A Quality That is Sometimes Hard to Find

FEBRUARY 6, 2014

I recently had lunch with an old friend who described how a fellow army officer had, back in April 2008, attended a mandatory all hands meeting at the National Defense University in Washington. The purpose of the meeting, which was held in the university’s largest auditorium, was to promote a book written by noted neocon Doug Feith called War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism. Feith, a clever Ivy League lawyer who claims to read Edmund Burke for fun, dutifully performed for the audience, explaining how he had helped shape policy at the Pentagon that had resulted in the successful invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. He described one crucial meeting at the Pentagon where he had been a key player, able to convince the Defense Department brass to take his advice which had produced success on the battlefield.

Now think back to early 2008. Iraq was really a mess, with tens of thousands of civilians dead, Fallujah in ruins, hundreds of thousands displaced, and most of the Iraqi people experiencing lower living standards and worse health than had been the norm under Saddam. The country was politically on the verge of falling apart and security was breaking down in many areas. The “surge” of additional American troops, which ran from the spring of 2007 through the summer of 2008, was still surging and was given credit in the US media for stabilizing the situation. But the American public was not aware that the decline in violence had largely come about after a decision by the leading Shia militia not to oppose the increased American presence coupled with the process of buying off the Sunnis by giving them weapons and money. Nevertheless, the lowering of the intensity of the internal conflict enabled the usual crowd of neocons in Washington and the media to boast that the invasion and occupation of Iraq had been a success. This view was contradicted by the 61% of Iraqis who believed that the presence of foreign troops was actually making the situation worse, but no one was talking to the Iraqis.

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