War on Iraq

Howard Dean: Just Plain Right

The notion that we can't win is now a permanent part of the debate on Iraq thanks to Howard Dean's recent remarks.
"The idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is just plain wrong," Democratic Party Chair Howard Dean told a San Antonio radio show on Monday. That remark flew through the news.

Asked about Dean's comments, President Bush responded to the press, "Oh, there's pessimists, you know, and politicians who try to score points. Our troops need to know that the American people stand with them, and we have a strategy for victory." And House Speaker Dennis Hastert scolded that Dean was engaging in, "negative and harmful political rhetoric."

But the "can't win" phrase is out of the box. It's much like Rep. John Murtha's call for the United States to "immediately redeploy" -- there's no going back. We can't win is now a permanent part of the debate on Iraq.

Another significant but totally overlooked voice in the discussion on Iraq -- and one who can't be accused of "political rhetoric" -- is that of Major Isaiah Wilson, who got the assignment of serving as the U.S. Army's official historian of Gulf War II, Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). According to Wilson's account, the United States effectively lost its dominance shortly after it invaded Iraq; another way of saying can't win.

Wilson concluded in a presentation obtained by the Washington Post in December 2004, that three months after the invasion of Iraq, "U.S. forces slowly lost the momentum and the initiative ... gained over an off-balanced enemy. The United States, its Army and its coalition of the willing have been playing catch-up ever since."

Wilson added that the people responsible for planning the war suffered from "stunted learning and a reluctance to adapt."

Wilson, who is a professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and 2005 regional finalist White House Fellow, also concluded that the United States was "perhaps in peril of losing the 'war,' even after supposedly winning it."

The Bush administration never responded to Maj. Wilson's remarks.

More recently, Maj. Wilson gave a presentation this November to a conference [PDF] on "U.S. Military Operations in Iraq: Planning, Combat, and Occupation." The conference notes summarized Wilson's argument that "in OIF the military objective and the political objective did not coincide. This created significant tensions between plans and realities and contributed to some of the post-Phase III difficulties that have emerged."

The "post-Phase III difficulties" are, in a nutshell, the massive resistance to the U.S. occupation in Iraq by the local populace, also known as the insurgency. In the neutral language of strategyspeak, that's as a universal statement as you're going to get declaring that we can't win the war. Maj. Wilson could not be reached for comment.

In his San Antonio radio interview, Howard Dean sketched the outline of his suggested alternative:

"Bring the 80,000 National Guard and Reserve troops home immediately. They don't belong in a conflict like this anyway. We ought to have a redeployment to Afghanistan of 20,000 troops, we don't have enough troops to do the job there and it's a place where we are welcome. And we need a force in the Middle East, not in Iraq but in a friendly neighboring country to fight [terrorist leader Musab] Zarqawi, who came to Iraq after this invasion."


Asked to clarify which neighboring country Howard Dean might be referring to, his spokeswoman Karen Finney said that Dean was speaking in general terms about a plan he favors from the Center for American Progress. Authored by Lawrence Korb and Brian Katulis, the plan is titled "Strategic Redeployment."

That report suggests a global redeployment of 80,000 troops in 2006 composed of all Guard and Reserve troops (roughly 46,000) back to the United States, 14,000 soldiers to Kuwait, and 18,000 to Afghanistan. One thousand would be sent to Southeast Asia and another 1,000 troops to the Horn of Africa (including Somalia and Sudan) to support "counterterrorist operations" there.

It's only a matter of time before Bush's "strategy for victory" evolves into a "strategy for withdrawal."
Jan Frel is an AlterNet staff writer. He worked on Howard Dean's presidential campaign.
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