On Native Ground
IS IT TOO LATE TO DECLARE VICTORY AND GET OUT?
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- President Bush talked incessantly about freedom in his second Inaugural Address. He did this as security personnel dragged away protesters and our nation's capital was transformed into a garrison bristling with thousands of soldiers, cops and Secret Service agents.
That would have been the most ironic thing about the inauguration, except for the speech. In the space of about 20 minutes, the President used the word "freedom" 27 times in his speech and "liberty" 15 times. It's not a surprise that the words "war," "Iraq," "Iran" and "terror" were not used at all.
We know why President Bush didn't want to specifically talk about Iraq or the "war on terror." The gap between the high-minded rhetoric and the sordid reality is just too large to overcome, even for the brazen liars that make up the Bush administration.
The President is asking for another $80 billion to pay for the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations. This amount also includes $1.5 billion to build a new embassy in Iraq, the most expensive embassy the United States has ever built anywhere.
Of course, it costs a lot to build a highly-fortified building in a war zone, which is what Iraq will continue to be as long as U.S. troops occupy that country.
If Congress approves Bush's request, the price tag for the Iraq war will approach nearly $300 billion. Remember how loudly the Bush administration shouted down the initial estimates in 2002 that the war on Iraq would cost upwards of $200 billion? The war would pay for itself, they said.
The war would be a cakewalk, they said.
Iraq would be transformed into a showcase of democracy.
It's not even close.
But the lies keep on coming, even as Iraq prepares for an sham election that will ultimately do nothing to promote peace and stability.
Might it be time to admit that things aren't working out as planned?
The Vietnam analogy is at times overworked when describing Iraq, but the parallels are many.
The scenes from Fallujah last fall looked much like Hue in 1968, the Vietnamese city that was famously destroyed in order to save it. How many people in Fallujah or Samarra or Ramadi think the U.S. troops are liberators?
The U.S. commanders talk about how many insurgents they've killed in Iraq, echoing the body counts of the Vietnam era. But there are now so many recruits to the insurgent cause - estimated at more than 200,000 - that they outnumber the U.S. troops by a wide margin.
It took a generation to rebuild the Army's morale and professionalism after it was misused so badly in Vietnam. Considering how much the current military has to do with so few resources, it may take years for today's Army to recover from the Iraq experience.
The casualty figures - nearly 1,400 killed and nearly 11,000 wounded in action - approximate the first year of heavy combat in Vietnam in 1965. More than half of the wounded are so badly maimed that they can't return to duty.
There were elections in Vietnam during the war, but the victors were rightly seen as puppets of the United States, lacking any sort of legitimacy. The Jan. 30 election in Iraq will be seen in the same light as long as nearly 130,000 U.S. soldiers are in the country. The taint of occupation will continue to permeate Iraq.
The United States is now in a position where it can't declare victory and get out of Iraq after the Jan. 30 election, as some have suggested. Iraq is a disaster area, both economically and politically. But getting out is about the only chance Iraq has of achieving stability and unity.
Joseph Galloway knows the parallels between Vietnam and Iraq too well. He did four tours as a reporter in Vietnam, including the bloody Ia Drang battle in 1965 that was later immortalized in a book he co-authored, "We Were Soldiers Once...And Young." He is now the senior military correspondent for the Knight-Ridder newspapers and was an embedded reporter in the 2003 Iraq invasion.
In a column Galloway wrote on Jan. 10, he stated that if the United States continues its current course in Iraq, "we're likely doomed to an even bloodier and more costly defeat in a country divided along ethnic and religious fault lines and headed toward civil war. ... The problem is there is no way we can win - defeat the insurgents and install a stable, democratic, friendly government - and bad things are going to happen anyway. There is no way Americans are willing to pay the price even of stalemate, never mind an unattainable victory."
Naturally, Galloway got a lot of hate mail for writing this. But Galloway recently told the newspaper trade magazine Editor & Publisher that he got just as much positive feedback.
"When I go to Walter Reed Hospital, where some of the 10,000 wounded from Iraq end up, I go ward to ward and bed to bed, and reach out to shake a hand, and someone puts a stump in it," Galloway said. "These are the best kids we're ever had in the military and this is the best Army and Marine Corps I've seen in 40 years of marching with them. And I tell you, this war is not worth one of their lives, let alone 1,400 of them."
That is why Galloway believes we should start to withdraw the troops after the election.
"We can argue we overthrew Saddam and freed Iraq," he told E&P. "This would give us a fig leaf to cover our nakedness as we get out."
This is not a pie-in-the-sky idea. Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, this week unveiled a timetable that would get the majority of U.S. troops out of Iraq within 18 months. Combined with increased U.S. and international economic assistance and the emergence of a stable Iraqi government, it is a doable plan. All it requires is the political guts to carry it out.
It was the kind of guts that was lacking in 1965 when Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and others at the Pentagon began to have doubts about whether victory was possible in Vietnam.
"We had only 1,100 dead in Vietnam then, less than we have now in Iraq," Galloway told E&P. "That's just one panel on the wall of the Vietnam Memorial. Instead, we 'stayed the course' and now there are 58,000 names on that wall."
It's time for the Bush administration to stop pretending. It's time to bring our soldiers home from Iraq.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.