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The International Writers Magazine
: Comment: Patriot games and the Iraqi War

"It Seems to Me...."
J. Lee Fedrick

I read Joseph Perkins’ article in the San Diego Union-Tribune entitled, "Why Were The War Critics So Wrong?" last year with great amusement. For weeks, it’s been a battle of rhetoric between those labeled’ Pro-War’ (translation: ‘Pro-Administration), and those labeled ‘Anti-War (translation: anti-Administration).
I really do not want to get into that primarily because most persons involved in the debate on both sides treat it less like the philosophical, global issue it should be and more like a political football to further sub-divide the country into a new category of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’.

Joseph Perkins’ editorial is no better or worst than any of the other diatribes out there on both sides. What made me think twice about Mr. Perkins’ article, however, was the lead in, praising the troops and expressing how proud he was of them. That’s a good start. After you get past the first paragraph, the other 99% of the article proceeded to demand the equivalent of an explanation from those who disagreed with the ‘War Plan’, so to speak. Most of the editorial referred to journalists who criticized the war in some way, and Mr. Perkins challenged their contentions. No problem, this is exactly what you expect journalists to do. But, one could easily infer from the piece that Mr. Perkins’ opinions were not limited to journalists, and the global aspect of his own criticism suggested that some of Mr. Perkins own contentions be challenged as well. While I do not think criticism is any reason to lead anyone across the Bridge of Sighs into political purgatory, what is important here involves using troop support as a prop for what ultimately ends up being just another run-of-the-mill political perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading diverse opinions, even if Mr. Perkins does not. But Mr. Perkins did hit on a very real issue that I’d like a little clarification on. Were the war critics really so wrong?

First of all, the critics were not limited to the persons referenced in Mr. Perkins’ editorial, so to dismiss the ‘critics’ as represented by the few and insignificant ones he addressed by name is a misrepresentation of the entire issue. The question of, ‘Why were the war critics so wrong?’ can be rephrased to, ‘Who made this Saddam Hussein out to be Godzilla in the first place?’ To me, it appears some of the ‘critics’ believed all the press about Hussein, and expected the worst as a result. This man was a threat to our country, a mad dictator with WMD and a military that demanded around the clock bombing and creation of the MOAB (Mother of All Bombs). That’s a pretty serious threat. If the critics really were wrong, it sounds like the old’ garbage in, garbage out’ syndrome. The essence of Mr. Perkins’ editorial, as I see it, involves praising those who were accused of shortsighted planning, and risky deployment, while giving a brief ‘atta-boy’ to those men and women in the field who actually pulled it off. I’m waiting for the facts before I decide, but what really concerns me about this entire editorial is that I get no real facts, just some generalizations and some thinly veiled personal attacks. Furthermore, labeling war critics as ‘wrong’ in such a dismissive, global manner implies that there are no details worth debating in the criticism, just the criticism itself. I must respectfully disagree.

In fact, it is illogical to assume that everyone who ‘criticized’ the war was either unpatriotic (Mr. Perkins never said that) or wrong. Also, the implicit assumption that critics of the war were ever concerned with being proven ‘right’ is depraved reasoning in itself. The bottom-line: we won. We should all be thankful for that, regardless of your position before the war started. I know I am. The one thing both sides agreed on was the need to win and minimize casualties.
But, let’s categorize some of the critics.
Some denounce war in principle. So what’s new about that? Since when did this position invite such derision and disrespect? Then there were the ‘critics’ of The Plan, not the war. And this is the target group for Mr. Perkins’ editorial, I believe. Everyone has the right to his or her opinion, of course, especially a distinguished editorial writer such as Mr. Perkins. But what is exhibited here resembles a grave disrespect for those such as General McCaffrey and others in positions of advisement who thought:
1) There, maybe, should be more troops
2) There, maybe, could be more casualties
3) There, maybe, would not be ‘flowers and kisses’ greeting troops when they arrived.

This is where I think a clarification is in order from Mr. Perkins and his ilk . First of all, since when does a career officer who happened to disagree with deployment specifics owe you an explanation for their opinion? Oh, yes, I know of Mr. Perkins’ tenure on Quayle’s staff as a deputy assistant. I’m sure he obtained a good view of the inner workings of a political apparatus, especially on the domestic policy front…but did he get ‘Basic War Planning’ insight out of that? That’s not a snide remark, I really want to know, because it may allow me to put some of his remarks in better perspective. Of course, Mr. Perkins does not owe me an explanation, but I am just following his lead. I may be mistaken, but my perception of military advisors involves people who tell you the bad news, to help you make up your mind. These are not infallible oracles, they are people with experience and insight…and opinions. That’s why we have military advisors, to give us the ‘worst case scenario’. So what’s all the fuss and attitude about? Sounds to me like the advisors did their job. Criticism of ‘The Plan’ was not limited to journalists and talking heads as Mr. Perkins would lead us to believe, but other unnamed individuals directly involved.

Furthermore, to praise the Administration collectively for succeeding in spite of some criticism ignores a fundamental possibility: perhaps some of the criticisms were legitimate. The speed at which the troops moved through Iraq to Baghdad was impressive. But, we are ignoring something (at least in the war I watched). The ‘mass surrenders’ did not occur as rapidly as planned. Resistance was greater than expected (or at least greater than we, the public, were lead to believe while this war was being sold). As a result, we were unable to simply by-pass the southern cities as planned, and forced to battle combatants in urban areas we did not desire to. As a result, we took greater resources to protect the supply-line to the north than we had planned. Also, as a result, we had fewer troops to spare for such mundane duties as ‘order’ in Baghdad and securing the city to the satisfaction of retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, the U.S.-appointed head of a transitional administration. So, by implying that the critics were ‘so wrong’, does it infer that the Administration was ‘right’ all along? They are not oracles either, and to imply that there was no ‘adjustment’ of the Plan is as ‘wrong’ as Arnett and his ilk are accused of being.

In one particularly amusing passage, Mr. Perkins’ described watching Iraqis ‘dancing in the streets’, to refute the notion that critics actually had the audacity to question just how much support we’d get from the Iraqis. I really cannot address if he is delusional or not (his suggested possibility). I am well aware how the power to television can give credence to almost anything, but that is hardly a convincing argument. Most ‘life’ takes place off-camera. For every bit of footage showing a dancing Iraqi, there’s more footage showing a guy in blue make-up dancing in the stands of a Dallas Cowboy football game. Does that imply dancing in Greenbay? Not hardly. And let’s look at some other issues that took place ‘off-camera’. Saudi Arabia would not allow us to use their territory as a base to launch into southern Iraq (but they sold us some fuel), Turkey would not allow us to use their territory as a base to launch action into northern Iraq (but they moved some of their troops in to keep an eye on the Kurds). Got footage? Nope. One would be foolish NOT to assume that many, many Iraqis welcome liberation. But, toss in the ‘Sunni-minority’ factor and there is reason to believe that many may not, so the ‘global’ assumption of gleeful Iraqis tossing roses (and where did they get those flags anyway?) is just not substantiated. That point is still not resolved, regardless of which devil named a tune, and who had to dance.

Mr. Perkins mentioned the low casualty count (thank goodness) as another example of the critics’ ineptitude. Obviously, greater minds than mine will be evaluating the pros and cons of this war for years to come. However, a mere month after the start of the war, to begin the dishing out of ‘triumphalism’ as Mr. Perkins referred to it is not only short-sighted, but smacks of partisan politics with a bit of hubris thrown in for emphasis. Need I remind Mr. Perkins that some of the largest numbers of casualties occurred mere days before the end of the first Gulf War, and it could be said that his remarks regarding casualty counts are both irresponsible and premature. But that would be misinterpreting what he meant by taking it out of context. Mr. Perkins should be extended that courtesy, though I question if he has done likewise.
In fact, as described by Mr. Perkins: "…before we close the books on operation Iraqi Freedom, let us call into account the naysayers who were most critical of the coalition’s prosecution of the war, the doom-mongers who warned that the war would yield disaster." Excuse me whilst I step out of character but, "Say what?" Call what into account? Where? Why? Are you going to call into account Secretary Colin Powell for his cautious, diplomatic approach to resolving this as a ‘naysayer’?

In a society that ascribes liability to fast food chains for making people fat, and cigarette companies for neglecting to mention that cigarettes may be addictive, we’re playing fast and loose with the concept of providing a reasonable margin of safety in war-planning, don’t you think? What’s wrong with more troops? Would you fly on a plane that carried only the exact amount of fuel it took to complete the trip, worked on by mechanics that used repair parts that just marginally made the specification? How about flown by a pilot that is just barely under the legal limit for alcohol? No, I didn’t think so. We demand more assurances that our burgers are fresh than we credit these ‘critics’ with trying to provide for the troops. Mr. Perkins’ premise acts as if caution were a bad thing we have to ‘call into account’?

Since when in this country is it ‘un-American’ to voice ones opposition to anything, especially when the well being of others is at stake? Last time I checked, this was not a Stalinist regime but a democracy.
In praising the Administration collectively, while ignoring those professional soldiers who advised the Administration, those that commanded in the field and the soldiers who actually pulled it off in spite of any theoretical short-comings, those most involved get limited credit; we do the equivalent of praising a company CEO for NOT going bankrupt in spite of some possible accounting irregularities, because the middle managers and employees managed to pull it all together in time to avert disaster. Well, that probably happens more than we think, but that’s an issue for debate later. Bottom line is, aside from passing lip service and routine accolades, these soldiers are going to get next to nothing out of this success. Why? There’s too much debate about who was ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ instead of the larger issue of the needs of those who got the job done.

Many will still live on food stamps, watch their retirement benefits dwindle away, before most of them are even eligible. Was Rumsfeld right when he explained away his reluctance to provide vets with disability pay on top of retirement pay because it would take away resources from their fight on terrorism?
Yet, we have just signed a wartime spending bill for $80 billion dollars, with $3 billion of that allocated to the slumping airlines industry. Would you care to go on record and give us your opinion of this? Yes, we are all ‘darn proud’ of the troops but a little short on cash for the disabled ones. What about the ‘heroes’ of the last Gulf War? How long did it take for acknowledgement of Gulf War Syndrome as real? What of their family lives as our reluctance for military conflict fades due to this stellar performance, and the opportunities for disability and death increase as the world destabilizes further? After making the most from the least and still getting the job done, those that looked out for them by pointing out ‘possibilities’ and ‘dangers’ are be raked over the coals as ‘doom-mongers’.

Meanwhile, the political non-participants sing the praises of their political superiority and reward themselves. Hollywood will lick its wounds and wait to fight another issue, another day. In many cases, it’s less about loving the troops than hating the president. Not all, of course. And like the Anti-War lobby in Hollywood, the Pro-War journalistic groupies will be invited to the Washington After-Party, sip wine, and discuss the next, great adventure. Outside looking in the window at both parties are our troops. Praised then forgotten, they will not be remembered again until there is a need for a pawn in yet another a political struggle that has less to do with them than an issue being kicked around by the power brokers. Either that, or to put their lives at risk while their standard of living erodes further. Will people from both sides of this ‘Iraqi War’ issue remember the troops after the dust settles, when they are asking for support in their attempts to keep the benefits they have from disappearing altogether? Who will be ‘embedded’ with them then?

In conclusion, Mr. Perkins, those who advised Secretary Rumsfeld and President Bush by assuming more risk than actually has appeared (to date) need not explain themselves to you. While you can demand an explanation from your journalistic peers, General McCaffrey does not have to answer to you and me over his opinions anymore than you should have to answer to him and me for your editorials. Afterall, there are still guerillas in the midst, and no more U.S. troops going in. This is not over…for them. For you, it sounds like it is because you’re already counting cookies. If the military advisors were overly cautious (‘wrong’, as Mr. Perkins labeled it), then there is no problem. No problem at all. So what if a bunch of journalists shot off their mouth and were wrong? I mean, really. How many journalists touted the Kuwaiti Ambassador’s daughter ‘s testimony about ‘Iraqi troops taking incubators’ in the first Gulf War as evidence to go to war? I do not recall an accounting of those responsible for spreading that ‘fiction’ as ‘fact’. Believe me, most informed Americans know to take all of you with a grain of salt. This is a matter to be taken up among the journalists themselves regarding their code of conduct. The only problem I would see is if the Administration ignored good advice from their over cautious advisors and made this thing harder than it needed to be. We do not know if that is the case or not, but if journalists insist on defining who was ‘right’ and who was ‘wrong’, then let’s go all the way and get down to it. Rather than wishing to silence Mr. Perkins, even though I disagree with aspects of his opinion in this case, I’d like to hear fewer accusations, and more details about these issues, from him as well as from Arnett, Kristof and Geraldo, too. But recently, there’s been a lot less dialog and a lot more rhetoric. For those of us still craving discussion and debate, so we can make up our own minds (not having someone presume to tell us how to think) there is always ‘The McLaughlin Group’. You owe the public that much. For those more interested in punishing opposing views, there’s ‘Tough Crowd’. God bless America.

© J. Lee Fedrick 2004

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