George Bush’s recent speech was a microcosm of much that is wrong in his being President. Among the things wrong were: the setting, with its huge public relations pronouncements — big posters or banners containing the cornball P.R. proclamation “PLAN FOR VICTORY.” The contemporaneous P.R. booklet entitled Our National strategy For Victory In Iraq. The P.R. pictures of the smirker on the dais, looking smug as usual. The fact that the speech, like so many of Bush’s speeches these days — and as was true of Lyndon Johnson’s speeches too during Viet Nam — had to be delivered at a military installation (the Naval Academy) because a military audience was the only one that could be trusted to respond favorably.
The fact that Bush’s so-called plan for victory is a public relations ploy that in large measure is the product of some (apparently) hack political science professor from Duke who is now in White House employ (at the NSC) because he said Americans supposedly will support the war regardless of the level of casualties if they think it is in a good cause and likely to be successful. (The Dukie’s contribution to Bush’s idiocy came to light, it is said, only through a quirk of computer technology. And since it is established that the war was sold by fraud and we hardly appear to be winning, the Dukie’s P.R. ploy is just another Administration attempt to persuade Americans that white is black and vice versa. But, then, what is PR spin usually for anyway? (Little wonder, is it, that this Administration pays reporters to write favorable articles, and pays public relations outfits to write propaganda that appears as supposed newspaper articles in American and Iraqi newspapers?))
There was the fact that, as befits P.R., Bush’s speech was seen as mere talking points, not serious analysis, by many analysts. There is likewise the fact that much of Bush’s speech was seen by experts as disconnected from reality, as “illusionist,” to use a word employed by a “senior American commander” in Iraq awhile ago when speaking of statements by the American occupation authority. With regard to such disconnect, or illusion, columnists and reporters have been pointing out, with specifics, that Bush’s comments were either flat wrong, or dishonest spin, regarding the performance of the Iraqi army, the nature of that army, which army, ours or the Iraqis’, is taking the lead in big battles, and the production of oil. There is the fact that, like Nixon and Johnson in Viet Nam, Bush gave no timetable for withdrawal, saying instead that we will withdraw as the Iraqis become capable of taking over. (We will stand down as they stand up — which is the same as Nixon’s infamous “Vietnamizaton.”) In Viet Nam that time never arrived, and we finally had to get out after ten years anyway. Are we in for a ten year slog in Iraq too, as now looks to be the case unless public opinion and the Congress force us out or a new Democratic president withdraws all troops in 2009 or 2010.
It is said by many, though, that what we are seeing is a smokescreen, that underneath it all Bush intends to withdraw all or most of our troops by 2006 or 2007 in order to avoid major political debacles for the Republican Party. And in a different vein, but one predicated (if usually merely implicitly) on the same underlying belief that Bush is not an obdurate, intransigent individual, others plead with Bush to open himself up to different ideas and to different people than those he has listened to for the last five years.
The people who indulge either of these two ideas — that Bush will withdraw our troops, or that he will adopt new ideas or select new advisors — are engaging in a triumph of hope over reality. They are deliberately refusing to face the facts about the kind of man, the kind of human being, George Bush is. He is not an intelligent man, not a thinker, not a reader, not an empathetic man — born with a silver spoon, he has no empathy for those who were not. He is a very obdurate man, and a man who rejects those who bring him bad news. He is a spinner who can see only one side to an issue and spinningly dismisses inconsistent facts and incompatible ideas. His various bad qualities led to serial failures in business, where he repeatedly had to be bailed out by Daddy’s friends and wanna be friends, and where his good old boy personality could not overcome incompetence although, when combined with family position, his personality was sufficient to win him a governorship and the presidency in the much-less-intelligence-demanding sphere of politics. But it is of consequence that, one way or another, he always was bailed out regardless of what bad things he had done in life or what he failed to accomplish in business. He almost surely is a guy who expects that something will come along to save him. It always has, so why not now?
Why anyone thinks or hopes that an unintelligent, spinning, obdurate, one dimensional guy like this will change a policy on which he has staked all in a couple of ways, or will start consorting with and listening to different people who disagree strongly with that policy, is something that simply escapes me. Barring a miracle, we are not going to be rid of Bush (or Cheney) until January 2009, or unless the two of them, as is most unlikely, are impeached earlier because of their gross and sometimes felonious misconduct in connection with the war. And as long as we do have Bush and Cheney, it is most likely that we will have their war.
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It has been disclosed by Seymour Hersh that part of our plan for continuing to carry on this war – – while supposedly reducing the number of American troops – – will be to use vast armadas of American air power to support Iraqi troops, who are not as good as American soldiers. Also, American special forces will be used, especially as target spotters because Iraqis cannot be trusted to call in American planes only to attack insurgents rather than their tribal and political enemies. Air Force officers are apparently a little skeptical about our ability to really solve the second problem — the problem of calling down using ordnance on political rivals instead of insurgents. But it is the first problem — the very question of air armadas — that I wish to discuss.
If air power a outrance would do the trick in enabling Iraqis to defeat the insurgents, why isn’t air power a outrance being used to help American troops now? Not using it to save our own troops’ lives would be immoral, would it not? This is only the more true because the Administration, like the Johnson and Nixon Administrations before it, claims that it is devoted to supporting our troops and that those of us who disagree with its war and want the troops brought home (thereby saving their lives) are reprehensibly failing to support the soldiers.
There is, however, another possibility. It is that air power is being used to the utmost already in order to aid our own troops in trying to defeat the enemy, but that air power cannot win a war against insurgents, has so far never done so anywhere in the world as far as I know, has not enabled American ground troops to defeat the insurgency, and will surely be no more successful in defeating the insurgency when used in support of less competent Iraqi troops.
Something very much like this seems to be at least implicit in Hersh’s article. He says that “The American air war inside Iraq today is perhaps the most significant — and under reported — aspect of the fight against the insurgency.” The military, he adds, does not issue daily reports of missions or bomb tonnage or sorties, as in Viet Nam, but it has become publicly known that a single Marine Aircraft Wing alone — of the many Air Force, Navy and Marine air units being employed — has dropped over 500,000 tons of ordnance. That is, one may say, a shocking amount of ordnance. If memory serves, all of our mighty air armadas of the 8th and 15th Air Forces dropped a total of only two or three million tons on all of Europe in the 3 years of daily and nightly attacks in World War II, yet a single Marine Wing has already dropped one-fourth or one-sixth of that on Iraq. Holy smokes. (Bad pun, not intended.) It would appear that we have used air power a outrance in support of American troops, that it has not created success in Iraq when Americans have been doing most of the fighting, and that it therefore cannot be expected to do the trick when Iraqis are doing all the fighting.
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It is curious that, while Bush and his Administration make mistake after compounded mistake with regard to Iraq, shortly after our initial conventional victory over Saddam’s army, the Administration did two things which could be considered moral but which it now considers to be a mistake. One was the so-called debaathification of the country. The other was disbanding the Iraqi army. Debaathification is said to have removed the people capable of running police forces, industry, local governments, etc. Disbanding the army is said to have destroyed the force which could have kept the peace.
This puts one in mind of what happened in Germany after World War II. Though if memory serves we initially intended to denazify the country, because of the Russian threat we quickly relented and put back into power the industrialists, the officers, and others who had been mainstays of the Nazi regime. And here in the US itself we used Nazi scientists, like Werner Von Braun to build our rockets. On the one hand, it is claimed that all this worked because we held off the Russians for decades until the USSR finally collapsed and Germany became a laudable democracy. On the other hand, in view of what the Nazis did, allowing Nazis and Nazi mainstays to again become important and powerful people in Germany, or in the U.S., is considered by some of us to have been deeply immoral — and not less so because it is doubtful that anyone could say with even minimal certainty that our efforts against the Russians would have been unsuccessful, and Germany would not have become a democracy, had we not allowed Germany to become partly re-Nazified.
Because this writer is so anti-Bush in so many ways (rightly, one thinks), it might surprise lots of people to learn that in my judgment the Bushers did the right thing by debaathifying Iraq and disbanding Saddam’s army. In view of what Saddam and his people had done, debaathifying and disbanding were the moral thing to do, unlike the immoral action of allowing Nazis to become big deals once again. And the Bushers are wrong to say now that debauthifying and disbanding were a mistake. Taking power and influence away from persons who were complicit in a regime so evil that it slaughtered scores or hundreds of thousands of its own citizens was not a mistake. Nor, one proposes, was it what led to the debacle in Iraq. The debacle-creating mistakes lay in not using two or three times more troops than we did use, in allowing lawlessness to develop in the first place immediately after our initial victory (a result in large part of having less than half the number of troops we needed), in not understanding that Iraq is a tribal society with all that that implies, and in not immediately dividing the country into three nations, one for each of its major religious or ethnic groups where each is predominant: i.e., a nation for the Kurds where they dominate, one for the Sunnis where they dominate, and one for the Shiites where they dominate.
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Although the press refuses to write about it except very infrequently, for a long time there has been no doubt whatever that Saddam fooled George Bush mercilessly by planning a guerrilla war before the Americans invaded. Saddam obviously knew he couldn’t win the conventional war against the super powerful American forces. So he trained officers for a guerrilla war and stockpiled caches of weapons and ammunition around the country to be used in guerrilla warfare. Thus the inception of the insurgency.
Having fooled our not very bright leader at the front end, the question now is whether Saddam will fool him at the back end too, so to speak. Is there really going to be a successful trial against Saddam in Iraq, one that results in his conviction and execution? Permit me at least a little doubt on this score. Lawyers have already been killed, and it seems plausible to believe that, in order to prevent the trial from moving forward, the insurgents are going to try to kill more lawyers, and judges too. Meanwhile Saddam himself appears to dominate the courtroom and stall the proceedings the way Milosevic has. A trial could take years, as in Milosevic’s case.
And what will happen if the Americans leave before the trial is finished? In such an eventuality, will it ever be finished? What if Sunnis manage to get back in power after we leave? — conceivably they might release Saddam. It probably is not even necessarily crazy to think they might make him their leader once again, make him the head of their country, or at least the Sunni part of it if it is still all one country. Wouldn’t that be a hell of a note? If that were to happen (God forbid), the only honorable course for George Bush would be hari kiri.
From Bush’s selfish standpoint, it would have been beneficial to simply take Saddam out and shoot him, like Americans sometimes used to do with Nazis during the war. Lest one automatically rebel at such an action in regard to Saddam, let me ask this: Would anyone really have objected if someone had simply taken out Hitler or Stalin and shot them had there been opportunity? All the stuff about fair trials and we must be seen to be better than our enemies would likely have gone by the boards in the face of the unparalleled evil of these guys. I don’t see that Saddam is really any better.
But we don’t operate this way at the high governmental level regardless of what happened at lower levels in WWII. So Bush decided on a trial — in Iraq. To hold it in Iraq was really stupid, as events have shown. Instead of proving Iraqi ability to create a democracy and a viable judicial system, as our government hoped, the whole show could possibly end up further demonstrating the utter stupidity of what Bush thought could be achieved in Iraq. To forestall even the merest possibility of this, it would have been far better to take Saddam to some third country like Holland or Belgium, to be tried for crimes against humanity in front of trained international jurists in a country where the insurgents would have had a lot harder time getting at lawyers and judges, and might well have the devil’s own time even getting into the country instead of being everywhere in the area. Knowledgeable historians, political scientists and others could have testified to what was done by Saddam and his regime, as well as having still living victims and relatives and friends of victims testify if they could be induced to brave the wrath of insurgents back in Iraq. Even bringing Saddam to the United States for trial before a special court of international jurists would have been preferable to a trial in Iraq — the Israelis brought Eichmann to Jerusalem for trial, didn’t they? — and claims of victors’ justice be damned. Of course, it would be victors’ justice. So were Nuremberg and Tokyo (despite attempts to claim they were not). What are we supposed to have — loser’s justice? Even when the losers are genocidal mass murderers?
There is, of course, a good reason why Bush — and Cheney, and Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz, and Feith, etc., etc. — would want Saddam tried in Iraq, and certainly would not want to see him brought before an international tribunal in a third country or even in America. Bringing him before an international tribunal would be a terrible precedent from their standpoint because it could some day lead to or increase demands that the same be done to Bush and company because of their crimes connected to this war, crimes having to do with killing civilians wholesale by bombing and artillery, and torture. Bush rejected the international criminal court, remember, precisely because of claimed fears that American soldiers might be brought before it. A similar possibility of him being brought before an international tribunal would lurk in the background if he brought Saddam before such a tribunal. Milosevic, Saddam, Bush? — This would be some sort of unholy triumvirate, would it not? Bush is a lot better off if the precedent set in Saddam’s case is only for trial in the bad guy’s own country, because nobody will try Bush for anything in America, where we never bring national leaders to justice no matter how horrible their crimes or how many deaths they have needlessly caused. In America we never try the Johnsons, the Rusks, the McNamaras, the Nixons, the Kissingers, the Bushes, the Cheneys, or even the Jefferson Davises.
*This posting represents the personal views of LAWRENCE R. VELVEL.
LAWRENCE R. VELVEL is the Dean of Massachusetts School of Law. He can be reached at email@example.com.