by David T. Jones
“There is no question that U.S. government intelligence
Awash in information about the U.S. government’s commitment in Iraq, we struggle to find the truth. Even after the January 30 election, one constantly feels caught between the “dismal defeat is the only option” from much of the media brigade and the “it’s a bright sunny morning in Baghdad” releases provided by the Armed Forces Information Service. Recent conversations with friends and colleagues just back from (but returning to) Iraq suggest judgments somewhere in between.
No Easy Out.
Thus, in the future, in the middle of the twenty-first century, just as remains the case for the UK in Northern Ireland after decades, we can imagine coalition soldiers in occasional skirmishes, with Iraqi units as trainers, intelligence liaison, and custodians of quick reaction air strikes. It is not that we have been unable to meet comparable challenges: U.S. troops have been stationed in Europe since D-Day in 1944 and in Korea since 1950. As a society, however, we have yet to determine whether the cost of Iraq is worth the expenditure.
Perhaps most invidious is the manner in which our domestic divisions have caused a split our foreign policy — and the manner in which our foreign policy choices have exacerbated our domestic divisions. Since John Kerry remains the junior senator from Massachusetts, his supporters (who did not for an instant believe his stay-the-course campaign rhetoric) know that the likelihood of “four more years” of the same policy outlook is greater than not. So there is a tendency for “blue state” voters to say to their political opponents, “It’s your war,” one which they as U.S. citizens have opted out of, believing it to be a moral error of incalculable dimensions and one in which they have no stake. Implicitly, to prove the correctness of their logic, they hope the U.S. effort leads to failure, and each U.S. death in Iraq is an “I told you so” exclamation point.
The President’s inaugural address accentuated this confrontation. Somehow “freedom” and “liberty” now seem to be pronounced with a sneer in certain quarters (perhaps too much of a good thing?). Other opponents of the war suggest that the words “freedom and democracy” should be employed by their initials: “fad.”
The Iraqi Election.
Intelligence Failure Is a Given.
To predict the future is to be wrong — sooner or later. As a one-time intelligence analyst and having been wrong in judgments, I remain aware of the spectrum of weasel words designed to shield analysts from blame. A worst-case judgment is always safer than a best-case call. For example, since the 1954 Korean armistice, analysts have repeatedly predicted another North Korean attack. They have been wrong every time, but who hears when they are wrong? Or who even knows that they made such a prediction?
You Can Win Hearts and Minds and Still Be Killed.
War Fought in U.S. Living Rooms.
There is an aphorism that one death is a tragedy and 10,000 deaths are a statistic. The question throughout our lifetimes has less and less been whether U.S. forces can be defeated militarily, but rather whether they can be defeated politically. Never has that reality been more pointed in Iraq where pure military defeat is impossible, but casualties that might be considered trivial in some circumstances are played in the media in apocryphal terms. There is no quagmire in Iraq; there is no jungle; there is no combat ready North Vietnam poised to invade. Post-Vietnam what U.S. armed forces now demand is that their society not abandon them — and then on top of that declare that it was the military’s responsibility that objectives weren’t reached. An all-volunteer force is less subject to media manipulation, but it is not immune.
The Force Is Not Broken.
Again, perspective is in order. During World War II, a family friend in the Pennsylvania National Guard was called up in 1939; he returned home to Luzerne County in 1946. Yes, close to seven years. If the next contingent of units deployed to Iraq were to serve an eighteen- to twenty-four-month tour (and all of these forces are volunteers who accepted unlimited liability with their commitment), the over-commitment argument would be vitiated, along with a significant portion of the “price of ignorance” lessons absorbed by frequent unit rotation. To make this suggestion is not to imply by any means that such deployments would be walk-in-the-park fun, but they are not World War I trenches either.
State Is Struggling to Find Its Role.
Those assigned as advisors to Iraqi ministries have the frustrations associated with advising but not directing. It takes a special skill to allow others to make mistakes, hoping that they will profit therefrom, while the entire bureaucratic process proceeds in slow motion to U.S. eyes.
Moreover, it is hard to get past the likelihood that more State Department personnel are going to die. The pre-election attack on the Embassy was lost in the election hoopla. A generation ago, FSOs went rather blithely into Vietnam, attached to regional and provincial administrations in Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS) roles. The C Street memorial plaque now holds thirty-six names from that era. Plus others from elsewhere in Southeast Asia, names that were unannounced for years for dubious reasons. Today, the almost ritualized bombings in Baghdad give daily doses of indiscriminate death that are hard to ignore.
The reverse of the coin is omnipresent security. The usual State official in Iraq goes nowhere but remains embedded in Baghdad’s Green Zone; even the most trivial meeting outside the Zone takes endless preparation to arrange. Thus the type of dash-about meeting schedule with foreign officials that would be the norm elsewhere is impossible; delay and defer rather than “decide” is the standard. Nor is security convincing; much of it looks haphazard, designed perhaps by someone on a whim without thought given to living long-term under the conditions.
And expensive! One estimate that I have heard suggests the astonishing total costs of $600-$700,000 for a State employee for one year. Whether precisely accurate or not, we had better hope that Secretary Rice has a direct pipeline to the Treasury or the rest of the Department will find itself on starvation rations.
David T. Jones earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees and pursued further graduate studies, all at the University of Pennsylvania. Since retirement from the U. S. Foreign Service, he has written extensively over the years for Canadian and U. S. publications, including this journal.