Is Petraeus Today's Westmoreland?
The killing in Hawijah, Iraq, of 18-year old Corporal Jeremy Shank of Jackson, Missouri (population 12,000) merited an article in his local newspaper, the Southeast Missourian.
Cpl. Shank was killed just over a year ago, on Sept. 6, 2006, and I was in that part of Missouri when his body came home for burial. According to the Pentagon, Shank was on a “dismounted security patrol when he encountered enemy forces using small arms.”
Cpl. Shank’s death came two years after President George W. Bush greeted then-Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi at the White House, proudly announcing “months of steady progress” toward a free Iraq, despite persistent violence in some parts of the country.
Cpl. Shank’s death came two weeks after national security adviser Stephen Hadley acknowledged that the mid-2006 upsurge in violence meant that the new challenge in Iraq “isn’t about insurgency, isn’t about terror; it’s about sectarian violence.”
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki underscored the point, “The most important element in the security plan is to curb the religious violence.”
So what was the mission of Cpl. Shank while on security patrol, and who were the “enemy forces” he encountered? Was his mission to prevent Iraqi religious fanatics from killing each other?
On Sept. 7, 2006, the day after Shank was killed, President Bush in effect mocked Jeremy Shank’s death by drawing the familiar but bogus connection to 9/11:
“Five years after September the 11th, 2001, America is safer—and America is winning the war on terror [and] will leave behind a more peaceful world for our children and our grandchildren.”
Not for the children, grandchildren of Jeremy Shank.
Put Themselves in Harm’s Way?
At the First Baptist Church in Jackson, Rev. Carter Frey eulogized Shank as one of those who “put themselves in harm’s way and paid the ultimate sacrifice so you and I can have freedom to live in this country.”
That was a stretch—a staple of Fox and other “news,” but, still, a stretch.
And I have been asking myself in the year since how many young men and women like Jeremy Shank have been, and will be killed trying to stop Shia and Sunni from killing one another.
President Bush described “our job” a few weeks after Shank’s death as being “to prevent the full-scale civil war from happening.”
Was/is that the mission? Is that mission worth what is so facilely called the “ultimate sacrifice,” or the penultimate one—tens of thousand veterans trying to adjust to life without arm or leg?
Is it quite correct to say they put themselves in harm’s way? Or was it their commander in chief who put them in harm’s way?
And is it truly possible that President Bush remains determined to keep treating our young men and women as disposable soldiers for the rest of his term?
And will those in Congress who are supposed to represent those young men and women go along with that?
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was entirely correct when she insisted in a recent op-ed that the “threshold question in any war is: What are we fighting for? Our troops, especially, deserve a convincing answer.”
The sacrifices of Shank and his family – and all the other Cpl. Shanks and their families – have been mocked by glib sloganeering.
Today is Sept. 7, 2007, a year and a day since Cpl. Shank was killed.
In a few weeks we will know where the small-town Shanks of America stand in the priorities of members of the House and Senate.
As far as the president is concerned...well, he does not seem to be very concerned at all. They should smile as he presents them with a rubber turkey and then populate the backdrop for photo-ops.
More unconscionable still, those Shanks clearly sit low on the priority lists of those senior generals who command them—generals like the sainted David Petraeus, smart enough to know the war cannot be won, but not courageous enough to come out and say it.
The Shanks are merely what we used to call “warm bodies” to throw into the fight.
For many of us with a touch of gray in our hair, we’ve seen it all before—and, ironically enough, exactly 40 years ago.
What Gen. David Petraeus has set in motion, or at least condoned, is the massaging of data to justify what his boss, President Bush, wants to do in Iraq; namely, to keep enough troops “in the fight” in order to stave off definitive defeat before he and Vice President Dick Cheney leave office in January 2009.
That’s what the “surge” is all about, and Petraeus is smart enough to know that only too well.
Like his apparent role model, Colin Powell, he can bear four stars on his shoulder, but he must also bear on his conscience thousands of Shanks as a result of his eagerness to play in the Bush/Cheney charade.
A more precise counterpart, and role model, to Gen. Petraeus is the late Gen. William Westmoreland, commander of our forces in Vietnam.
The argument over whether or not the “surge” is working brings back un-fond memories of the deliberate smoke-and-mirrors approach Westmoreland forced on intelligence analysts in Saigon, including deliberate falsification of the numbers on enemy strength.
It would be tempting to sift through the ample grist of the present and cite, for example, facts like the demonstrable failure of the surge to meet its stated aim; the key judgment of the latest National Intelligence Estimate that the current government in Baghdad “will become more precarious over the next six to twelve months”; the conclusion of a blue-ribbon group of retired generals that it is necessary to rebuild the Iraqi police from scratch; the amply justified fear on the part of analysts in the General Accountability Office and the intelligence community that the Army will continue to do all it can to water down their assessments; and, not least, the controversy over the various methodologies being used to track the security situation in Iraq, including such basics as what incidents to count and how to categorize them.
I shall resist that temptation in what follows. Rather, I believe it will be much more instructive to show that this kind of thing has happened before within the lifetimes of half of us. It was an unconscionable performance on the part of Gen. Westmoreland and his Pentagon bosses that thousands more Shanks—not to mention Vietnamese—died as a direct result of the dishonesty.
My flashback was occasioned by press reports yesterday that senior Army officers in Baghdad were trashing the conclusions of the NIE and the GAO analyses on grounds that they had used “flawed counting methodology used by the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency.”
Speaking of flawed counting methodology, someone has inserted into the president’s mouth the claim that:
“Our troops have killed or captured an average of more than 1,500 al-Qaeda terrorists and other extremists every month since January of this year.”
Good news, finally. But I invite readers to look up what intelligence has previously said about how many al-Qaeda may be in Iraq and how many of those fighters may now have been killed more than once.
It was exactly 40 years ago that my CIA analyst colleague Sam Adams was sent to Saigon to have it out with the Army intelligence unit there.
After several months of exhaustive analysis, Sam had connected a whole bunch of dots, so to speak, and concluded that there were more than twice as many Vietnamese Communists under arms as the Army had on its books.
Bewildered at first, Adams quickly learned that Westmoreland had instructed his intelligence staff to falsify intelligence on enemy strength, keeping the numbers low enough to promote an illusion of progress in the war.
After a prolonged knock-down-drag-out fight, then-CIA director Richard Helms decided to acquiesce in the Army’s arbitrary exclusion from its enemy aggregate total paramilitary and other armed elements numbering up to 300,000.
These categories had been included in previous estimates because they were a key part of the combat force of the Communists. The Adams/CIA best estimate was total Communist strength of 500,000.
The doctored estimate went to the president and his advisers in November 1967, just two months before the countrywide Communist offensive at Tet in late January/early February 1968 proved —at great cost—that Adams figures were far more accurate than the Army’s.
Years later, when Adams and CBS exposed this travesty, Westmoreland sued, giving Adams his day in court, literally. Subpoenaed documents and the testimony of Westmoreland’s own staff in Saigon established the accuracy of Adams’ charges, and Westmoreland withdrew his suit.
Right up until his premature death at age 55, Sam Adams could not dispel the remorse he felt at not having gone public with his findings. He felt that, had he done so, the entire left half of the Vietnam memorial would not be there, because there would be no names to carve into the granite for the later years of the war.
More recently, Daniel Ellsberg has expressed great regret that he did not disclose the deception he witnessed during that same period, as the administration of Lyndon Johnson worked on plans to expand the ground war into Cambodia, Laos, and right up to the Chinese border—perhaps even beyond.
Earlier in 1967, Westmoreland addressed a joint session of Congress during which he congratulated himself on the “great progress” being made in the war.
What Congress did not know, but Ellsberg did, is that Westmoreland was on the verge of getting President Johnson to agree to sending 206,000 more troops for a widening of the war that threatened to bring China in as an active combatant.
Leaks to the New York Times put the kibosh on those plans. One patriotic truth-teller leaked the 206,000 figure; Ellsberg himself told the Times about the suppression of the 500,000 accurate count of Vietnamese Communists under arms. And that was enough to do it.
On March 25, 1968, Johnson complained to a small gathering of confidants:
“The leaks to the New York Times hurt us...We have no support for the war...I would have given Westy the 206,000 men.”
One moral to that story: patriotic truth-telling can prevent wider wars. Please take heed, those of you privy to war planning for expanding the war in Iraq into Iran.
There will be lots of spin in Washington these next few weeks, and “hope” will be the byword. In his Aug. 28 speech on Iraq, the president set the tone for what will follow:
“All these development are hopeful — they’re hopeful for Iraq, and they’re hopeful for the Middle East, and they’re hopeful for peace.”
Bush goes on to mention that Gen. Petraeus will be heard from shortly.
The president has been punctuating every other sentence with “Gen. Petraeus” or “David.” It is as though Bush is expecting what might be called a “Petraeus ex machina.”
The spinning will only work if Congress continues to let itself be taken in by the new Westmoreland.
Ray McGovern served as an Army infantry/intelligence officer in the 1960s. He also was a CIA analyst for 27 years and is cofounder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. He works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C. His e-mail is RRMcGovern@aol.com.
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