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[casi] Sober warning from US expert on guerilla warfare

[Ray McGovern, a 27-year veteran of the CIA, regularly briefed George H. W.
Bush as vice president and, earlier, worked with him closely when he was
director of CIA. Mr. McGovern is on the Steering Group of Veteran
Intelligence Professionals for Sanity]

Helicopter Down  -November 3, 2003

The killing of 18 U.S. troops and the wounding of 21 others in Iraq on Nov.
2 brings to mind the successful attack by Viet Cong guerrillas on U.S.
forces in Pleiku, Vietnam on February 7, 1965.

The Johnson administration immediately seized on that attack, in which nine
U.S. troops were killed and 128 wounded, to start bombing North Vietnam and
to send 3,500 Marines to South Vietnam. Unlike the U.S. advisory forces
already in country, the Marines had orders to engage in combat, marking the
beginning of the Americanization of the war. By 1968 U.S. forces had grown
to over 536,000.

>From the outset, my colleagues in CIA were highly skeptical that even with a
half-million troops the United States could prevail in Vietnam. They were
quick to remind anyone who would listen of the candid observation made by
General Philippe LeClerc, dispatched to Vietnam shortly after World War II.
The French general reported that, mainly because of the strong commitment of
the Vietnamese nationalists/communists and their proven proficiency in
guerrilla war, a renewed French campaign would require 500,000 men and that,
even then, France could not win.

In 1965, similar warnings were blissfully ignored by Defense Secretary
Robert McNamara and the civilian whiz kids with whom he had surrounded
himself. Then as now, the advice of our professional military was dismissed.

Civilian Whiz Kids vs. Military Professionals

While today's civilian leaders at the Defense Department hobbled through
what passed for post-war planning for Iraq early this year, Army Chief of
Staff Eric Shinseki warned the Senate Armed Services Committee that post-war
Iraq would require "something on the order of several hundred thousand
soldiers." He was immediately ridiculed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz for having exaggerated the requirement. This
evokes vivid memories of how McNamara and his civilian whiz kids dismissed
our professional military—and at such a high eventual price.

The poet George Santayana warned, "Those who do not learn from history are
doomed to repeat it." What is increasingly clear is that neither the
present-day Pentagon whiz kids nor their patron, Vice President Dick Cheney,
have learned much from history. They encourage President Bush to insist, "We
are not leaving;" and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to protest that this war is
"winnable." But most of those with a modicum of experience in guerrilla
warfare and the Middle East are persuaded that the war is not winnable and
that the only thing in doubt is the timing of the U.S. departure.

After many weeks of refusing to admit the word "guerrilla" into evidence,
Rumsfeld seems to have made his peace with it. Yet, when asked this past
weekend on television who are the guerrillas are, he foundered, admitting in
so many words that he hasn't a clue. I was actually embarrassed for him. A
terrific debater and otherwise reasonably smart man, Rumsfeld was reduced to
telling us once again that Iraq is the size of California and bemoaning the
deficiencies in "situational awareness" and lack of "perfect visibility"
into who it is that are killing our troops.

At least we were spared the usual claims that we are "moving forward" and
will prevail "at the end of the day." Apparently even Rumsfeld could see how
incongruous such banalities would have sounded after such a disastrous week.

Recent sloganeering is eerily reminiscent of a comparable stage in our
involvement in Vietnam. We would have to "stay the course." We could not
"cut and run"-though that is precisely what we ended up doing in 1975 after
58,000 US troops and 3 million Vietnamese had been killed. Why did we leave?
Because Congress, at last, came to realize that the war was unwinnable.

Is This Guerrilla War Winnable?

When Rumsfeld was asked when he thought it might be possible to draw down
U.S. troop strength in Iraq, he employed one of his favorite adjectives,
saying that this was "unknowable"-that it all depends on the security
situation. It is a no-brainer that U.S. troop reductions are unlikely
anytime soon, but apparently we shall have to wait for Rumsfeld to acquire
better "situational awareness" before he and his whiz kids are willing to
admit this.

Instead of drawdowns, pressure will inexorably grow from those
neo-conservatives already pushing for a larger troop commitment. Having
learned nothing from history, from the U.S. intelligence community, or from
the professional military, Rumsfeld's whiz kids may persuade President Bush
that the best course is to send more troops to "get the job done"—(and
thereby seal his fate!). One small problem, of course, is the unwelcome fact
that all too few troops are be available for reinforcement. But this kind of
military "detail" would not likely affect the urgings of advisers like
William Kristol and Kenneth Adelman.

A Bush administration decision to escalate (to exhume that familiar word
from Vietnam) in that way would only provoke more widespread guerrilla
attacks in Iraq and terrorist acts against U.S. personnel and facilities
elsewhere as well. The U.S. troop presence in Iraq is the problem, not the

And someone needs to dispel Rumsfeld's confusion regarding who is the enemy.
It is every Iraqi with weapon or explosive who means to make the occupier
suffer. The tools are readily available, and the guerrillas, whether
homebred or from neighboring states, will not be quelled—even if 500,000
troops are sent.

Imperial Rome was able to work its will on lesser states, but for the most
part Rome had a corner on the weapons. None of the subjugated peoples had
rockets, mortars, or missiles—and long lines were rare at guerrilla
recruiting stations.

"No One Knows"

The most embarrassing part of Rumsfeld's interview with ABC's This Week came
when he attempted to answer a question about how to reduce the number of
terrorists. "How do you persuade people not to become suicide bombers; how
do you reduce the number of people attracted to terrorism? No one knows how
to reduce that," he complained.

Over a year ago, CIA analysts provided an assessment intended to educate
senior policy makers to the fact that "the forces fueling hatred of the US
and fueling Al Qaeda recruiting are not being addressed," and that "the
underlying causes that drive terrorists will persist." The assessment cited
a recent Gallup poll of almost 10,000 Muslims in nine countries in which
respondents described the United States as "ruthless, aggressive, conceited,
arrogant, easily provoked and biased." And that was before the war in Iraq.

How can we be so misunderstood, you might ask? A major factor is the Bush
administration's one-sided support of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon,
whether he is bulldozing Palestinian homes, encouraging new Israeli
settlements in the occupied territories, building huge walls to make
impracticable any viable Palestinian state, or bombing Syria. Someone needs
to tell Rumsfeld that Muslims watch it all on TV—and then line up at the
recruiting stations.

But no one will. There is no longer any sanity check. Sad to say, over the
past year the director of the CIA and his malleable managers have shown a
penchant for sniffing the prevailing winds and trimming the sails of their
analysis to the breezes blowing from the Pentagon and White House.

The president's father had an acute appreciation for the essential role of
unbiased intelligence, but there is no sign that the son understands this.
Whether he realizes it or not, the analysis of the intelligence community
has been thoroughly politicized, leaving him no place to turn for a check on
Rumsfeld's/Cheney's whiz kids.

It is a Greek tragedy; with the major character flaw of hubris planting the
seeds of the ruler's own destruction. Rumsfeld eventually will write his
memoir—his own version of McNamara's "We were wrong; terribly wrong"—but
this will bring no consolation to what may be the next one-term president
back in Texas.

It is also tragic that the president does not read very much, for he would
have found the following in his father's memoir:

"Trying to eliminate Saddam... would have incurred incalculable human and
political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible... we would have
been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq... there was no
viable 'exit strategy' we could see, violating another of our principles...
Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations'
mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to
aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the
United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly
hostile land."

Real Power To The U.N.

As long as the occupation continues, so will the killing of U.S. troops and
others. The way to stop the violence is to end the occupation; the only way
to protect our troops is to bring them home. Whether or not U.S.
policymakers can admit at this point that they were "terribly wrong," they
need to transfer real authority to the United Nations without delay and
support the U.N. in overseeing a rapid return to Iraqi sovereignty.

But, many protest, we can't just withdraw! Sure we can, and better now than
ten years from now, as in the case of Vietnam. If it is true that we are not
in Iraq to control the oil or to establish military bases with which to
dominate that strategic area, we can certainly withdraw. As in Vietnam, the
war is unwinnable... hear that? Unwinnable!

If the U.S. withdraws, would there be civil war in Iraq? One cannot dismiss
this possibility lightly given the history of Iraq. But it is at least as
likely that a regional-federal model of government that would include
substantial autonomy for the Kurds in the north, the Sunnis in the center,
and the Shiites in the south (something foreshadowed by the composition of
the existing Council) could begin to function in relatively short order with
help from the U.N. While some degree of inter-ethnic violence could be
expected, chances are good that this model would still allow a
representative national government to function.

We won't know if we don't try. Besides, there is no viable alternative.

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