Marine Pfc. Willis Tomblin, of Jackson, Ohio, reads mail from home
and then burns it to prevent insurgents from collecting personal information
about him, at his base in Karabilah, Iraq, seven miles from Syria,
Friday, Dec. 9, 2005.
Why we can’t win
piece on the growing similarities
between Iraq and Vietnam elicited some interesting comments.
James lays a host of post-Vietnam geo-political ills to our precipitous
while Chad notes the presence of oil in Iraq makes it a different case
than Vietnam, which was purely political.
We couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, the presence
of so much crucial oil in Iraq has maneuvered us into a situation were
we cannot win and we cannot walk away.
The reason we cannot win in Iraq is a simple historical
fact, which has been well known since the Roman Empire regularly had
to put down tax rebellions and defiant vassal states. After winning
there are only two ways to deal with your defeated enemy. One, install
a government more aligned with your aims and requirements, either
a puppet government or a sympathetic local faction, and then leave. Two
utterly destroy the people, culture and infrastructure of the country
to a degree that insures they will never bother you again. That
includes killing men, raping women, razing villages, burning houses,
slaughtering livestock and basically not leaving stone piled on stone.
Occupation simply doesn’t work, and never has, except
in extremely short term emergency situations. ANY group of human
beings will instinctually resist and eventually hate outsiders
who come armed into their territory and tell them what to do, even if
they arrive as saviors from some greater evil. The longer the outsiders
stay, the more they will he hated. Resistance
will lead to attacks. Attacks will lead to self-defense, which
will produce brutality and non-combatant casualties. This in turn will
martyrs, holy warriors, suicide bombers, orphaned children burning with
a white hot flame and dedicating their entire existence to making the
Meanwhile our own troops are hunted like dangerous game,
brutalized themselves by fear, paranoia and the brutality with which
they are forced to respond. They are shot at, blown up, hunted, haunted
and vilified, and then they are dumped back on America’s streets. The
full fruit of this misbegotten policy will not be borne for many years
We are convinced that in today’s world not only are
occupations doomed, but even prolonged military operations will prove
impossible to sustain. The reason is obvious – public exposure.
War used to be fought under the cover of distance and
darkness. "The fog of war" was more a lack of public access, and
of reliable real-time information on what was happening on the battlefield. During
our War of Independence it took at least 6 weeks for the news of each
to get back to the
King of England and the British public, and at least as long for their
King George to get his orders back to his troops in the field. Even during
World War II
the public got it’s war news from newspapers days later, and their images
from newsreels which were weeks old.
Starting with Vietnam, Americans found that their wars
were in their face, or at least in their living rooms. In addition to
the immediacy of the moving images invading their homes every evening,
the monumental war machine was leaking like a sieve. The Pentagon Papers
exposed the rotten underpinnings of the war, and every time some particularly
sordid episode of war making turned up, like the Mai Lai massacre, there
seemed to be witnesses, cameras, and recordings around.
Today, things are a thousand times worse. Cameras are
in every pocket and on every wall, and leaks more common than legitimate
news sources. The pictures smuggled out of Abu
Ghraib prison and the
flag-draped coffins were the forbidden images of last year. Now,
the government is trying to keep the lid on its Gulag of secret prisons
in Europe and the Middle East. Here’s betting that 2006 sees the
first smuggled images and first-hand accounts from "Inside the CIA’s
Secret Torture Prison". An insatiable public needs to know.
Electronic news collection and distribution, combined
with the blogosphere and citizen journalism, have created a situation
in which it is almost impossible for an organization as large and unwieldy
as the US government to keep anything secret.
War is horrible – always has been. But in the
past it was possible to keep it at arms length, and to romanticize and
paint it in patriotism and heroism. The reality of modern warfare
and reporting is that in anything slower than a lightning blitzkrieg
like the initial attack on Iraq it is
orchestrate the press coverage
– and normal people will not abide with graphic evidence of the savagery
and ugliness of warfare in their private lives on a daily basis.
The Israelis essayed the only winning format for modern
warfare in the Six-Day War of 1967. Anything much longer than that is doomed
to failure. It is becoming increasingly clear that the winning play would have been
to topple Saddam, and then withdraw in a parade of praise and bouquets,
to a nearby redoubt like Kuwait (we didn’t save it for nothing, after
all) ready to reintervene should a similar threat to our legitimate interests
arise in the future.
We can’t win on the ground in Iraq, and the longer we
stick it out the more we will be hated, vilified and estranged from
we can’t afford to leave, either. Tomorrow we will try to explain
why, and the answer might surprise you.