Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Revisiting Past Glories

With the mid-term elections coming up, a lot is being said about the Obama Administration and its effectiveness in dealing with a myriad of issues facing the country. Although the economy and jobs are central to the current debate, Iraq and Afghanistan are still at the forefront of hard problems yet to be satisfactorily resolved.


I think it's important for thoughtful Americans to understand some background on these military adventures.

One of the most devastating accounts of that fiasco was the book by that title, Fiasco, the American Military Adventure in Iraq, by Thomas Ricks. The planning for and execution of the early stages of that war were abysmal. Much of the problem seems to have been with Pentagon planners eager to satisfy the White House -- Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld -- who were determined to present the coming war in as rosy a picture as possible -- quick and easy. Ricks states that under Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith, the Pentagon concocted "the worst war plan in American history," with insufficient troops and no thought for the invasion's aftermath. Anyone who keeps up with developments in Iraq knows this now, but Rick's book was published in 2006 and at the time, caused no little controversy. Bob Woodward's books, Bush at War, and Plan of Attack, provided interesting insights into the Bush White House's "seat of pants" approach to critical national defense issues, although Woodward's writing style is somewhat wooden, especially in comparison with Rick's.
I just finished reading, Where Men Win Glory, the Odyssey of Pat Tillman. I had to stop reading it at night before bed, because the story of how the Bush Administration and the Pentagon betrayed an honorable, heroic man made me so angry and upset I could not sleep. Most people probably know by now that Tillman was killed by the men in his own platoon; an event termed "friendly fire" by the military -- an oxymoron if there ever was one. But few people know the full story of how first the Army, and then the Bush White House, went to great extremes to keep the public, and even the Tillman family in the dark about what really happened. The actions of the Army and the Administration were so egregious that it makes one literally ill to read about it.

I happened to be reading, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception, by Scott McClellan, at the same time. McClellan left the White House after he was lied to about the Valery Plame affair and in briefing the White Press Corps on the basis of what he was told, made himself out to be a liar. McClellan's story of how the Bush Administration conducted government affairs as if they were involved in a continuous political campaign, without regard for the truth, and ruthless in their treatment of anyone who didn't toe the party line, is extremely troubling.

I also read recently, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, by Richard A. Clarke. Here again, the White House comes across as uninformed and arrogant. Much of what Clarke writes is supported by another book I read earlier in the year, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA, by George Tenet. In his book, Clarke details how, in light of mounting intelligence of the danger Al-Qaeda presented, his urgent requests to move terrorism up the list of priorities in the early days of the Bush Administration were met with apathy and procrastination. He is particularly critical of Condoleezza Rice, Bush's National Security Advisor, who seemed not only unaware of the Al-Qaeda threat, but uninterested as well. To her, Al-Qaeda was simply one of many extremist groups, no more important than others. Rice was one of Bush's strongest supporters for the invasion of Iraq.

For many, the invasion of Iraq now seems a terrible strategic blunder, both in terms of its impact on the balance of power in the Middle East -- we did a great favor for Iran -- and it's diversion away from the center of the terrorism storm in Afghanistan. There are those who believe that oil was the real reason for the war, but that's probably simplistic. George W. Bush probably convinced himself that invading Iraq and creating a democratic government there would be a great achievement -- a centerpiece for his presidential library. In addition, he wanted to one up his father, who always favored brother Jeb, the sober, thoughtful, industrious son, who would one day be president. Well, Dubya showed him -- he showed us all.

And here we are, about to elect representatives to lead us in the difficult times ahead. As we ponder how to cast our votes, I think it's important to revisit past glories.

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