Columns written for the Berkeley Daily Planet newspaper, Berkeley, CA




January 19, 2007

It has been said that on the eve of the World War II-era allied D-Day invasion of France, allied commander Dwight Eisenhower put in his pocket two separate statements for possible dissemination at the conclusion of the next day’s battle—one announcing victory, the other defeat.

We can say with absolute certainty that the allied military leaders had also worked out detailed plans for the withdrawal of soldiers from the Normandy beaches in the event of defeat—how their evacuation would be protected by covering fire, how they would be transported back across the channel, recovery centers within England where they would be initially deployed and protected from German counterattack.

But beyond that, though there may have been endless D-Day defeat scenarios, they would have been of doubtful immediate military value. Military strategists—of which I am not among—will tell you that wars cannot be so precisely plotted in advance. Much would have depended on how many of the allied soldiers survived and how much recovery time it would have taken to make them fit for further combat, the condition of the allied naval and air fleets following the battles, and comparable assessments of the condition and deployment of the axis forces. It is entirely possible that the D-Day invasion would have turned out to be a one-shot deal, with the possibility of a defeat so devastating and complete that it depleted the allied armies, exposed and wiped out the French resistance, allowed the Germans to turn their full attention east and therefore causing the Soviets to do another reverse and re-establish the Russian-German pact, ending with the fall of the Churchill government and forcing, finally, Great Britain to have to bow and sue for peace in order to prevent a counter-invasion.

On the eve of the D-Day invasion, who knew whether or not these events might occur or, if occurring, what the Anglo-American action should be in response?

Would our conservative and Republican friends—had they been around in the 40’s—clamored for Eisenhower, Roosevelt, and Churchill to call off D-Day because of the great possibilities of failure, and no detailed fallback contingency plan existed? That is merely speculation.

However, we do know that this is exactly what our conservative and Republican friends have done to our newly-empowered Democrats in regards to the plans for the withdrawal of United States troops and forces from Iraq. As Eisenhower, Roosevelt, and Churchill would have done in June of 1944, Democrats should do today, and respectfully refuse to fall into this political trap.

Let us set aside—for the moment, only, and only for the limited sake of this discussion—the question of how we got into this situation, and focus, instead, simply on defining the situation we are in and how to get out of it.

Let us also set aside any original goals for the American invasion, since events on the ground in Iraq have long since rendered them moot and unattainable in any practical sense. The national consensus—made particularly evident in the November elections—is now that United States military forces should as soon as possible, some say immediately, end their combat role in the Iraqi conflict. Many—most?—of our conservative and Republican leaders are now saying such a withdrawal of United States military forces should only be done in a manner that leaves a stable and defensible Iraqi nation in its wake.

That is certainly a worthy goal. The question, however, is whether or not it is possible for anyone within the United States to guarantee such a result, given the present circumstances.

We are caught in the middle of a political-military dilemma of the largest possible dimension.

The current U.S. policy of limited military deployment in Iraq—and it is, in fact, “limited,” if you compare it to the vast potential of personnel and material that is at our disposal but presently untapped—is not working, is not winning, and, by general consensus by every serious military and political strategist, cannot work and will not win. The current number of troops deployed appear to be just enough to help fuel the insurgency and attract military attack, but not enough to either put down the insurgents completely or even hold them off.

President George Bush has recently responded with announced intentions for a limited “surge,” a slight increase in the number of U.S. troops on the ground, with the stated intention of subduing rebellious neighborhoods, pacifying them, and turning them over to newly-trained members of the Iraqi national forces.

But how can we expect that such a limited “surge” will do anything but draw more American opponents into the fight, merely escalating the attacks against U.S. troops and widening the war?

How large a “surge” would be necessary to give some assurance of success of Mr. Bush’s current military goal? Who knows? But like the theory that the speed of light can never be surpassed because the faster an object goes the more it weighs and therefore the more power it must generate to pull its own weight in order to reach incrementally faster speeds—or the more popular assertion by Princess Leia in the original “Star Wars” movie that “the more the emperor tightens his grip, the more the rebellion will slip through his fingers”—we may be facing a situation in which, up to a certain point, the more United States troops are brought into Iraq, the more they will draw opposition forces and attacks into the war against the U.S., thus continuing the current balance of violence-without-end.

Perhaps an overwhelming influx of United States troops, for an extended period of time, would completely damp out the Iraqi fire and allow for the space in which the Iraqi Army could be train and deployed and made to take over the U.S. role. Perhaps. But even if that were true in theory, in Iraq, it does not seem at all possible to accomplish from the U.S. end. That would almost certainly require a military draft and vast new expenditures. No serious force in America, not even our conservative and Republican friends, are willing to go that far.

So if the United States cannot come into Iraq with force great enough to ensure victory—either because there is no force great enough for us to ensure victory, or else we don’t have the ability to field such a force if, in fact, it were theoretically possible to do so and “win”—and if the present staying of the course is untenable and impossible to maintain, then, of course, the United States must leave.

Orderly retreats are the most difficult and, indeed, heroic, of all military maneuvers, and getting the United States military forces out of harm’s way in Iraq would and will be no easy task. There is no telling exactly what would fill the vacuum. Bloody sectarian violence? Full-scale civil war, with each side fielding uniformed armies, forming governments, and claiming territory? The break-up of Iraq into ethnic-religious states, Shi’a and Sunni and Kurds pulling apart into sovereign national territories whose boundaries we can now only dimly imagine? The annexation of current Iraqi lands by powerful adjoining nations such as Syria, Iran, or Turkey? The escalation—precipitous or a slow slide—into a wider Middle Eastern war involving Israel and, possibly, European states? That might mean, at some point, the reintroduction of United States troops.

All of these are possible. But it is also possible that the withdrawal of United States forces could lead to a lowering of the Iraq tensions that would allow some other powers to intercede and broker some element of peace. The truth is, nobody knows to any degree of certainty what may follow a U.S. withdrawal. Like Eisenhower surveying the coming chaos at Normandy, we can only plan for contingencies, not predict actualities.

There is a certain poignancy when you watch the interviews of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and hear their almost plaintive complaints that those who counsel a U.S. military withdrawal have no faith in the ability of U.S. soldiers to “get the job done.” It recalls the blasphemy we used to recite out of hearing of our Sunday School teacher, “can God make a rock so large that it is too heavy for God to pick up?” One has to finally admit that there are some things that are out of reach of even the most powerful, no matter how much some of us may otherwise wish,

Let us leave Iraq in an orderly and dignified a manner as we can, not, as Mr. Reagan once did in Lebanon, strafing the hills with artillery fire on our way out, frustrated that the locals did not show us proper respect, but in a manner that allows us some positive influence on the ultimate difficulties that will follow.

Any other way courts madness, my friends.