The Fog Of War


A reader writes:

Keep going on the white lies, Andrew. Here is one that is propagated by the left and the right: It is not an occupation of a sovereign country, dear, it is a front in the war an terrorism.

Here is one way to test if you think the occupation of Iraq is at all part of a war on terrorism: You are the commander in chief. Your general comes to and says "I think the best tactic to employ in the WOT is to occupy a sovereign country and tie up 66 percent of our military for years enforcing that occupation." Would you follow that advice?

My little brother is in Diyala province right now. I had to call my Dad and calm him down after the car bombing the other night. This gives one great clarity. I ask myself if my brother is in Iraq to fight a war or to enforce an occupation?  When he tells me what he does all day and the missions he goes on it is very, very clear what he is doing there. He is there to enforce an occupation. I challenge anyone to show me any evidence that he, or any of our soldiers,  is there to fight a war. Evidence, not rhetoric. And saying we are fighting people who were born in that sovereign country and don't like it occupied doesn't count as fighting a war. That is enforcing an occupation.

When do we start to doubt that we are at war with anyone at all?

A friend of mine sat me down last night over a glass of wine and made me watch "The Fog of War", the McNamara documentary that won an Oscar a few years ago. What it brought home was how the war in Vietnam became a moving target: what we had gone there to stop in the first place had become altered by our presence, until the very notion of what victory or defeat meant became harder and harder to define. I scoffed at Vietnam comparisons before. And many are still irrelevant. But this one isn't: the fog of what we're doing there and why.

In supporting this war, I did so for a few central reasons: 1) the possibility of Saddam handing over WMDs to Islamist terrorists; 2) the removal of an evil tyrant in violation of umpteen UN resolutions; 3) the establishment of some kind of democratic space within the Middle East to counter the cycle of autocracy and Islamism that was becoming a clear and present danger to the U.S. We have done 1 and 2 - although we discovered that 1 was nowhere near as threatening as we assumed. But in doing 1 and 2 incompetently, we have made 3 more remote and have transformed the war into one in which the U.S. is almost unilaterally and indefinitely occupying a sovereign Muslim country. There may be aspects of this that are good. I have no doubt that Baghdad is more peaceful because of the surge. I'm eager to publish photos like the one above to show that not everyone is hostile to the US there, although many obviously are.

But wars require clarity. We have two clear options: ramp up or ramp down. We've picked a middle option: ramp up a bit and hope we will then be able to ramp down a bit. I see no reason to believe that this can achieve anything close to our original objectives within the next six months, and no reason to believe that an indefinite occupation won't create as many problems as it solves. We are occupying a sovereign Muslim country indefinitely, against the wishes of a clear majority of Iraqis and Americans. That's the simple fact we have to remember. From everything we have discovered so far, that can't and won't work.

So we should leave. Soon. Let the Shia and tribal leaders and the Kurds confront al Qaeda. It's about time they did. And they have as good a reason as we do and far better knowledge of the enemy and the terrain. Until they own this war against Islamist terror, it won't be won. And by continuing to stay, we postpone the day when they have to fight for their own country and their own religion - and win the war we cannot win for them.

(Photo: School children react to U.S. Army Specialist Ron Kreiger from Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania of the D-CO 2/325 AIR 82nd Airborne Division visiting their school April 25, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq. The soldiers, with the help of Iraqi police, delivered school supplies to the local schools. The soldiers are part of the U.S. military surge that is intended to help control the violence in the city. By Joe Raedle/Getty Images)