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Iraq “exit strategy?”

By James Rothenberg

02/15/06 "
ICH" -- -- Fairness dictates admitting that one of the harshest criticisms leveled against the Bush/Cheney administration may be unwarranted and even unadvisable. I’m speaking of the charge that this Iraq war was waged without sufficient planning for what was going to take place after the “major hostilities” had ended. Without a viable “exit strategy”. How many times have you heard that? They didn’t have an exit strategy. Their worst error.

It’s unfortunate that many Americans fail to grasp the magnitude of the advance planning needed simply to stage the invasion. You can’t simply wait for the Authorization for Use of Military Force and then make a few phone calls. Stuff has to get moved and stuff has to get done. Food, munitions, tanks, beds, band aids, finishing up that air base in Qatar. With this in mind it is not surprising that the Downing Street Memo revelations were not taken seriously by respected U.S. and British policy makers. Bush and Blair had committed to war practically one year before the invasion? And this was a secret? It takes months to raise the price of a stamp.

Just for the two leaders to psychologically prepare their populations for war required lengthy propaganda campaigns. As any advertising specialist can vouch for, you can’t implant your product into the public brain in a single push. First you’ve got to part the hair, open the scalp, get to the brain, open it…it takes time.

Did we fault the Soviets for not having an exit plan when they invaded a country? Or the Nazis? We are way too astute for that. It would be insane to take over a country in order to leave it, and if there’s one thing Wolfowitz and Perle and Cheney and Libby and Rumsfeld and the rest of the gang are not it’s crazy. Why these people are just one step away from a Presidential Medal of Freedom!

The war planners had enough to think about just to get their hands on the Oil Ministry before everything caught fire. If they had to foresee every little power outage and beheading it would stunt their every move. Besides, this was a time to test the “flexibility” of our transformed military. Sure, some said the invasion would be a “cakewalk”. Actually, one said it, Kenneth Adelman in the Washington Post. Everyone else knew it, but it’s not the kind of thing you say before you attack. Nothing to be gained by it.

And there’s something else. No matter how many times you invade a country, you always get a little nervous. A little sweaty. It’s a natural thing. Every performer goes through it. Every athlete. I’m sure they were sweating plenty in the White House that first night until they saw those lovely light flashes in the dark, Baghdad sky. That had to be comforting. Reminded me of the fireworks scene in To Catch a Thief.

Little noticed and under-appreciated was how Bush/Cheney rule gave us the first “good war” of this new century. Oh, don’t you remember? Afghanistan. That was a good war, wasn’t it? It was justified. We went in after Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. We didn’t get them but we sure got a lot of other people. You mean you don’t remember? John Walker Lindh. The wedding party…all bombed out…ruined. Sure. But there’s one thing about the United States. We don’t intentionally target wedding parties.

Come to think of it we never had much time to debate the “goodness” of the Afghanistan war. So fast did we go off to places where there were “better targets”. It revealed a limitation of our great nation’s ability to fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous wars. We could fight them, and win them, but our publicity department was stretched so thin that we could no longer cover both of them. So Afghanistan was left to suffer. Future plans should accommodate the growing need for an enlarged public relations department. This will fend off complaints from war critics that they were deprived of the honor of airing their position in the public arena.

Finally, the Pentagon has quietly accomplished something remarkable. No less than the New York Times has postulated the emergence of a second superpower – the only power capable of restraining the awesome power of the United States – world public opinion. This has not escaped the attention of our rulers, who bit into this problem with the same intensity that one reserves for any serious rival. In so doing we may be marking the beginning of a new international norm for warfare by appealing to the doctrines of accepted practice – generality, duration, and opinio juris – a stunning achievement. Legitimizing the killing of journalists in a time of war. That would be one fine day.

James Rothenberg, writer/activist - jrothenberg@taconic.net

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