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Same scenario, different war
Scripps Howard News Service


March 20, 2006

WASHINGTON - Where is Robert McNamara when we need him? You know that former Defense secretary who always gave us hope by seeing light at the end of the tunnel, the man who paralyzed the Ford Motor Co. and then the nation. But we all know he is still around his old Georgetown haunts rewriting history, isn't he?

At least that's what They want us to think. In reality there is mounting evidence that he is holding down his old desk at the Pentagon disguised as someone who calls himself Donald Rumsfeld.

That has to be the only explanation for the sort of Vietnam-like decision-making that not only went on in the early days of the current Iraqi conflict and "pacification" effort but also seems to be continuing. It is the strategy stubbornly defended by the secretary of Defense and his president despite a growing chorus of refutation from those on the scene.

It suddenly turns out that the general who had charge of the assault on Baghdad wanted to clear out pockets of paramilitary resistance before taking on Saddam Hussein's elite troops defending the capital but was threatened with dismissal if he didn't just push on. Of course those bypassed fanatics are the ones causing all the trouble now, surprise, surprise.

Shades of former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, who dared to suggest before the invasion that several hundred thousand or more troops would be necessary to keep the peace once the official war was over, Saddam deposed, the Iraqi army disbanded and reconstruction begun. Old Eric found himself out of a job pretty quickly. That sent a none-too-subtle message throughout the ranks that when the secretary of Defense says there are enough troops, there are enough troops. Understand?

So when you hear him - Rumsfeld/McNamara, that is - and the president say that more troops will be supplied anytime the commanders ask for them, the reply from those on the ground is expected to be "we have enough." And by the way things really are going swimmingly if the press would just report that instead of all those roadside bomb incidents and urban skirmishes, which, after all, are to be expected. Is this briefing being held in Saigon or inside the Green Zone?

Much like the reasoning that led us into the Vietnam quagmire, the Iraqi strategy was based on false premises about the actual level of threat to our own national security. Then it was the domino theory of communist domination transplanted from Europe to Southeast Asia. Here it was the fear of Weapons of Mass Destruction from a country run by a madman and the belief that Iraq was supporting international terrorism.

Just like the escalation of the U.S. presence in Vietnam, the need for a preemptive strike in Iraq was easy to sell to a nation then still scared to death of the Red menace and now shaken by the horror of the Muslim terrorists' assault on New York and Washington. So all right. Saddam was a bad guy who needed to be eliminated and it wasn't unreasonable to see him as on his way to bigger and better achievement through nuclear and biological technology. Everyone in the Western World thought he had that capability or was on the verge of having it, after all.

But gee, guys, shouldn't there have been a pacification plan based on more than a bunch of lies from some Iraqi who sold us a bill of goods about his people welcoming us with open arms? Shouldn't it have included an exit strategy somewhat simpler than democratization?

Hindsight is 20-20, as they say. But it turns out that the need for more troops and a better plan doesn't qualify for that analogy. Inside and outside the Pentagon military fortress there was plenty of dissent about strategy. But just like "I Knew It Couldn't Succeed All Along Bob," the current Sec Def wasn't listening.

Now it turns out that Shinseki and the others were right as rain about what was needed. But that's wind across the desert now and the immediate problem is extraction. How do we get out without leaving the place in incredible turmoil? No one seems to be answering this, certainly not Rumsfeld or the president despite the most optimistic assessments. As it did in Vietnam, it just may have to wait on a change of administrations or at least the removal of the McNamara-like figure from the decision making process. Anyone want to buy an Edsel?


Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Scripps Howard News Service.

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