Victory or defeat! So proclaimed President George W. Bush in his TV speech about Iraq last night. Those who oppose Bush’s continued, $6.5 billion monthly war in Iraq are "defeatists." Withdrawal from Iraq would "damage US credibility around the world," warned the self-proclaimed "war president." What Bush is really worried about, of course, is his own credibility. He has repeatedly shown he cares nothing about what the rest of the world thinks about the US. Why start now?
It’s too bad George W. Bush evaded regular military service by hiding out in the Texas Air National Guard during war time. If Bush had any real military experience, he and his mentor, Dick Cheney, who was "too busy" to do his military service during Vietnam, might have learned one of the basic laws of military science: only fools and megalomaniacs say "no retreat." Retreat is as much a part of warfare as advance, and often an even more useful tactic. No general worth his stripes embarks on a battle or campaign without leaving open a secure line of retreat behind him. War is by nature uncertain and filled with nasty surprises. The hallmark of a good commander is being able to quickly change plans when faced by unexpected adversity and withdraw, trading space for time, when his forces are in peril.
One of history’s greatest modern generals was Erich von Manstein who conducted a brilliant series of fighting withdrawals on the Eastern Front that are a classic of military art. Two of the most egregious recent examples of the failure to retreat when military/political conditions demand it were Stalingrad and Kuwait. After the German Sixth Army was enveloped by vastly superior Soviet forces at Stalingrad in late 1942, Hitler refused his general’s pleas to break out. He thundered "no retreat" and accused his generals who urged a retreat to the west of "defeatism." Hitler’s refusal to allow the Sixth Army to break out of encirclement and link up with advancing German forces condemned it to total destruction. Stalingrad marked the beginning of the end of Hitler’s dream of a thousand-year Reich. Hitler, who was wounded three times in World War I, was a good soldier and understood strategy. He refused to allow his Sixth Army to retreat because he feared it would undermine his authority and aura of invincibility. A dictator cannot afford to lose face by retreating. Saddam Hussein faced the same problem in Kuwait in 1990—1991. Saddam invaded the US protectorate after its rulers had gravely insulted Iraq by demanding its war widows be sent to Kuwait’s harems in lieu of billions in loans for the Iran-Iraq War that bankrupt Baghdad owed the Kuwaitis. Facing certain destruction from the US-led coalition, Saddam wanted to withdraw but feared doing so would fatally undermine his authority and lead to a coup. So he sat transfixed, hoping the Soviets would somehow rescue him from the jaws of disaster. In the end, Saddam’s armies in Kuwait were destroyed and Iraq submitted to siege. Fools and megalomaniacs don’t know when to retreat. Just as the distant oil fields of the Caucasus lured Hitler ever east into the wastes of southern Russia and destruction, so Iraq’s oil treasure continues to mesmerize Bush, Cheney & Co. They clearly do not understand, or will not face the fact, that the US cannot afford to keep spending $6.5 billion a month on Iraq and $1 billion monthly in Afghanistan to prop up the little puppet regimes they have created. The US Army and Marine Corps are being relentlessly ground down in both theaters, and now face not only a crisis of personnel replacements but the massive deterioration of their equipment, from boots to tanks, which is not being replaced. Democracies are no good at waging long-term guerilla wars. Vietnam showed this to French and Americans, Angola to South Africans, and Lebanon to Israelis. A majority of Americans no longer believe all the lies about Iraq being pumped out by the Bush White House. They squirm with embarrassment while watching Condoleezza Rice lie through her teeth to Europeans by claiming the US does not kidnap or torture suspects. And they look with concern at their phones, never sure these days of what anonymous federal agency or military group is bugging their calls. Bush’s latest untruths — that the recent election in Iraq will defeat the Sunni resistance and lead to lasting democracy — are about as believable as Bill Clinton’s prevarications about his sex life. Perhaps the most galling and persistent of Bush’s lies is the one he repeated last night: that failure to prove Saddam was a threat to world civilization was due to "wrong intelligence." Not wrong. No way. This column maintained for years Iraq had no strategic weapons and no links with al-Qaida. So did many veteran CIA officers. We looked at the available evidence and drew the only logical conclusion. It was not "wrong intelligence." War against Iraq was the product of a farrago of lies, distortions and disinformation provided by foreign "allies" and a domestic fifth column eager for the US to destroy Iraq, both eagerly abetted by the mainstream US media. Bush’s claims Iraq was behind 9/11 or about to attack the US with germ weapons released by drones were as lurid and outrageous as Dr. Goebbel’s claims in 1939 that Poland was about to invade Germany. The president who made these ludicrous claims now asks us to believe him about Iraq. Iraq’s US-engineered elections will more firmly entrench the Iranian-influenced Shia majority in power, marginalize the Sunnis and leave the Kurds virtually independent in all but name, and accelerate the dangerous ethnic division of Iraq. In spite of the current election, Iraq remains a US colony. Washington controls Iraq’s police, inept sepoy army, and assorted death squads — all of whom serve for money, not out of commitment to the government. The US controls Iraq’s total finances. US firms have been given the right to pump and export Iraq’s oil — 90% of its national income. The US controls Iraq’s secret police and all communications. American money fuels Iraq’s political parties and almost all of Iraq’s so-called media. Behind every Iraqi minister discreetly stands a group of US "advisors." Not since the Soviets occupied Afghanistan have we seen such a reversion to classical colonialism. The real poll that counts in Iraq is a recent BBC poll that revealed that 65% of all Iraqis — Shia, Sunnis and Kurds — want the US out of Iraq. Now, we learn in another stinging irony, that the US Army in Iraq has depleted its reserves of M-16 rifle ammo and is currently buying munitions from Israel. One may imagine the reaction in the Muslim World when it is learned that the US is using Israeli bullets to kill Iraqis. Speaking of the Soviets, this column has been noting for a long time how much the Bush Administration has come to resemble the Soviet Union of Chairman Leonid Brezhnev. The Taoists say, "you become what you hate." Look at Bush’s foreign wars "to advance the cause of democracy" (Brezhnev called his aggressions "the Soviet Union’s internationalist duty); the gelding of the US media into Soviet-style sycophants; the expansion of political policing in the old USSR and in the new USA; the exhortations to nationalist flag waving and anti-Islamic racism in both empires. Bush’s speech last night declaring "defeatism" a major new sin was a final ironic touch. What could be more Soviet or Red Chinese-sounding than this piece of opprobrium. How long will it be before "defeatism" becomes a federal crime under the sinister Patriot Act?