The International Writers Magazine: Comment: Patriot games
and the Iraqi War
"It Seems to Me...."
J. Lee Fedrick
Joseph Perkins article in the San Diego Union-Tribune entitled,
"Why Were The War Critics So Wrong?" last year with great
amusement. For weeks, its 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
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. Thats 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. Dont
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 Id
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).
Thats 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. Im 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
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, lets categorize some of the critics.
Some denounce war in principle. So whats 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 Quayles
staff as a deputy assistant. Im sure he obtained a good view of
the inner workings of a political apparatus, especially on the domestic
but did he get Basic War Planning insight
out of that? Thats 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. Thats why we have military
advisors, to give us the worst case scenario. So whats
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
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
wed 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, theres 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 lets 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 coalitions 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, were playing fast and loose with the concept
of providing a reasonable margin of safety in war-planning, dont
you think? Whats 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 didnt 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
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 thats 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? Theres 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,
its 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
them. For you, it sounds like it is because youre 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 Ambassadors
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 lets 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, Id like to
hear fewer accusations, and more details about these issues, from him
as well as from Arnett, Kristof and Geraldo, too. But recently, theres
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, theres Tough Crowd.
God bless America.
© J. Lee Fedrick 2004
all rights reserved