Surviving Critical Times Hard To Deal With

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Facing Reality In Iraq

Learning something "new"?

Over at the New American William Norman Grigg says "Sorry, Neo-Cons: Reality Isn't Optional"

At his retirement last September, Jimmie Miller had spent 28 years in the Air Force, rising to the rank of Lt. Colonel. From a still-classified location, Lt. Col. Miller acted as mission director for the “Shock and Awe” air assault in the opening days of the Iraq war. For his fierce devotion to the success of his mission and the safety of his pilots, Miller earned the sobriquet “Mad Dog” during his four months as an intelligence officer with the 419th Fighter Wing (reserve). Like most professional military men, however, Lt. Col. Miller has a sane and sober perception of the realities of combat. Which means, predictably, that he is an unabashed opponent of the needless and catastrophic war in which he offered exemplary service. “I thought it was a stupid idea” to go to war in Iraq, Miller told the Deseret Morning News of Salt Lake City, Utah (where he now works with Ameriprise Financial). “It was the wrong thing to do.... The idea that we are going to install a pluralistic government that is going to smile and work together is a pipe dream. They are never going to do that.”

Granted, Lt. Col. Miller doesn't command the strategic insight or martial skills of a Rush Limbaugh or a Sean Hannity. All he has to his credit is nearly three decades in the armed forces, seven combat support missions in the Middle East and the Balkans, lengthy immersion in the culture and politics of the Persian Gulf, and fluency in several languages (including a working knowledge of Arabic and Turkish). Miller's problem, which he shares with other critics of the war, is that he is a creature of the reality-based community -- unlike the visionaries who brought about this war, and the herd-poisoners in the media who promote it. Typical of that group of self-anointed seers is Abram Shulsky, the individual selected to run the Office of Special Plans – the neo-con “lie factory” that was embedded in the Pentagon to generate spurious intelligence in preparation for the war. Shulsky, like many other architects of the war, was a disciple of Leo Strauss , a University of Chicago professor of philosophy whose followers embraced the idea that the world should be run by a numinous elite controlling the masses through the use of noble lies and needful deceptions. Strauss peddled a version of gnosticism stressing the concept of hidden, esoteric meanings within various texts – such as Plato's dialogues – which were understandable only to the elect. Straussians in the political realm apply that same conceit to matters of public policy.

In his recent book The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq, war correspondent George Packer, a self-described liberal supporter of the war, recalls his dealings with Straussian professors as an undergraduate at Yale.
With their “awkward social manners and pale cryptic smiles,” the Straussians gave off the sense of being the custodians of a “secret body of understanding to which only a select few would be admitted,” writes Packer. Prominent Straussians in the Bush administration include former undersecretary of defense (and present World Bank chief) Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, the neo- “conservative” ideologue without portfolio who despite having no official government position essentially created the OSP; according to Packer, “all roads from Special Plans lead back to Perle.” OSP director Shulsky “believed the writings of his old professor Leo Strauss could be useful antidotes to the narrow-mindedness of the American intelligence community,” observes Packer. For “narrow-mindedness,” we can read: intransigent devotion to objective facts. “Strauss's view certainly alerts one to the possibility that political life may be closely linked to deception,” wrote Shulsky. “Indeed, it suggests that deception is the norm in political life....” For Shulsky, his comrades at OSP, Douglas Feith and William Luti, and the rest of the neo-con nomenklatura, deception was not only a tactical luxury, it was also a positive virtue. Packer compares the neo-con doctrine of virtuous deception to the Muslim “concept of taqiya – dissembling in defense of the faith, the sanctioned lying to outsiders that allowed a persecuted religious sect to survive. Taqiya also explained the decoy name and hidden work of the Office of Special Plans, home of that other persecuted sect newly arrived in power, the neoconservatives.”

“Persecuted”? Were neo-cons being hurled down wells, or at least banished from polite company? Hardly; the most severe trial the Bush administration's neo-con contingent had to endure was polite skepticism about its plans for the Middle East. To express misgivings about the wisdom of war in Iraq, from the neo-cons' perspective, was a moral crime akin to plotting a pogrom. Some neo-cons have treated every syllable of public criticism directed their way like the echoing hoofbeats of an approaching Cossack horde. Packer documents how the neo-cons forged an alliance with Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, the two dominant personalities in the Bush administration. This gave the neo-cons the muscle to purge war skeptics from the upper ranks of the military and intelligence establishments. Among the casualties were General Anthony Zinni, former head of Central Command (who was denounced by Luti as a “traitor” for expressing doubts about the wisdom of the war), and former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, who infuriated Wolfowitz by estimating – correctly – that occupying Iraq would require a much larger deployment than what the administration had predicted. Shinseki's estimate triggered an irate phone call from Wolfowitz to Army Secretary Thomas White. “He was agitated that we in the Army didn't get it,” White told Packer. “He didn't give arguments or reasons. Their view was almost theological in nature – that it was going to go the way they said it was going to go.”

The gospel according to the neo-cons dictated that once the Iraqi regime had collapsed, the transition to a post-Saddam government would be seamless, painless, and pay for itself – leaving the U.S in a position to continue its war of “liberation” elsewhere in the region. “We're going to stand up an interim Iraqi government, hand power over to them, and get out of there in three to four months,” declared Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita, propounding the neo-con gospel on behalf of Rumsfeld during a briefing in Kuwait in early April 2003. “All but twenty-five thousand soldiers will be out by the beginning of September.” Yes, he meant September 2003. How many times in the last several months has the Bush administration recited some variation of the formula that our troops would “stand down” as soon as Iraq's army and police are ready to “stand up”? How often have we been treated to some tantalizing hint that we will begin drawing down the number of troops mired in Iraq by some numerically insignificant amount, by some unspecified future date? I'd estimate that not one American in a million would recall that the original time-frame for that transfer of power called for all but 25,000 troops to be out of Iraq by September 2003. Like many other intelligence and military professionals, Lt. Col. Miller knew that projections like those offered by Di Rita in April 2003 were delusional. He knew, going into Iraq, that it would prove to be all but impossible to get out. Notes the Deseret Morning News, “Miller sees no end in sight for the military men and women in Iraq today.” “We're in it for 20 years, in my opinion,” he ruefully predicts. “I hope to God I'm wrong. There is no way we can leave Iraq now.... There is just no getting out of there.” For the self-enraptured neo-con gnostics who dominate the Pentagon, it's not enough that our men and women in uniform kill and die on behalf of grand ideological designs; our military personnel are now being conscripted to act as evangelists on behalf of the war. A Pentagon public relations offensive dubbed “Operation Homefront” reportedly urges – or requires – veterans of the Iraq war to give positive media interviews extolling the success of the war and the benign wisdom of those who planned it.
One account of the program offers this description of the standard “talking points”:

*Admit initial doubts about the war but claim conversion to a belief in the American mission;
*Praise military leadership in Iraq and throw in a few words of support for the Bush administration;
*Claim the mission to turn security of the country over to the Iraqis is working;
*Reiterate that America must not abandon its mission and must stay until the `job is finished';
*Talk about how “things are better” now in Iraq. At least some Iraq veterans claim to have been pressured to “sell the war” back home, amid promises of an early discharge for doing so -- or implied threats of a less than honorable discharge should they refuse. Lt. Col. Miller obviously didn't get the memo. Neither did Sgt. Jonathan Wilson, a recently discharged reservist who has nothing but contempt for the Pentagon's new PR campaign.

“Iraq is a classic FUBAR [an inelegant expression describing a huge mess],” Sgt. Wilson told his home-town newspaper. “The country is out of control and we can't stop it. Anybody who tries to sell a good news story about the war is blowing it out his [Cheney].... [E]ventually we will leave the country in worse shape that it was when we invaded.” The question is: How much damage will our nation and our military suffer before reality is re-enthroned as the basis of our foreign policy?
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