serve the interests of fearful and ambitious American politicians will be a crime against humanity.
The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter Terrorism and Emergency Planning. He will welcome comment at <mailto:wecanstopit@charter.net>wecanstopit@charter.net.


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