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Who Lost Iraq

"Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke suggest that the Bush team has been like France's Bourbon dynasty who when restored to power after the French Revolution "remembered everything and learned nothing." But in working with China on North Korea and with the Europeans and the UN on Iran, the merits of consultative diplomacy do not seem entirely lost on the Bush White House. Perhaps the Bush team has learned its lesson in Iraq, or perhaps new escalations lie in store for Iran. Whatever the decisions to come in the last two years of Bush's lame-duck presidency, Halper and Clarke are right to stress that the U.S. media, academics, think-tanks and policy-makers will all have to do a great deal better than their wretched performance on Iraq." Photo courtesy AFP.
by Martin Walker
UPI Editor Emeritus
Washington (UPI) Mar 01, 2007
When taking responsibility for the disastrous attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro with Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs in April, 1961, the newly-elected President John F. Kennedy commented "Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan." There is a growing consensus in Washington (and almost complete consensus in the world beyond) that the Iraq venture is looking like a serious strategic defeat for the United States. And this defeat will be no orphan.

A range of authors have already been named, from President George Bush, vice-president Dick Cheney, former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his aides Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith, the massed ranks of neo-conservatives and British prime minister Tony Blair.

Now some new targets are emerging. After their impassioned assault ('America Alone; the neo-conservatives and the global order') on the neo-con putsch that captured the commanding heights of the Bush administration's foreign policy, Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke have turned their sights on the co-conspirators and enablers who cheered Bush into the Iraqi quagmire.

Their new book, "The Silence of the Rational Center; why American foreign policy is failing" (Basic Books, $26.95) comes with strong credentials. Halper served in the Reagan and first Bush administrations and now teaches at Cambridge, England, and Clarke was a veteran British diplomat with particular knowledge of intelligence. With sharp pen-portraits and a host of citations that testify to their researches, they describe the way that the breathless simplifications of TV cable news combined with fame-seeking academics, partisan think-tanks and advocacy journalism to weaken the critical faculties of Washington's policy-making intelligentsia.

They aim their fire in all directions. Economist Paul Krugman, who is better known as an anti-war New York Times columnist, is condemned for stepping outside his specialty, just as Professors Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington get it in the neck for over-simplifying and sensationalizing their own erudition.

Partisan think-tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute are slammed as cheerleaders for war, while the more objective institutions like Brookings, Carnegie Endowment and the Center for Strategic and International Studies are criticized for equivocation and for their near silence as the Bush administration headed for war.

The prestigious Council on Foreign Relations is accused of "institutional failure" for standing "mute on the matter of opposition." And the entire panoply of Washington's think-tanks are said to be "failing as a collective" in a city dominated by 'empty, slogan-based exchange that simplifies the variables and suppresses detailed discussion."

"The effect was to suppress the rational centre and the debate that was needed to form effective policy," they write. "Put another way, if policy is formed without the benefit of full debate, then one of the nation's most remarkable and indispensable treasures - its free-flowing intellectual energy - has simply been abandoned."

So far, so good. This kind of hindsight-powered polemic is a useful reminder of the dangers of the groupthink that gripped much of Washington's intellectual community (and Congress and much of the U.S. population) after the shock of the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

And the authors are right to say that the American superpower deserves better of its policy intelligentsia, although there were important figures like Zbigniew Bzrezinski and Brent Scowcroft, two former White House national security advisers, and former national security Agency chief General William Odom who sounded dire warnings as the momentum gathered for the war to topple Saddam Hussein.

Halper and Clarke buttress their argument by suggesting that the American system is unusually vulnerable to a "Big Idea" that can be expressed in a pungent phrase like President Bush's "axis of evil." They cite the high-mindedly patriotic slogans that have caught the national imagination from "Manifest Destiny" to Abraham Lincoln's "Last Best Hope on Earth" and the "Domino Theory" that was deployed to justify America's misadventure in Vietnam .Such simplicities can turn sour, as they did with Senator Joe McCarthy's Red Scare.

And yet there have been some American Big Ideas that turned out admirably. Without the "bastion of democracy' in World War Two, Nazism might not have been defeated. And the grand strategy of the Cold War, to hold the line short of war while building up the economies of its European and Asian allies, proved robust enough to survive setback in Korea and humiliation in Vietnam while helping to spread an unparalleled prosperity throughout the West.

Halper and Clarke decry Bush's Big Idea of "Freedom on the March," the hitherto botched attempt to spread modernization and democracy in the Middle East and the Islamic world. And yet the United National Development Program's seminal Arab Human Development report of 2002, written by Arab intellectuals, suggests that Bush's Big Idea might deserve thoughtful consideration rather than mockery. There is no doubt that Bush's rhetorical support for democracy in the world of Islam has so far produced few results. But that is not to say that it is wrong, or that the goal should be simply abandoned, or that in more capable hands it might not prove beneficial.

The authors prefer to race on to their own Big Idea, that the disasters of policy-making over Iraq must now teach the essential lesson for the greater strategic challenge of managing the rise of China. "The far-reaching and perhaps catastrophic error would be a China policy built on a Big Idea and laced with passion. Perhaps we can avoid it, but the record is not encouraging," they suggest, adding "There is no room for error."

They suggest that the Bush team has been like France's Bourbon dynasty who when restored to power after the French Revolution "remembered everything and learned nothing." But in working with China on North Korea and with the Europeans and the UN on Iran, the merits of consultative diplomacy do not seem entirely lost on the Bush White House. Perhaps the Bush team has learned its lesson in Iraq, or perhaps new escalations lie in store for Iran. Whatever the decisions to come in the last two years of Bush's lame-duck presidency, Halper and Clarke are right to stress that the U.S. media, academics, think-tanks and policy-makers will all have to do a great deal better than their wretched performance on Iraq.

earlier related report
Benchmarks: Iraq stalemate continues
by Martin Sieff
Washington, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Casualties suffered by U.S. forces in Iraq have remained stable at a "stalemate" level for the past two month.

As of Wednesday, Feb. 27, 3,155 U.S. troops had been killed in Iraq since the start of military operations to topple Saddam Hussein on March 19, 2003. Of these, 2,543 were killed in action according to official figures issued by the U.S. Department of Defense.

In all 79 U.S. soldiers were killed in the 27-day period from Feb. 1 through Feb. 27 at an average rate of just over 2.93 per day. These figures were almost identical to the previous 27 day period when 78 U.S. troops were killed from Jan. 4 through Jan. 31 at an average rate of 2.81 per day.

These figures suggest that the conflict between U.S. forces and Iraqi insurgents has continued in a period of stalemate or stasis as additional U.S. troops sent under President George W. Bush's new "surge" strategy deploy for the new effort to bring security to the Iraqi capital of six million people.

The relatively stable figures of the past two months show an improvement of more than 20 percent on the fatality rate of 3.4 killed per day during the 29-day period from Dec. 7 through Jan. 4, when 99 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq. But the January and February figures were still more than 25 percent worse than the 16-day period from Nov. 21 through Dec. 6 when 35 U.S. soldiers were killed at an average rate of just over 2.2 per day.

The figures for the first two months of 2007 also marked a very significant rise from the 14-day period from Nov. 7 through Nov. 20 when 32 U.S. soldiers were killed at an average rate of just below 2.3 per day. But they were better than the 22-day period from Oct. 16 through Nov. 6 when 371 U.S. soldiers were killed at an average rate of just below 3.23 per day.

During the 18-day period from Sept. 28 through Oct. 15, 56 U.S. soldiers were killed at an average rate of just over 3.1 per day. That rate was identical to the one we reported Oct. 1 in these columns for the nine days from Sept. 19 through Sept. 27, when 28 U.S. soldiers were killed at an average rate of 3.1 per day. At that time, we noted that these figures were far higher than the rate during the previous 18-day period, when 33 U.S. soldiers were killed from Sept. 1 through Sept. 18, at an average rate of 1.77 per day.

The latest figures are also more than 33 percent worse than the fatality rate during the two-week period from Aug. 18 through Aug. 31 when 29 U.S. soldiers were killed at an average rate of just over two per day. U.S. soldiers were killed during the three-week period from July 28 through Aug. 17 at an average rate of 2.33 per day. From July 21 through July 27, 14 U.S. soldiers were killed, at an average rate of two per day.

Before that five-week period, the rate at which U.S. soldiers were killed per day in Iraq had risen for almost eight weeks. Some 1.75 per day were killed during the eight-day period from July 13 through July 20. And 1.36 U.S. soldiers were killed per day during the 15-day period from June 29 through July 12. However, during the eight days from June 21 through June 28, 24 U.S. soldiers died at an average rate of three per day.

As of Wednesday, Feb. 27, 23,677 U.S. soldiers had been injured in Iraq since the start of military operations to topple Saddam. During the 27-day period from Feb. 1 to Feb. 27, 398 U.S. soldiers were injured at an average rate of 16.9 per day. This was only marginally below the figures for the previous 27-day period from Jan. 4 to Jan. 31 when 465 U.S. soldiers were injured at an average rate of 17.2 per day. These figures too suggest that the conflict has continued at a relatively stable plateau, or breathing space period, since the beginning of this year.

The January and February figures and rate of casualties suffered for U.S. troops wounded in Iraq also was an improvement of more than 20 percent on the previous 29-day period from Dec. 7 through Jan. 4, when 657 U.S. soldiers were injured in Iraq at an average rate of just over 22.7 per day. The January and February figures were also a marked improvement on the 16-day period from Nov. 21 through Dec. 6 when 379 U.S. soldiers were injured in Iraq at an average rate of just below 23.7 per day.

The figures for the past two months also continued the lowest rate of U.S. soldiers injured per day since mid-August. From Nov. 7 through Nov. 20, 259 U.S. soldiers were injured in Iraq at an average rate of 18.5 per day, according to U.S. Department of Defense figures. This marked a return to the levels of the 40-day period from Sept. 28 through Nov. 6.

From Oct. 16 through Nov. 6, 524 U.S. soldiers were injured in Iraq at an average rate of 23.81 per day. That rate of casualties suffered was virtually identical to the previous 18-day period from Sept. 28 through Oct. 15, when 427 U.S. soldiers were injured in Iraq at an average rate of 23.72 per day.

The main thrust of the Sunni Muslim insurgents in recent weeks has been focused on inflicting civilian casualties in Baghdad, especially among the Shiite Muslim insurgents there. The insurgent shave continued to inflict continuing levels of attrition on U.S. forces primarily through the use of their improvised explosive devices or IEDs, but this has not been an operational priority for them.

It remains to be seen if the new "surge" strategy to create islands of "spreading ink blots" of stability through Baghdad will change that pattern.

Source: United Press International

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