A View From The Front
By Dr. David J Kilcullen, Small Wars Journal Blog
20 June 2007
Understanding Current Operations in Iraq I've spent much of the last six weeks out on the ground, working with Iraqi and U.S. combat units, civilian reconstruction teams, Iraqi administrators and tribal and community leaders. I've been away from e-mail a lot, so unable to post here at SWJ: but I'd like to make up for that now by providing colleagues with a basic understanding of what's happening, right now, in Iraq.
This post is not about whether current ops are "working" - for us, here on the ground, time will tell, though some observers elsewhere seem to have already made up their minds (on the basis of what evidence, I'm not really sure). But for professional counterinsurgency operators such as our SWJ community, the thing to understand at this point is the intention and concept behind current ops in Iraq: if you grasp this, you can tell for yourself how the operations are going, without relying on armchair pundits. So in the interests of self-education (and cutting out the communitarian middlemen-sorry, guys) here is a field perspective on current operations.
Ten days ago, speaking with Austin Bay, I made the following comment: "I know some people in the media are already starting to sort of write off the "surge" and say 'Hey, hang on: we've been going since January, we haven't seen a massive turnaround; it mustn't be working'. What we've been doing to date is putting forces into position. We haven't actually started what I would call the "surge" yet. All we've been doing is building up forces and trying to secure the population. And what I would say to people who say that it's already failed is "watch this space".
Because you're going to see, in fairly short order, some changes in the way we're operating that will make what's been happening over the past few months look like what it is-just a preliminary build up."
The meaning of that comment should be clear by now to anyone tracking what is happening in Iraq. On June 15th we kicked off a major series of division-sized operations in Baghdad and the
surrounding provinces. As General Odierno said, we have finished the build-up phase and are now beginning the actual "surge of operations". I have often said that we need to give this time. That is still true. But this is the end of the beginning: we are now starting to put things onto a viable long-term footing.
These operations are qualitatively different from what we have done before. Our concept is to knock over several insurgent safe havens simultaneously, in order to prevent terrorists relocating their infrastructure from one to another, and to create an operational synergy between what we're doing in Baghdad and what's happening outside. Unlike on previous occasions, we don't plan to leave these areas once they're secured. These ops will run over months, and the key activity is to stand up viable local security forces in partnership with Iraqi Army and Police, as well as political and economic programs, to permanently secure them. The really decisive activity will be police work, registration of the population and counterintelligence in these areas, to comb out the insurgent sleeper cells and political cells that have "gone quiet" as we moved in, but which will try to survive through the op and emerge later. This will take operational patience, and it will be intelligence-led, and Iraqi government-led. It will probably not make the news (the really important stuff rarely does) but it will be the truly decisive action.
When we speak of "clearing" an enemy safe haven, we are not talking about destroying the enemy in it; we are talking about rescuing the population in it from enemy intimidation. If we don't get every enemy cell in the initial operation, that's OK. The point of the operations is to lift the pall of fear from population groups that have been intimidated and exploited by terrorists to date, then win them over and work with them in partnership to clean out the cells that remain â€“ as has happened in Al Anbar Province and can happen elsewhere in Iraq as well.
The "terrain" we are clearing is human terrain, not physical terrain. It is about marginalizing al Qa'ida, Shi'a extremist militias, and the other terrorist groups from the population they prey on. This is why claims that "80% of AQ leadership have fled" don't overly disturb us: the aim is not to kill every last AQ leader, but rather to drive them off the population and keep them off, so that we can work with the community to prevent their return.
This is not some sort of kind-hearted, soft approach, as some fire-breathing polemicists have claimed (funnily enough, those who urge us to "just kill more bad guys" usually do so from a safe distance). It is not about being "nice" to the population and hoping they will somehow see us as the "good guys" and stop supporting insurgents. On the contrary, it is based on a hard-headed recognition of certain basic facts, to wit:
(a) The enemy needs the people to act in certain ways (sympathy, acquiescence, silence, reaction to provocation) in order to survive and further his strategy. Unless the population acts in these ways, both insurgents and terrorists will wither, and the cycle of provocation and backlash that drives the sectarian conflict in Iraq will fail.
(b) The enemy is fluid, but the population is fixed. (The enemy is fluid because he has no permanent installations he needs to defend, and can always run away to fight another day. But the population is fixed, because people are tied to their homes, businesses, farms, tribal areas, relatives etc). Therefore-and this is the major change in our strategy this year-protecting and controlling the population is do-able, but destroying the enemy is not. We can drive him off from the population, then introduce local security forces, population control, and economic and
political development, and thereby "hard-wire" the enemy out of the environment, preventing his return. But chasing enemy cells around the countryside is not only a waste of time, it is precisely the sort of action he wants to provoke us into. That's why AQ cells leaving an area are not the main game-they are a distraction. We played the enemy's game for too long: not any more. Now it is time for him to play our game.
(c) Being fluid, the enemy can control his loss rate and therefore can never be eradicated by purely enemy-centric means: he can just go to ground if the pressure becomes too much. BUT, because he needs the population to act in certain ways in order to survive, we can asphyxiate him by cutting him off from the people. And he can't just "go quiet" to avoid that threat. He has either to come out of the woodwork, fight us and be destroyed, or stay quiet and accept permanent marginalization from his former population base. That puts him on the horns of a lethal dilemma (which warms my heart, quite frankly, after the cynical obscenities these irhabi gang members have inflicted on the innocent Iraqi non-combatant population). That's the intent here.
(d) The enemy may not be identifiable, but the population is. In any given area in Iraq, there are multiple threat groups but only one, or sometimes two main local population groups. We could do (and have done, in the past) enormous damage to potential supporters, "destroying the haystack to find the needle", but we don't need to: we know who the population is that we need to protect, we know where they live, and we can protect them without unbearable disruption to their lives. And more to the point, we can help them protect themselves, with our forces and ISF in overwatch.
Of course, we still go after all the terrorist and extremist leaders we can target and find, and life has become increasingly "nasty, brutish, and short" for this crowd. But we realize that this is just a shaping activity in support of the main effort, which is securing the Iraqi people from the terrorists, extremist militias, and insurgents who need them to survive.
Is there a strategic risk involved in this series of operations? Absolutely. Nothing in war is risk-free. We have chosen to accept and manage this risk, primarily because a low-risk option simply will not get us the operational effects that the strategic situation demands. We have to play the hand we have been dealt as intelligently as possible, so we're doing what has to be done. It still might not work, but "it is what it is" at this point.
So much for theory. The practice, as always, has been mixed. Personally, I think we are doing reasonably well and casualties have been lower so far than I feared. Every single loss is a tragedy.
But so far, thank God, the loss rate has not been too terrible: casualties are up in absolute terms, but down as a proportion of troops deployed (in the fourth quarter of 2006 we had about 100,000 troops in country and casualties averaged 90 deaths a month; now we have almost 160,000 troops in country but deaths are under 120 per month, much less than a proportionate increase, which would have been around 150 a month). And last year we patrolled rarely, mainly in vehicles, and got hit almost every time we went out. Now we patrol all the time, on foot, by day and night with Iraqi units normally present as partners, and the chances of getting hit are much lower on each patrol. We are finally coming out of the "defensive crouch" with which we used to approach the environment, and it is starting to pay off.
It will be a long, hard summer, with much pain and loss to come, and things could still go either way. But the population-centric approach is the beginning of a process that aims to put the overall campaign onto a sustainable long-term footing. The politics of the matter then can be decisive, provided the Iraqis use the time we have bought for them to reach the essential accommodation. The Embassy and MNF-I continue to work on these issues at the highest levels but fundamentally, this is something that only Iraqis can resolve: our role is to provide an
environment in which it becomes possible.
All this may change. These are long-term operations: the enemy will adapt and we'll have to adjust what we're doing over time. Baq'ubah, Arab Jabour and the western operations are progressing well, and additional security measures in place in Baghdad have successfully tamped down some of the spill-over of violence from other places. The relatively muted response (so far) to the second Samarra bombing is evidence of this. Time will tell, though....
Once again, none of this is intended to tell you "what to think" or "whether it's working". We're all professional adults, and you can work that out for yourself. But this does, I hope, explain some of the thinking behind what we are doing, and it may therefore make it easier for people to come to their own judgment. David Kilcullen is Senior Counterinsurgency Adviser, Multi-National Force-Iraq. These are his personal views only.
Dr David J Kilcullen
Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor to the Commanding General
Multi-National Force - Iraq U.S. Embassy Baghdad, Iraq
Small Wars Journal
Iraqi Boy Seeks Shelters Behind U.S. Soldier
Some news photos are so rich in symbolism they're almost like Renaissance paintings in how much they communicate.
Such an Associated Press photo appeared on the front page of the New York Times's national edition.
This is a picture of the scene after a bombing in Baghdad on May 29, 2007. Adding to the chaos of the bombing which killed at least 21 people and injured at least 66 was a shooter, maybe targeting people in the crowd.
Amid all the Iraqis who are running from the gunfire was a U.S. soldier, standing tall, perhaps looking in the direction of the gunshots, not apparently looking for cover. An Iraqi boy seeks shelter behind the soldier, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division.
A Letter From A Soldier In Iraq
By SPC "Doc" Shurley
2/5 Cav, 1st CB
20 February 2007
Following the article I sent about Bush's national address and troop increase, I thought it was a good idea to let you all know what the perspective is over here. I'm tired of hearing the media's skewed version, the politicians squabbling over what they read in a report, and the average ill-informed American ranting about things he knows NOTHING about.
I've been over here a couple of months now, and I've learned more about this country than a year's worth of watching CNN. I've sat in mission briefs with Colonels, talked with village elders, had tea with Sheiks, played with the kids. And I agree with the President. We need more troops and we need to take greater action.
There are 3 major factions here. The Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. The Shiites are in the majority, but Saddam was a Sunni, so he kept the Shiites in check. Everyone hates the Kurds, who are Christian and in the vast minority. The Kurds received the brunt of Saddam's murderous tyranny. Now that Saddam is gone, the Shiites have taken control of Baghdad. The largely peaceful Sunnis are now the victims of radical Shiite terrorism. So the young Sunni men, who can no longer go to work and support their families, do what all young men would do. They join the Sunni militia and battle the Shiites. And thus the country sits on the brink of civil war.
But this war is between them. They largely do not concern themselves with the U.S. troops. The insurgents who battle the Coalition Forces are from outside the country. And the biggest problem down here isn't the insurgents. Its the politicians. The local politicians. Even though the country is controlled by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, downtown Baghdad is controlled by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The Shiites follow al-Sadr and thus the Prime Minister does what al-Sadr says. Think of it as if a warlord controlled New York and blackmailed the President into diplomatic immunity.
When 1st Cav (mainly 2/5 Cav) came here in 2004, they took downtown Baghdad (known as Sadr City) by force. It cost many lives, but after a year, we held an iron grip on the largest insurgent breeding ground in Iraq. The insurgents were afraid of the Horse People, and rightfully so. But when 1st Cav left, al-Sadr influenced the Prime Minister to kick out the Coalition forces from that area of Baghdad. He said the Iraqi military forces could hold the city. But all that happened was al-Sadr regained control of his city, and it is now a heavily guarded fortress. A place where insurgents and terrorists can train and stockpile arms. And we cannot go back in because the Prime Minister won't let us. Our hands are tied.
So where does al-Sadr get his backing? From Iran and Syria. Iran supplies him with money and Syria supplies the terrorists. The insurgents that battle the Coalition Forces are from Syria, Somalia and dozens of other places outside of Iraq. Iraq is literally a terrorist breeding ground. They have terrorist and sniper schools here. Why not? They train by teaching them to attack the military forces here. And they have an endless supply of these training tools. They have factories in Sadr City to build bombs. Both Iran and Syria have openly proclaimed their number one goal in life is to destroy the great Western Devil and the little Western Devil (America and Britain). Iran wants to control Iraq to further this purpose. Al-Sadr will get to "run" the country and live like a king, but in reality Iran will pull the puppet strings. Iran will have access to thousands of radical Shiites who will do whatever al-Sadr tells them to. And Iraq will be used as a breeding ground for terrorism. Terrorism that will be targeted directly at America and Britain. The Iraq Study Group advised we should let Iran and Syria help with rebuilding? Bravo to President Bush for striking that idea down and vowing to keep those two countries out of Iraq.
So how do the Iraqi people feel about everything? Of course they don't want the Americans here. But they would far rather have us here than the Iranians. My platoon visited an average Sunni village on a patrol a few days ago. Their only source of income was to farm, as they could not go to the city to work for fear of violence. Many of the young men had already run off to join the militia for no other reason than to feed their families. They had no school or hospital near them and the community was dying. The village elder's granddaughter was very sick and I was able to treat her. Afterwards he invited me and my Platoon Leader to sit in his house and have tea with him, and we talked about the situation.
The people want peace. The Shiites kill the Sunnis because al-Sadr tells them to do so The Sunnis fight back because they have no choice. They are glad Saddam is dead (Sunni or not), but do not want to replace him with another dictator in a politician's clothes (which is what al-Sadr will become). And they especially don't want Iran in charge. Many innocent Iraqis will die if this happens. These are the words that came out of the elder's mouth:
"We do not want America here, and America does not want to be here. But you cannot leave because the militias control the country. America must use the might of its giant army and sweep through, root out and destroy the militias. Then Iraq can be free and you can leave."
What appears to have happened within our diplomatic community, is that Prime Minister finally realizes that his days are numbered. If al-Sadr remains, he will be kicked to the curb. So hopefully he is about to allow us to reenter Sadr City, root out and destroy the enemy. A dramatic troop increase will allow us to do this. And the Horse People are back and ready to finish what they started over 2 years ago.
If leave now, it will be a failure for democracy. Iran will control Iraq and the end result will be more terrorist attacks on America. The American people don't want soldiers dying over here, but its better than American civilians dying over there. Do NOT forget 9/11. They will do it again. The moment we loosen our grip on the noose, they will do it again. And the only way to root out the evil here is to stop beating around the bush, increase troops and destroy the insurgents once and for all. The Iraqi government cannot do this on their own. The Iraqi security forces are inadequate for this task. We are the only ones who can stop al-Sadr.
Feel free to share this with whomever wants a real soldier's opinion about the war.
SPC "Doc" Shurley
2/5 Cav, 1st CB
Ain't that the truth!
An Open Letter To John Kerry
By Norman E. Hooben, MSgt, USAF Ret.
31 October 2006
I saw and heard your speech today. It was suppose to an apology…and it wasn’t! You openly refused to apologize not only to the President of the United States but also to the American people and, more importantly, to the American Armed Service men and women whom you have degraded and insulted; and I might add, on many, many occasions.
The hate and vitriol you spewed forth was venomous to say the least. I would not say you have disgraced the United States Senate or the Democratic Party for they have done that on their own with the aid of Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, Charles Shuman, and Hilary Clinton, et. al. Instead, Mr. Kerry you have disgraced America! You are the epitome of a loser, but I will not get into name calling, for hateful, ignorant, jealous, and uninformed people put themselves on display. You, sir, were on display today!
I too was raised a Massachusetts Democrat and my father, in his own way, taught me how to dislike Republicans. When I matured and began to make my own informed decisions, out of respect for my father, I became an Independent. Everything you said about Republicans today was exactly what you and the Democratic Party have churned out in the last ten or more years. Do you think by using a reverse psychology that truly informed Americans couldn’t see through your façade?
You call yourself a Catholic, yet you commit what some would call the paramount of all of the capital sins; the sin of “hate”. Calling or inferring that the President is a liar is not only disrespectful but also contradictory to what you and the Democratic Party have advocated to when Mr. Clinton was in the White House. Lying is also a sin…but it would appear not so when you and the others stated above commit such.
You continue to twist words and ideology to fit your own political agenda.
I ask you, point blank, “What about America’s agenda?” If you were truly patriotic, you would be aiding President Bush with “your plan” to end the war in Iraq. President Bush has tried and tried again and again to unite the political parties but you and your anti-American partners continue with your detestation game. What is your plan? I am an American and I want to know…now, not after more men die waiting for your brilliance!
Norman E. Hooben
MSgt, USAF, Retired
The Day of Reckoning
By Lt. Gen. Charles Cooper, USMC (Ret.), from his book "Cheers and Tears."
The Day It Became the Longest War
"The President will see you at two o'clock."
It was a beautiful fall day in November of 1965, early in the Vietnam
War-too beautiful a day to be what many of us, anticipating it, had
been calling "the day of reckoning." We didn't know how accurate
that label would be.
The Pentagon is a busy place. Its workday starts early-especially
if, as the expression goes, "there's a war on." By seven o'clock,
the staff of Admiral David L. McDonald, the Navy's senior admiral and
Chief of Naval Operations, had started to work. Shortly after seven,
Admiral McDonald arrived and began making final preparations for a
meeting with President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
The Vietnam War was in its first year, and its uncertain direction
troubled Admiral McDonald and the other service chiefs. They'd had a
number of disagreements with Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara
about strategy, and had finally requested a private meeting with the
Commander in Chief-a perfectly legitimate procedure. Now, after many
delays, the Joint Chiefs were finally to have that meeting. They
hoped it would determine whether the US military would continue its
seemingly directionless buildup to fight a protracted ground war, or
take bold measures that would bring the war to an early and
victorious end. The bold measures they would propose were to apply
massive air power to the head of the enemy, Hanoi, and to close North
Vietnam's harbors by mining them.
The situation was not a simple one, and for several reasons. The
most important reason was that North Vietnam's neighbor to the north
was communist China. Only 12 years had passed since the Korean War
had ended in stalemate. The aggressors in that war had been the
North Koreans. When the North Koreans' defeat had appeared to be
inevitable, communist China had sent hundreds of thousands of its
Peoples' Liberation Army "volunteers" to the rescue.
Now, in this new war, the North Vietnamese aggressor had the logistic
support of the Soviet Union and, more to the point, of neighboring
communist China. Although we had the air and naval forces with which
to paralyze North Vietnam, we had to consider the possible reactions
of the Chinese and the Russians.
Both China and the Soviet Union had pledged to support North Vietnam
in the "war of national liberation" it was fighting to reunite the
divided country, and both had the wherewithal to cause major
problems. An important unknown was what the Russians would do if
prevented from delivering goods to their communist protege in
Hanoi. A more important question concerned communist China,
next-door neighbor to North Vietnam. How would the Chinese react to
a massive pummeling of their ally? More specifically, would they
enter the war as they had done in North Korea? Or would they let the
Vietnamese, for centuries a traditional enemy, fend for
themselves? The service chiefs had considered these and similar
questions, and had also asked the Central Intelligence Agency for
answers and estimates.
The CIA was of little help, though it produced reams of text,
executive summaries of the texts, and briefs of the executive
summaries-all top secret, all extremely sensitive, and all of little
use. The principal conclusion was that it was impossible to predict
with any accuracy what the Chinese or Russians might do.
Despite the lack of a clear-cut intelligence estimate, Admiral
McDonald and the other Joint Chiefs did what they were paid to do and
reached a conclusion. They decided unanimously that the risk of the
Chinese or Soviets reacting to massive US measures taken in North
Vietnam was acceptably low, but only if we acted without
delay. Unfortunately, the Secretary of Defense and his coterie of
civilian "whiz kids" did not agree with the Joint Chiefs, and
McNamara and his people were the ones who were actually steering
military strategy. In the view of the Joint Chiefs, the United
States was piling on forces in Vietnam without understanding the
consequences. In the view of McNamara and his civilian team, we were
doing the right thing. This was the fundamental dispute that had
caused the Chiefs to request the seldom-used private audience with
the Commander in Chief in order to present their military
recommendations directly to him. McNamara had finally granted their request.
The 1965 Joint Chiefs of Staff had ample combat experience. Each was
serving in his third war. The Chairman was General Earle Wheeler, US
Army, highly regarded by the other members.
General Harold Johnson was the Army Chief of Staff. A World War II
prisoner of the Japanese, he was a soft-spoken, even-tempered, deeply
General John P. McConnell, Air Force Chief of Staff, was a native of
Arkansas and a 1932 graduate of West Point.
The Commandant of the Marine Corps was General Wallace M. Greene,
Jr., a slim, short, all-business Marine. General Greene was a Naval
Academy graduate and a zealous protector of the Marine Corps concept
of controlling its own air resources as part of an integrated air-ground
Last and by no means least was Admiral McDonald, a Georgia minister's
son, also a Naval Academy graduate, and a naval aviator. While
Admiral McDonald was a most capable leader, he was also a reluctant
warrior. He did not like what he saw emerging as a national
commitment. He did not really want the US to get involved with land
warfare, believing as he did that the Navy could apply sea power
against North Vietnam very effectively by mining, blockading, and
assisting in a bombing campaign, and in this way help to bring the
war to a swift and satisfactory conclusion.
The Joint Chiefs intended that the prime topics of the meeting with
the President would be naval matters-the mining and blockading of the
port of Haiphong and naval support of a bombing campaign aimed at
Hanoi. For that reason, the Navy was to furnish a briefing map, and
that became my responsibility. We mounted a suitable map on a large
piece of plywood, then coated it with clear acetate so that the
chiefs could mark on it with grease pencils during the
discussion. The whole thing weighed about 30 pounds.
The Military Office at the White House agreed to set up an easel in
the Oval Office to hold the map. I would accompany Admiral McDonald
to the White House with the map, put the map in place when the
meeting started, then get out. There would be no strap-hangers at
the military summit meeting with Lyndon Johnson.
The map and I joined Admiral McDonald in his staff car for the short
drive to the White House, a drive that was memorable only because of
the silence. My admiral was totally preoccupied.
The chiefs' appointment with the President was for two o'clock, and
Admiral McDonald and I arrived about 20 minutes early. The chiefs
were ushered into a fairly large room across the hall from the Oval
Office. I propped the map board on the arms of a fancy chair where
all could view it, left two of the grease pencils in the tray
attached to the bottom of the board, and stepped out into the
corridor. One of the chiefs shut the door, and they conferred in
private until someone on the White House staff interrupted them about
fifteen minutes later. As they came out, I retrieved the map, then
joined them in the corridor outside the President's office.
Precisely at two o'clock President Johnson emerged from the Oval
Office and greeted the chiefs. He was all charm. He was also
big: at three or more inches over six feet tall and something on the
order of 250 pounds, he was bigger than any of the chiefs. He
personally ushered them into his office, all the while delivering
gracious and solicitous comments with a Texas accent far more
pronounced than the one that came through when he spoke on
television. Holding the map board as the chiefs entered, I peered
between them, trying to find the easel. There was none. The
President looked at me, grasped the situation at once, and invited me
in, adding, "You can stand right over here." I had become an
easel-one with eyes and ears.
To the right of the door, not far inside the office, large windows
framed evergreen bushes growing in a nearby garden. The President's
desk and several chairs were farther in, diagonally across the room
from the windows. The President positioned me near the windows, then
arranged the chiefs in a semicircle in front of the map and its human
easel. He did not offer them seats: they stood, with those who were
to speak-Wheeler, McDonald, and McConnell-standing nearest the
President. Paradoxically, the two whose services were most affected
by a continuation of the ground buildup in Vietnam-Generals Johnson
and Greene-stood farthest from the President. President Johnson stood
nearest the door, about five feet from the map.
In retrospect, the setup-the failure to have an easel in place, the
positioning of the chiefs on the outer fringe of the office, the lack
of seating-did not augur well. The chiefs had expected the meeting
to be a short one, and it met that expectation. They also expected
it to be of momentous import, and it met that expectation,
too. Unfortunately, it also proved to be a meeting that was critical
to the proper pursuit of what was to become the longest, most
divisive, and least conclusive war in our nation's history-a war that
almost tore the nation apart.
As General Wheeler started talking, President Johnson peered at the
map. In five minutes or so, the general summarized our entry into
Vietnam, the current status of forces, and the purpose of the
meeting. Then he thanked the President for having given his senior
military advisers the opportunity to present their opinions and
recommendations. Finally, he noted that although Secretary McNamara
did not subscribe to their views, he did agree that a
presidential-level decision was required. President Johnson, arms
crossed, seemed to be listening carefully.
The essence of General Wheeler's presentation was that we had come to
an early moment of truth in our ever-increasing Vietnam
involvement. We had to start using our principal strengths-air and
naval power-to punish the North Vietnamese, or we would risk becoming
involved in another protracted Asian ground war with no prospects of
a satisfactory solution. Speaking for the chiefs, General Wheeler
offered a bold course of action that would avoid protracted land
warfare. He proposed that we isolate the major port of Haiphong
through naval mining, blockade the rest of the North Vietnamese
coastline, and simultaneously start bombing Hanoi with B-52's.
General Wheeler then asked Admiral McDonald to describe how the Navy
and Air Force would combine forces to mine the waters off Haiphong
and establish a naval blockade. When Admiral McDonald finished,
General McConnell added that speed of execution would be essential,
and that we would have to make the North Vietnamese believe that we
would increase the level of punishment if they did not sue for peace.
Normally, time dims our memories-but it hasn't dimmed this one. My
memory of Lyndon Johnson on that day remains crystal clear. While
General Wheeler, Admiral McDonald, and General McConnell spoke, he
seemed to be listening closely, communicating only with an occasional
nod. When General McConnell finished, General Wheeler asked the
President if he had any questions. Johnson waited a moment or so,
then turned to Generals Johnson and Greene, who had remained silent
during the briefing, and asked, "Do you fully support these
ideas?" He followed with the thought that it was they who were
providing the ground troops, in effect acknowledging that the Army
and the Marines were the services that had most to gain or lose as a
result of this discussion. Both generals indicated their agreement
with the proposal. Seemingly deep in thought, President Johnson
turned his back on them for a minute or so, then suddenly discarding
the calm, patient demeanor he had maintained throughout the meeting,
whirled to face them and exploded.
I almost dropped the map. He screamed obscenities, he cursed them
personally, he ridiculed them for coming to his office with their
"military advice." Noting that it was he who was carrying the weight
of the free world on his shoulders, he called them filthy
names-shitheads, dumb shits, pompous assholes-and used "the F-word"
as an adjective more freely than a Marine in boot camp would use
it. He then accused them of trying to pass the buck for World War
III to him. It was unnerving, degrading.
After the tantrum, he resumed the calm, relaxed manner he had
displayed earlier and again folded his arms. It was as though he had
punished them, cowed them, and would now control them. Using
soft-spoken profanities, he said something to the effect that they
all knew now that he did not care about their military advice. After
disparaging their abilities, he added that he did expect their help.
He suggested that each one of them change places with him and assume
that five incompetents had just made these "military
recommendations." He told them that he was going to let them go
through what he had to go through when idiots gave him stupid advice,
adding that he had the whole damn world to worry about, and it was
time to "see what kind of guts you have." He paused, as if to let it
sink in. The silence was like a palpable solid, the tension like
that in a drumhead. After thirty or forty seconds of this, he turned
to General Wheeler and demanded that Wheeler say what he would do if
he were the President of the United States.
General Wheeler took a deep breath before answering. He was not an
easy man to shake: his calm response set the tone for the
others. He had known coming in, as had the others, that Lyndon
Johnson was an exceptionally strong personality, and a venal and
vindictive man as well. He had known that the stakes were high, and
now realized that McNamara had prepared Johnson carefully for this
meeting, which had been a charade.
Looking President Johnson squarely in the eye, General Wheeler told
him that he understood the tremendous pressure and sense of
responsibility Johnson felt. He added that probably no other
President in history had had to make a decision of this importance,
and further cushioned his remarks by saying that no matter how much
about the presidency he did understand, there were many things about
it that only one human being could ever understand. General Wheeler
closed his remarks by saying something very close to this: "You, Mr.
President, are that one human being. I cannot take your place, think
your thoughts, know all you know, and tell you what I would do if I
were you. I can't do it, Mr. President. No man can honestly do
it. Respectfully, sir, it is your decision and yours alone."
Apparently unmoved, Johnson asked each of the other Chiefs the same
question. One at a time, they supported General Wheeler and his
rationale. By now, my arms felt as though they were about to
break. The map seemed to weigh a ton, but the end appeared to be
near. General Greene was the last to speak.
When General Greene finished, President Johnson, who was nothing if
not a skilled actor, looked sad for a moment, then suddenly erupted
again, yelling and cursing, again using language that even a Marine
seldom hears. He told them he was disgusted with their naive
approach, and that he was not going to let some military idiots talk
him into World War III. He ended the conference by shouting "Get the
hell out of my office!"
The Joint Chiefs of Staff had done their duty. They knew that the
nation was making a strategic military error, and despite the rebuffs
of their civilian masters in the Pentagon, they had insisted on
presenting the problem as they saw it to the highest authority and
recommending solutions. They had done so, and they had been
rebuffed. That authority had not only rejected their solutions, but
had also insulted and demeaned them. As Admiral McDonald and I drove
back to the Pentagon, he turned to me and said that he had known
tough days in his life, and sad ones as well, but ". . . this has got
to have been the worst experience I could ever imagine."
The US involvement in Vietnam lasted another ten years. The irony is
that it began to end only when President Richard Nixon, after some
backstage maneuvering on the international scene, did precisely what
the Joint Chiefs of Staff had recommended to President Johnson in
1965. Why had Johnson not only dismissed their recommendations, but
also ridiculed them? It must have been that Johnson had lacked
something. Maybe it was foresight or boldness. Maybe it was the
sophistication and understanding it took to deal with complex
international issues. Or, since he was clearly a bully, maybe what
he lacked was courage. We will never know. But had General Wheeler
and the others received a fair hearing, and had their recommendations
received serious study, the United States may well have saved the
lives of most of its more than 55,000 sons who died in a war that its
major architect, Robert Strange McNamara, now considers to have been
a tragic mistake.
Appeasement Never Works
By Ed Koch
Most newspapers have published leaked conclusions from a classified National Intelligence Estimate that said the war in Iraq is fueling a rise in global Islamic terrorism. But only one, at least in New York City, has balanced these conclusions against the contents of a letter "found in the headquarters of Al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, after he was killed on June 7. The letter was sent to Zarqawi by a senior Al Qaeda leader who signs his name simply 'Atiyah.' He complains that Al Qaeda is weak both in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and in Iraq." In the letter, 'Atiyan' writes, "Know that we, like all the Mujahadin, are still weak. We are in the stage of weakness and a state of paucity. We have not yet reached a level of stability. We have no alternative but to not squander any element of the foundations of strength, or any helper or supporter." The paper carrying the article was The New York Sun.
The reason I supported President Bush's reelection two years ago was that I believed the Democratic leadership's approach on the war in Iraq was simply wrong. I said I did not think they had the resolve necessary to carry on this battle against an enemy that is willing to wage a war against us for decades to come.
While the NIE conclusions are serious and alarming, e.g., "Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion," more important in evaluating success or failure in the war should be the admissions against their interest of the enemy, especially as stated in their internal documents.
In addition, in determining whether or not to remain in Iraq and pursue the enemy there, The New York Sun points out, "...the key judgment of the declassified elements of the [NIE] document also says that winning the war in Iraq would likely reverse the recruitment effect. 'The Iraq conflict has become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of the U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement,' it says. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.'"
It makes no difference in determining our current position whether we were right or wrong to go into Iraq in 2003; we are now there. To those who say, if we were wrong initially, we can never justify staying, I say, ridiculous. The enemy is worldwide Islamic terrorism, and its center today is Iraq. If we were to leave Iraq, would al-Qaeda and other groups allied with it stop their attacks on Americans? Certainly not. We were not in Iraq, nor was George W. Bush our President, when in 1993 Islamic terrorists bombed the World Trade Center killing six and injuring one thousand people; when Islamic terrorists blew up the U.S.S. Cole, killing 13 and injuring 33; when they blew up U.S. Army barracks in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 and injuring 515; when they blew up two American embassies in Africa, causing 257 deaths and 5,000 injuries. We were not in Iraq, and Bush was the President, when Islamic terrorists hijacked and drove passenger planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001, killing some 3,000 people.
The Islamic terrorists have declared their ultimate goals to include the destruction of the U.S. and the takeover of such moderate Arab states as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf countries. Why do we continue to refuse to believe their stated aims? They couldn't be more clear than Musab al-Zarqawi, the number one al-Qaeda operative in Iraq before he was killed by a U.S. airstrike, who stated before his death, "Killing the infidels is our religion, slaughtering them is our religion, until they convert to Islam or pay us tribute."
If we withdraw from Iraq, we would only embolden al-Qaeda and its allies. Sadly, some of our European allies have already caved to the jihadists. After Islamic terrorists blew up the Madrid commuter trains, killing 191 and injuring 1,500, Spain's government withdrew its soldiers from Iraq. England, a part of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, had its subways and a bus bombed with 52 dead and 700 injured. Because Tony Blair is still Prime Minister, England has not yet succumbed to the terrorists' demands to withdraw from Iraq. However, many Laborites have demanded Blair's head and he has agreed to resign within a year. I believe that the future leaders of the Labor Party have decided they will withdraw from Iraq in order to appease the Islamic terrorists. The Conservative party, no longer led by Margaret Thatcher, a great friend of the U.S., appears headed down the same appeasement path as the New Labor Party. I hope I am in error in that conclusion. France has already flinched in the face of threats by the Iranian government, led by its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and has abandoned efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring the nuclear bomb. Iran has publicly stated its intentions -- when it has the bomb. Ahmadinejad has said, Israel must be "wiped off the map," and "...God willing, with the force of God behind it, we shall soon experience a world without the United States and Zionism," according to a quote published by Iran's state news outlet.
So, to sum up, using an old boxing expression, "You can run, but you can't hide." I believe it makes no sense to run from the terrorists and wait for them to find us in Fortress America, and then seek to repel them. The battle must be taken to them in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, wherever they threaten the free world. This is without a doubt a war to defend the free world and Western civilization, just as important to our survival as World War II. Unlike the latter, which for us lasted four years, this war will go on for decades.
The war has already taken an enormous toll on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as all the innocent Iraqi and Afghan civilian lives that have been lost. We cannot let the sacrifices of the fallen and the living be in vain.
How long will it be before we all awaken to the inherent danger facing us? Appeasement never works. It only encourages new and escalating demands.
Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.
Article from realclearpolitics.com
An Honest Confession by an American Coward
by Pat Conroy
Pat Conroy's novels include The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, and Beach Music. He lives on Fripp Island, South Carolina.
This essay is from his forthcoming book, My Losing Season.
The true things always ambush me on the road and take me by surprise when I am drifting down the light of placid days, careless about flanks and rearguard actions. I was not looking for a true thing to come upon me in the state of New Jersey. Nothing has ever happened to me in New Jersey. But came it did, and it came to stay.
In the past four years I have been interviewing my teammates on the 1966-67 basketball team at the Citadel for a book I'm writing. For the most part, this has been like buying back a part of my past that I had mislaid or shut out of my life. At first I thought I was writing about being young and frisky and able to run up and down a court all day long, but lately I realized I came to this book because I needed to come to grips with being middle-aged and having ripened into a gray-haired man you could not trust to handle the ball on a fast break.
When I visited my old teammate Al Kroboth's house in New Jersey, I spent the first hours quizzing him about his memories of games and practices and the screams of coaches that had echoed in field houses more than 30 years before. Al had been a splendid forward-center for the Citadel; at 6 feet 5 inches and carrying 220 pounds, he played with indefatigable energy and enthusiasm. For most of his senior year, he led the nation in field-goal percentage, with UCLA center Lew Alcindor hot on his trail. Al was a battler and a brawler and a scrapper from the day he first stepped in as a Green Weenie as a sophomore to the day he graduated. After we talked basketball, we came to a subject I dreaded to bring up with Al, but which lay between us and would not lie still.
"Al, you know I was a draft dodger and antiwar demonstrator."
"That's what I heard, Conroy," Al said. "I have nothing against what you did, but I did what I thought was right."
"Tell me about Vietnam, big Al. Tell me what happened to you," I said.
On his seventh mission as a navigator in an A-6 for Major Leonard Robertson, Al was getting ready to deliver their payload when the fighter-bomber was hit by enemy fire. Though Al has no memory of it, he punched out somewhere in the middle of the ill-fated dive and lost consciousness. He doesn't know if he was unconscious for six hours or six days, nor does he know what happened to Major Robertson (whose name is engraved on the Wall in Washington and on the MIA bracelet Al wears).
When Al awoke, he couldn't move. A Viet Cong soldier held an AK-47 to his head. His back and his neck were broken, and he had shattered his left scapula in the fall. When he was well enough to get to his feet (he still can't recall how much time had passed), two armed Viet Cong led Al from the jungles of South Vietnam to a prison in Hanoi. The journey took three months. Al Kroboth walked barefooted through the most impassable terrain in Vietnam, and he did it sometimes in the dead of night. He bathed when it rained, and he slept in bomb craters with his two Viet Cong captors. As they moved farther north, infections began to erupt on his body, and his legs were covered with leeches picked up while crossing the rice paddies.
At the very time of Al's walk, I had a small role in organizing the only antiwar demonstration ever held in Beaufort, South Carolina, the home of Parris Island and the Marine Corps Air Station. In a Marine Corps town at that time, it was difficult to come up with a quorum of people who had even minor disagreements about the Vietnam War. But my small group managed to attract a crowd of about 150 to Beaufort's waterfront. With my mother and my wife on either side of me, we listened to the featured speaker, Dr. Howard Levy, suggest to the very few young enlisted Marines present that if they get sent to Vietnam, here's how they can help end this war: Roll a grenade under your officer's bunk when he's asleep in his tent. It's called fragging and is becoming more and more popular with the ground troops who know this war is bullshit. I was enraged by the suggestion. At that very moment my father, a Marine officer, was asleep in Vietnam. But in 1972, at the age of 27, I thought I was serving America's interests by pointing out what massive flaws and miscalculations and corruptions had led her to conduct a ground war in Southeast Asia.
In the meantime, Al and his captors had finally arrived in the North, and the Viet Cong traded him to North Vietnamese soldiers for the final leg of the trip to Hanoi. Many times when they stopped to rest for the night, the local villagers tried to kill him. His captors wired his hands behind his back at night, so he trained himself to sleep in the center of huts when the villagers began sticking knives and bayonets into the thin walls.
Following the U.S. air raids, old women would come into the huts to excrete on him and yank out hunks of his hair. After the nightmare journey of his walk north, Al was relieved when his guards finally delivered him to the POW camp in Hanoi and the cell door locked behind him.
It was at the camp that Al began to die. He threw up every meal he ate and before long was misidentified as the oldest American soldier in the prison because his appearance was so gaunt and skeletal. But the extraordinary camaraderie among fellow prisoners that sprang up in all the POW camps caught fire in Al, and did so in time to save his life.
When I was demonstrating in America against Nixon and the Christmas bombings in Hanoi, Al and his fellow prisoners were holding hands under the full fury of those bombings, singing "God Bless America." It was those bombs that convinced Hanoi they would do well to release the American POWs, including my college teammate. When he told me about the C-141 landing in Hanoi to pick up the prisoners, Al said he felt no emotion, none at all, until he saw the giant American flag painted on the plane's tail. I stopped writing as Al wept over the memory of that flag on that plane, on that morning, during that time in the life of America.
It was that same long night, after listening to Al's story, that I began to make judgments about how I had conducted myself during the Vietnam War.
In the darkness of the sleeping Kroboth household, lying in the third-floor guest bedroom, I began to assess my role as a citizen in the '60s, when my country called my name and I shot her the bird. Unlike the stupid boys who wrapped themselves in Viet Cong flags and burned the American one, I knew how to demonstrate against the war without flirting with treason or astonishingly bad taste. I had come directly from the warrior culture of this country and I knew how to act.
But in the 25 years that have passed since South Vietnam fell, I have immersed myself in the study of totalitarianism during the unspeakable century we just left behind. I have questioned survivors of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, talked to Italians who told me tales of the Nazi occupation, French partisans who had counted German tanks in the forests of Normandy, and officers who survived the Bataan Death March. I quiz journalists returning from wars in Bosnia, the Sudan, the Congo, Angola, Indonesia, Guatemala, San Salvador, Chile, Northern Ireland, Algeria.
As I lay sleepless, I realized I'd done all this research to better understand my country. I now revere words like democracy, freedom, the right to vote, and the grandeur of the extraordinary vision of the founding fathers. Do I see America's flaws? Of course. But I now can honor her basic, incorruptible virtues, the ones that let me walk the streets screaming my ass off that my country had no idea what it was doing in South Vietnam. My country let me scream to my heart's content - the same country that produced both Al Kroboth and me.
Now, at this moment in New Jersey, I come to a conclusion about my actions as a young man when Vietnam was a dirty word to me. I wish I'd led a platoon of Marines in Vietnam. I would like to think I would have trained my troops well and that the Viet Cong would have had their hands full if they entered a firefight with us. From the day of my birth, I was programmed to enter the Marine Corps. I was the son of a Marine fighter pilot, and I had grown up on Marine bases where I had watched the men of the corps perform simulated war games in the forests of my childhood. That a novelist and poet bloomed darkly in the house of Santini strikes me as a remarkable irony. My mother and father had raised me to be an Al Kroboth, and during the Vietnam era they watched in horror as I metamorphosed into another breed of fanatic entirely. I understand now that I should have protested the war after my return from Vietnam, after I had done my duty for my country. I have come to a conclusion about my country that I knew then in my bones but lacked the courage to act on: America is good enough to die for even when she is wrong.
I looked for some conclusion, a summation of this trip to my teammate's house. I wanted to come to the single right thing, a true thing that I may not like but that I could live with. After hearing Al Kroboth's story of his walk across Vietnam and his brutal imprisonment in the North, I found myself passing harrowing, remorseless judgment on myself. I had not turned out to be the man I had once envisioned myself to be. I thought I would be the kind of man that America could point to and say, "There. That's the guy. That's the one who got it right. The whole package. The one I can depend on."
It had never once occurred to me that I would find myself in the position I did on that night in Al Kroboth's house in Roselle, New Jersey: an American coward spending the night with an American hero.