Thursday, July 9, 2015

Iraq Lessons Learned

What follows is a start of my thoughts about the war in Iraq. I've been asked by many to discuss ISIS [1] and what we (the US) should do about the Middle East, but I've been busy trying to get the latest book edited and ready for its life. I've decided to divide the issue of Iraq into several pieces, for one can never look at such matters head on. History is important. And today I will tackle, from the view of the newer generation of this Endless War on Terror, the legacy of previous wars. I think it's important which lessons are gleamed from our wars, and I hope to grow as a veteran and writer with respect to this analysis.


When it comes to looking back on any war, it’s important that one is able to discern all the facts. For the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Vietnam war we are certain to see facts twisted and hidden in an effort to broadcast a specific narrative about that war. I speak of the Pentagon’s efforts to whitewash the war for this upcoming anniversary. Of course, this matters not just because of the past, but for making sure that the groundwork isn’t laid out for future wars.

To that end, when some people tell me that all the lessons learned about Vietnam were ignored in the run-up to, and duration, of the Iraq war, I have to respectfully disagree. Because though the knowledgeable were certainly aware (this didn’t include me), the narrative about the Vietnam War in the mainstream press was (and is) not so clear. At best one heard about matters of a well-intentioned mistake, or that it was the liberal-protest movement that somehow snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. All this talk about mistakes helped to build a narrative that the next time we do this, things will be better for the mistakes will be corrected. [2]

And so it goes. For my own—still ongoing—war in Iraq, I see the same things happening. For even as we pulled out our troops in 2011, and the nation appeared tired of war, the mainstream press showed signs that no real lessons were being learned—not the right ones, anyhow.

Most of the narratives, even if they focused on mistakes, were the kind which would easily allow us to fall into the same go-to-war fallacy again (and certainly won’t end the endless war). These narratives included a subsection devoted to mistakes that could have turned the war around if only we had known: invading too fast, disbanding the Iraqi Army, not having enough troops, and the US-human/monetary cost. 

Again, the problem with lessons of this kind is that they provide a false narrative that allows people to think “well, next time we can do this right”. Or, with regard to cost, we can do it cheaper next time. With automated war upon us, this is certainly possible in terms of dollars and our human cost... though only in the short term; see also how the Pentagon views the air war against Laos vs the war in Vietnam, or the current drone war [3]. Also note that after ISIS came to power in Western Iraq, the hawks say we should have left troops indefinitely in Iraq. [4] 

With regard to the run-up of the Iraq war, the loudest narratives point to a handful of men lying to the nation. Certainly there were lies told (and again, some claim it was faulty intelligence), but this need to focus on a singular mistake (this time in a single personality) takes the entire establishment off the hook. From the legislature to the press [5], all shouted down the opposition to this war and made it seem necessary. 

The above are the main narratives out there and they cannot be allowed to carry on unchallenged if we are to even entertain the idea of stopping endless war. [6] They overlook the moral implications of conducting wars of aggression (& the blowback from them) while weakening our own democracy by steamrolling opposition; in addition, they limit any chance at improving international stability by weakening international rules. To prevent the next war, we need to focus on structural reforms here at home in addition to strengthening international laws and their implementation. To not do so will result in us bequeathing our next generation a country and world in worse shape than ever. [7]


[1] There are many points to tackle when it comes to ISIS. I will as much as I can, to include the apparent gullibility of my friends who seem to have jumped on that train (to bomb or defeat ISIS), as well as view that which is the need of my fellow veterans who served in Iraq and elsewhere to look for a reason to be right about the wars they fought. 

[2] And with all good propaganda, it's not so clear how much of this was the kind of thing that was wanted by the people and how much was forced upon them by those on top, starting with the likes of Reagan and co; but one thing is clear, that this is a whitewash of history at its best.
The main part has been to make up stories about veterans being spit upon and blame that upon the liberal/peace movements. Very little could be further from the truth (see this book: American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity). I sense, as with my war, there's more than a few veterans who would like to conflate hatred for themselves with hatred for the war (not as widespread as it usually is). And indeed, there is something to the simplicity of people who would like to forget a war and thus forget the veterans (or blame them, I get this sense nowadays for our all volunteer Army) or blame them too. And so it goes, but this helps no one. As a veteran I will always work towards passing on knowledge and looking for lessons learned. Our nation will only grow stronger through this, not through forgetfulness.

[3] Indeed if the Iraq war will teach us anything, it might be the same things as the Vietnam war did: that the only thing people don't want are soldiers dying for no reason (also, having soldiers deployed overseas means more witnesses that the media will listen to). Thus the politicians will move to minimize the amount of soldiers abroad. This means a large move to automated warfare. With regard to Vietnam, there is the counterpoint of how the Pentagon views Laos, where many lives were destroyed. Again, not much was heard of this place as innocents were slaughtered for nothing. But in the end, this should not be the solution, either. The American people must know when innocents are being slaughtered in their name. In the future we will be able to wage war cheaply and effectively, is that all right? I think not. 

[4] One thing people should note is that most of these calls for "show of power" really have nothing to do with the safety of everyday American people and everything to do with the protection of oligarchs. If these people really cared, they would have asked for the money to be spent at home, wouldn't they? But they won't. That's plain for all to see, but what isn't plain is that there are so many people who simply want to ride the coattails of whomever is in power and cheer them on. This anti-Americanism is something I can never understand.

[5] And here we come to the weakest link and the inability of the press, the mainstream press, to sell anything other than the official line. What is it with this sickness? Since it leads to obfuscation packaged and sold to the American people, and since that runs so counter to the ideals of America, I can only call this a very anti-American streak as well. The only way to improve us for the future, I say, is to introduce an amendment for the future which will either limit powers to spend money on certain news stories that benefit themselves, or something similar (making sure that media is a fractured market no matter what, with a plethora of local voices, otherwise it's not freedom of speech, but freedom of money). 

So somehow we need to face off with a press that always parrots the official line, and at best a two-party line when it comes to foreign entanglements.

[6] It is said that America has always been at war, so this shouldn't change much. I don't agree with this. If wars have been waged  they've been waged behind the scenes and kept from the American people. Again, this is anti-Americanism as its finest. The future needs to change. But in a zero-sum game, we really need to start thinking about America and not that we're creating something like a billion enemies overseas and also allowing the nation itself to decay. 

[7] Again, the moral aspect is the largest part of this equation. Kissinger-like realpolitik has taken over all major factions of our country. I'm not sure why as it is equivalent of some of the foulest regimes in the world. 


FUTURE STUDIES: As I have noted many times, no one person or organization has perfect information of the world (if such a thing exists) and I certainly do not. So I acknowledge this while pointing out the future directions of what I need to study to better answer the question of what lessons can be learned from Iraq, and what we can do for future wars and warfare (with respect to that, if you have more information on any point you disagree with, explain and provide me with ways to improve my knowledge base).

1) Look into more possible amendments that will allow us to have a less corporate media that only parrots official lines. What wording will work best to ensure the best of our first amendment is enhanced, not subverted? Again, to this end, one must deal with the press we have, and thus a program that allows us to see how moneyed interests are playing into the slant is very important, but more possible than ever.

2) Look into how the WWII syndrome plays into American views of war. Too often there's a Hitler around the corner and we need to stop him. Right. 

3) Look into how to reinforce international laws (the ICC) so that less of a tribal world (that gangsterism that comes from the mouths of Americans seems to play to this world view) comes through in the world and more of a cohesive one is formed. What specific laws can be formed so that we inhibit us and other regional Empires from acting in certain ways?



To wit there are many good books on the Vietnam War here's one: American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity.




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