Missing Officers

No sooner had President George W. Bush finished his prime time speech last week, than the television talking heads and the press, that Big Media, which the government relies upon to help define their Imperial Reality for us, were hard at it, interpreting every possible nuance or inflection of his address.

Did he say anything new? Hardly. But what he omitted spoke volumes!

The real test of the effectiveness, of his speech, however, will come, not from the Media, or those millions of passive Americans and most of the Congress that have supported his war, but among the youth ranging from some of the "red" states of the South and the Mid-west, to the inner cities ghettoes and barrios. Will these young people, inspired by the President’s rhetoric, buy into the notion that Iraq has been worth the cost? Bottom line: will they enlist in Mr. Bush’s War?

I rather think not!

They are more likely to heed the warnings of some of our more cautious and realistic military men that the insurgency will last years, a position even Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has acknowledged with the statement that it might take a dozen years.

Bush is hoping that the Iraqi army will begin to shoulder the overwhelming burden of the war, and mentioned the figure of 160,000, as if it was the sheer number that mattered, rather than morale.

The most perceptive observation made on the "Charlie Rose" show discussing the speech, was that the U.S. was having trouble finding middle echelon officers to staff the Iraqi army, and that we intended to put in a number of American officers into those positions.

Now, it is certainly true about the importance of the middle echelon officers in any war, especially an insurgency, where the nature of the warfare demands instant decisions, without the time for debate or to consult with those of a higher rank, up the chain of command.

It has been clear for months now, that this crucial sector of Saddam’s old army did not, nor has not yet, come over to the side of the new government sponsored by the Americans.

I would not want to be in the shoes of, say, an American captain, thrust into the midst of an Iraqi unit. We know the insurgents have infiltrated men into these units. How difficult would it be for one of these men to frag the American officer, or simply shoot him in the back?

Fragging was, of course, a problem in Vietnam, and there has already been at least one case in Iraq. A newspaperman friend of mine from the Vietnam era told me there were rumors that Max Cleland, the triple amputee war hero, and later Senator from Georgia, attacked by Republicans for his lack of enthusiasm for Iraq, had actually been fragged. If this is true, it makes the cover-up of Pat Tillman’s death by friendly fire look almost tame in comparison.

Certainly, the morale and training of the middle echelon officers is critical. Some military historians have suggested that in WWII, the creative, and gung-ho 11,000 or so young recruits in that position were a great weapon in achieving victory.

There are already indications that some of our best young officers, often West Point graduates, in which the country has a considerable investment, are opting out of the Army for commensurate managerial jobs. Perhaps the task of integrating with the Iraqi army will fall to the mercenaries hired by companies such as Halliburton.

In Vietnam, quite apart from the fragging, the increasing disillusionment of the middle echelon officers was an early sign the war was not going well. Anyone who has read many of the letters of these middle echelon British officers in the American Revolution, often young Scots, who wrote back to their families about going out into the wilderness, perhaps never to return, will recognize this pattern. The British referred to the area around Charlotte, North Carolina, as the "hornet’s nest," and it was the defeats around that area which led to the retreat toward Yorktown.

Clearly, a segment of the American military shares the administration’s hope that it will be possible build a U.S. supported regime, perhaps on the model of what was done in the Philippines over a century ago; not that that nation has been a great example of economic development of late.

Americans seem amazed by the degree of solidarity among the insurgents, that some are willing to not only die for the cause, but to do so as a suicide bomber. Part of the Media approach has been to glorify the whole idea of "Empire." A new television show of that title aired June 29th, in which we are suppose to identify with Julius Caesar’s heir, Octavian, soon to be Caesar Augustus.

The Founding Fathers of the American Republic, despising Empire as they did, would not have admired that whole theme. Their heroes were Brutus, Cassius, Cicero and Cato. It is well to remember that a wounded Cato ripped off his bandages so that he might die, so much did he hate the notions of Despotism and Empire. Suicide was preferable to life in the Empire.

As in the Philippines, we have found no shortage of bureaucrat Compradors, willing to be our "willing executioners" of their own people, in running "our" Iraqi government. Whether we can find American recruits as well as Iraqi officers to continue the war in the face of a growing public disenchantment, is the major question facing the Bush administration in the months ahead.

July 5, 2005