Rumsfeld, the Military Irrelevance of Fallujah, and Retina Scans
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was called on the carpet at a meeting with troops in Kuwait, as Reuters reports.
“Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to armour our vehicles … (scrap) that has already been shot up, dropped, busted, picking the best out of this scrap to put on our vehicles to take into combat?, the soldier said. “We do not have proper armourment for our vehicles to carry us north (into Iraq).”
Rumsfeld’s response was deeply dishonest, and typical of his theory of psychological manipulation in politics.
He conceded that “not every vehicle has the degree of armour that it would be desirable for it to have,” but said the army was hurrying to plate more vehicles. “I think it is something like 400 a month are being done,” he said. “As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time… if you think about it, you can have all the armour in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armoured Humvee and it can be blown up.”
Rumsfeld basically told this serviceman, “screw you!” Obviously “400 a month” is not going to resolve the problem to which the soldier pointed. And it simply is not true, as Rumsfeld implied, that soldiers in a tank are as much at risk as they are in an un-armored truck or other vehicle. There have been a number of reports of rocket-propelled grenades just bouncing off Abrams tanks. The soldiers know when they are being made fools of.
Rumsfeld’s dictum that “you go to war with the army you have” begs so many questions it would take days to list them all. But just for starters, let’s point out that the officer corps wanted to send more like 300,000 troops to Iraq in March of 2003, not the 100,000 that Rumsfeld insisted on. Rumsfeld’s mania for turning the entire US military into special operations forces ignores the need to keep order in the aftermath of a war. Paul Bremer admitted that “we never had enough troops on the ground” and that the lack led to the orgy of looting, which the US was not in a position to stop and which there was not even much will to stop. The looting in turn paid for the incipient guerrilla war (and a good deal of the looting was from weapons depots like al-Qaqaa, despite the Bush administration’s denials).
So Rumsfeld didn’t go to war with the army he had. He went to war with a much reduced military force, to make some sort of weird point.
And then Rumsfeld ordered the Iraqi army itself dissolved. And he ordered that thousands of former Baath members be fired from their jobs, even as school teachers. These steps created a huge recruitment pool for the Sunni guerrilla movement, which began blowing up US troops. Why would you dump 400,000 trained soldiers into unemployment lines just after invading a country? And the dissolution of the Iraqi military ensured that the US troops would have to try to keep order in the country, a task for which they were not trained.
So from the beginning to the end, Rumsfeld put the troops in this position. All the disastrous decisions were Rumsfeld’s (and Bush’s and Cheney’s). These decisions weren’t made by the soldier who asked in Kuwait why he had to rummage around in scrap metal to armor his vehicle. And the decisions weren’t necessary or wise. They were arbitrary, and were made by civilians over the objections of the uniformed military.
This open dishonesty of Rumsfeld and Bush is becoming so brazen now that they have their second term that it is breathtaking. A few brave souls in the press are beginning to dare call the administration on the lies.
Tom Lasseter of Knight Ridder calls a spade a spade in his article today. He writes:
“There is no comprehensive way to quantify how rebel activity has been affected nationwide by the Fallujah assault.”
That is, many claims were made by the US military and by the Bush administration that an assault on Fallujah would make a significant dent in the guerrilla war. Lasseter is telling us that there is no way, two weeks later, systematically to evaluate these claims. Why?
“American officials no longer make available to reporters a daily tally of the number of incidents reported around the country.”
Because we, the American public are simply not being told the truth by the Bush administration. This cover-up is absolutely outrageous. We, the American people, are paying for this war. We, the American people, are providing the troops for this war. We, the American people, are engaged in a national debate. We, the American people, will be going to the polls to vote for candidates who take a position on this war. We, the American people, deserve to have the full truth about how many attacks are launched by guerrillas every day in Iraq. We deserve to know how many Iraqis are being killed. We deserve to know what in hell is going on over there.
I urge everyone to write your senator and congressional representative asking them to act to ensure that this information is released to the public. There is no security issue here. The guerrillas know very well how many attacks they are launching daily. I am not asking for operational details, just for the basic numbers.
Lasseter was able to find at least one officer who would be frank about the situation:
‘ “We haven’t seen any recent difference in insurgent organization or tactics in our (area),” said 1st Lt. Wayne Adkins, a spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division, who said violence was down in the area the division oversees, stretching from north of Baghdad to north of Tikrit. “They are using the same intimidation tactics against Iraqis you see elsewhere in Iraq.” ‘
In other words, no, Fallujah hasn’t made a difference militarily.
In that case, was it really worth it? Fallujah probably was the nail in the coffin of the electoral process, since in the aftermath most Sunni Arabs determined to boycott the elections, which will sink their legitimacy.
And, US military plans for social control in Fallujah seem genuinely Orwellian and clear violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. Plans, it is alleged, are being made for forced work details by men in the city, and for use of high tech social engineering tools like retina scans for identification.
How fantastic these dreams of social control really are was underlined by an article in al-Zaman on Thursday morning that reported renewed US aerial bombardment of the Jubail and Julan districts of Fallujah, in hopes of killing the remaining guerrillas. Eyewitnesses reported firefights and the sound of explosions, suggesting some fighting on the ground, as well. One may conclude the Fallujah, despite being a ghost town where 2000 persons were killed and 1400 captured, is still not conquered weeks later.
How little a difference Fallujah made could be easily witnessed on Wednesday when AP reports that guerrillas launched a highly coordinated and professional set of attacks in Samarra. (Yes, the same Samarra that had been supposedly cleared of guerrillas by US military action this fall). Guerrillas raided the police station for munitions and then blew it up. They killed a policeman and a child. Then they attacked US troops at various points in the city, detonating a car bomb near a US base and using machine gun fire on troops at an intersection. No word of US casualties. The Samarra police chief resigned earlier in the day because his house was attacked and his family feared for his safety (read: his wife made him stop working with the Americans.) Many police in Samarra were refusing to patrol, lest they be killed by the guerrillas as collaborators. The Samarra violence left at least 5 dead.
Guerrillas in Mosul attacked a checkpoint manned by Iraqi national guards. The clash left two guardsmen and four guerrillas dead, and there may have been civilian casualties. In Ramadi, guerrillas fought US troops. Three civilians were caught in the crossfire and killed, and one was wounded. A carbomber in Baghdad targetted a passing US convoy but missed it, and killed Iraqi civilians instead (-az-Zaman).
Stories are now coming out about the 2003 war itself, which was presented as almost antiseptic in the US electronic media. Chris Hedges reviews a new book by embedded reporter Evan Wright in the NYRB, writing
“the anecdotal evidence, including the obliteration of villages where there was no serious resistance, along with isolated incidents where the unit had to stop and tend the children and civilians they wounded or killed, mounts by the end of the book to present a withering indictment of the needless brutality of the invasion. He writes toward the conclusion of his narrative:
‘ In the past six weeks, I have been on hand while this comparatively small unit of Marines has killed quite a few people. I personally saw three civilians shot, one of them fatally with a bullet in the eye. These were just the tip of the iceberg. The Marines killed dozens, if not hundreds, in combat through direct fire and through repeated, at times almost indiscriminate, artillery strikes. And no one will probably ever know how many died from the approximately 30,000 pounds of bombs First Recon ordered dropped from aircraft.’ “
These observations by an eyewitness lend some credence to
former Marine staff sergeant Jimmy Massey, who testified in favor of Army Pfc. Jeremy Hinzman, 26, who deserted just before the war and is seeking asylum in Canada. AP’s Beth Duff-Brown reports that
“Massey . . . said his 7th Marines weapons company killed more than 30 civilians during a 48-hour period in April while stationed at a checkpoint in the southern Baghdad district of Rashid. The victims included unarmed demonstrators and a man who drove up in a car and raised his hands above his head in the universal symbol of surrender. “I know in my heart that these vehicles that came up, that they were civilians,” he said. ”But I had to act on my orders. It’s a struggle within my heart.” The orders, he said, were to shoot at anyone who drove into what is known as the ”red zone” surrounding the checkpoint because they could be suicide bombers. . . . I saw plenty of Marines become psychopaths. They enjoyed the killing.”
A Marine spokesman said that he did not want to suggest that Massey was lying, but insisted that Massey’s interpretation of the situation was different from that of the corps.
Massey is being a little unfair. If you are in a guerrilla war zone and a car comes speeding at you and doesn’t stop when so ordered, if you don’t shoot the driver then you risk it being a car bomber who will kill you and your men. Of course civilians got killed that way, but it isn’t clear that that is criminal as opposed to regrettable. But that some of the troops had a sadistic streak or thought all Arabs responsible for 9/11, etc., is also quite plausible. Those sadists aren’t typical of the troops, but we know they exist. Timothy McVeigh took delight in blowing Iraqis away, during the Gulf War.
Rather than issuing a blanket denial, the US military would be better served by simply admitting that war is hell and civilians get killed in prosecuting it. The American public is adults. They should know the score, and they should know that if a country goes to war, it will kill a lot of innocent people.
Knight Ridder’s Joseph Galloway goes beyond Lasseter’s complaint about lack of information. He points out that the US military appears in some instances to be outright lying to us. He instanced the false report given to CNN in mid-October that the US was about to attack Fallujah, done so as to see how the guerrillas in the city would respond and where they would hole up. He also instanced the US military’s willingness to let the US public believe that former NFL football player and Army Ranger Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan by al-Qaeda, when in fact he was killed by friendly fire from fellow US soldiers. Tillman didn’t believe in God, so he could handle the bleakness of life and death. The American public apparently had to be provided with some comforting myths by the Pentagon.
I was struck by how impossible it has been to know how many civilians were killed by the assault on Fallujah a few weeks ago, because the US military illegally targeted the hospitals to prevent word getting out. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld is creating a new fog, not of war, but of the manipulation of information.
In the medium run, it is the uniformed military that will suffer from Rumsfeld’s policies of dishonesty and psychological manipulation of the public, which are also being pushed by undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith. Once that trust is decisively undermined, we are going to see a backlash that will make the Vietnam syndrome look tame.