Wednesday, December 03, 2014
Caution. This May Make Your Jaw Drop.
The book opens with this mea culpa:
"I am a United States Army general, and I lost the Global War on Terrorism," Lieutenant-General Daniel Bolger begins his history of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. "It's like Alcoholics Anonymous; step one is admitting you have a problem. Well, I have a problem. So do my peers. And thanks to our problem, now all of America has a problem, to wit: two lost campaigns and a war gone awry."
By placing the blame on the military, Bolger portrays presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama as woefully misguided. The mission was impossible from the outset. Announcing the 2007 "surge" in response to a Sunni insurgency, president Bush said that the US wanted to turn Iraq into "a functioning democracy that polices its territory, upholds the rule of law, respects fundamental human liberties, and answers to its people."
The trouble, Bolger explains, is that majority rule in Iraq meant permanent war: "The stark facts on the ground still sat there, oozing pus and bile. With Saddam gone, any voting would install a Shiite majority. The Sunni wouldn't run Iraq again. That, at the bottom, caused the insurgency. Absent the genocide of Sunni Arabs, it would keep it going."
Bolger prefers to fix most of the blame for the Iraqi and Afghan snafus on the military brass. Others such as former commander now academic Andrew Bacevich put the fault at the feet of both the civilian and military leadership.
The judgment that those wars qualify as lost — loss defined as failing to achieve stated objectives — is surely correct. On that score, Bolger’s honesty is refreshing, even if his explanation for that failure falls short. In measured doses, self-flagellation cleanses and clarifies. But heaping all the blame on America’s generals lets too many others off the hook.
What's important is not who is right, Bolger or Bacevich, nor who is most to blame, the generals or the political leaders. What is important is that Americans are finally having the conversation so long overdue, the post mortem of what went so horribly wrong without which they're bound to simply repeat failure again and again.
Canada also needs this sort of discussion, some post mortem of how our mission to Afghanistan was lost. Who got us into the mess? Who kept us in it long after we had said we would go? What, if anything, did we do right? What did we do wrong and whose call was it?
We won't get that overdue soul searching. Among the reasons is that the military genius who hatched this harebrained scheme is long safely retired. Another is that the political leader most responsible for prolonging our failed mission, the prime minister who squeezed every last drop of political capital out of the dead and broken bodies of our soldiers before turning his back on them, remains in power.