Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Iraq's Pentagon Papers - Los Angeles Times

Daniel Ellsberg of the famed Pentagon Papers from the Vietnam era decides it's time to weigh in. What does he have to say? We've heard it before: Iraq is Vietnam.

Through out this 4, Mr. Ellsberg spends a great deal of time reprising his role in the "Pentagon Papers" release from 1970 and lamenting the lack of a principled savior of the Republic who would be willing to risk imprisonment for the greater moral good and find these secret documents that would tell us all about the secret plans of the United States to attack Iraq and then move on to Iran. He then takes a stroll through comparison land and points to things he insists are similar (if not dead on) to the Vietnam episode.

His second lament, before rolling off in this stroll of alleged similarities, is that Boxer's (D-CA) current proposal for troop withdrawal lacks the "teeth" that Rep. Goodell's (R) bill in 1970 did. Those "teeth" would be the refusal to approve anymore money for operations in Iraq (as Congress withdrew the budget for operations in Vietnam). What Mr. Ellsberg leaves out in his mis-adventures in the Ho Chi Minh Hussle, is that, contrary to the Vietnam period, support for the troops still remains high.

In a poll taken right before Zarqawi's death:

Regardless of whether the allegations turn out to be true, 63 percent of those surveyed said they thought the killings of civilians were isolated incidents.[snip]
"I think they're doing everything possible to avoid such things," said Christine Berchelmann, a retired nurse and Republican-leaning independent from San Antonio. "The people they are seeking out, they are in dwellings right in the middle of all these civilians. There are always going to be casualties."

Sixty-one percent in the survey said the military is doing all it can to avoid killing Iraqi civilians.

There's a lot more where that came from. There are probably two reasons why Boxer isn't doing a Goodell and one of them is that poll. Americans see providing weapons, bullets, food, armor and various other items the military needs as part of that support. The lack of it would appear to be "not supporting the troops" and, whatever you say about the mission, supporting the troops is paramount to maintaining position as a congressman (or woman). Boxer's proposal amounts to nothing more than trying to satisfy the far left anti-war base and stir up support for the comming mid-term elections. This lack of "teeth" indicates that Boxer knows she wouldn't get any support for any such proposal in congress as well as a lack of seriousness. Unlike Mr. Ellsberg, Ms. Boxer does not have a tin ear when it comes to public opinion.

The second reason it may be difficult to propose any such budgetary "teeth" (cuts), is that the funding for Iraq is tied to the funding in Afghanistan. However much the opposition wants to portray Iraq as separate from and a distraction from the "real war" on terror, it isn't working that way in the budget namely because several areas, like Centcom, the presence of the Navy in and around the entire area, efforts in Dijibouti, Algeria, Somalia, Indonesia, etc, etc, etc (all parts of this war) are integrated into this over all budget. Frankly, I'd like to see some politico risk their re-election in November by making such a proposal.

What Democrats may do after the elections (particularly if the Democrats win either house) is a whole other matter and something recalcitrant Republicans threatening to dump their incumbants for new faces (ie, splitting the votes) or offer a protest vote by voting democrat, should keep in mind if they do in anyway still support the troops or mission. Republicans might not like certain aspects of the war and might have a problem with border security, but I think they will have to evaluate their priorities before taking such drastic efforts. It might well be the difference between continuing mission in Iraq and complete withdrawal. It might be the difference between Vietnam Redux (ie, refuse additional funds for mission) and the modern war.

Mr. Ellsberg goes on to say exactly what certain journalists have at least implied:

Second, also in September, charges had been brought quietly against Lt. William Calley for the murder 18 months earlier of "109 Oriental human beings" in the South Vietnamese hamlet of My Lai 4. This went almost unnoticed until mid-November of that year, when Seymour Hersh's investigative story burst on the public, followed shortly by the first sight for Americans of color photographs of the massacre. The pictures were not that different from those in the cover stories of Time and Newsweek from Haditha: women, children, old men and babies, all shot at short range.

Mr. Ellsberg says that My Lai was the catalyst that prompted him to take action and wonders why Haditha has not done the same for some principled employee. Maybe no one is princpled anymore? Or, contrary to Mr. Ellsberg's next hysterical (I don't mean funny) statement, no one is equating the massacre of 109 Orientals rounded up and shot in ditches or running away or cowering in pig pens with 24 Iraqis in three surrounding houses during a post IED attack that left one marine dead and several injured, ending with a house to house search for a sniper or general gunman. Then there's the fact that it hardly took a year to come out and no one is dismissing the charges out of hand, but allowing the investigation and judicial process (which we strangely have confidence in) work before condemning straight out.

Of course, in a Post-Vietnam world with super satellite signals bouncing around images and ideas almost on a 24/7 basis, having seen IEDs and VBIEDs take out 24 children surrounding a convoy receiving candy (a bombing conducted by the enemy), numerous beheading videos and countless hours of propaganda statements and videos vowing more destruction by the enemy, people are a little less reflexive at condemning the troops out of hand. Not to mention the continuing reports of these infamous insurgents using minerets, schools and occupied houses to shoot from or standing behind a few women and children while they shoot guns, rpgs and video.

Maybe it's because we are in a Post-Somalia world where we have all had the chance to see or read Black Hawk Down a few times and hear the stories about how the insurgents used women and children as shields and survival involved the unfortunate shooting of Somali "non-combatants". Or, maybe we have just gotten used to the enemy declaring that no one is a non-combatant?

Are we more callous or are we more understanding of insurgent warfare and it's cost?

Supposedly there is a lie that the troops believe based on a poll that Ellsberg sites:

I had exclusive access to the papers for research purposes and had been reading them all summer; they made it very clear that I, like the rest of the American public, had been misled about the origins and purposes of the war I had participated in — just as are the 85% of the troops in Iraq today who still believe that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11 and that he was allied with Al Qaeda.

I'd sure like to see the poll Mr. Ellsberg sites because the numbers sound awfully familiar, but I believe that it was taken sometime just after the invasion of Iraq and prior to the 9/11 Report being made public and discussions ad nauseum regarding the 9/11 report's definitive answer about Saddam's alliance with or operational involvement with Al Qaeda. If that is a current poll that he is citing, I'd be very surprised. Were not talking about troops that only ever see or hear Armed Forces radio or TV or who have been in theater for years without contact to the outside. We're talking about people on their second and third rotation. I would also like to see exactly how the questions were asked and why soldiers answered it that way. Maybe there just wasn't a question that really represented how they thought about Saddam, Iraq, Al Qaeda and 9/11?

Then again, I suppose the troops that rolled into Iraq and had to fight the fedeyeen (predecessors to the insurgency and the Islamist mujihadeen), saw murals of Saddam in front of the two towers being crashed into by planes, saw the work of the mujihadeen torturing, maiming, killing in the name of Islam having pledged their allegiance to Osama Bin Laden (you know, that fellow who finally claimed responsibility for 9/11) and called themselves Al Qaeda in the Land of Two Rivers, etc, etc, etc, might be forgiven if they think they really ARE fighting the right fight, even if Mr. Ellsberg and his like disagree. I am quite certain that it does not require brain washing by the military or lies from the administration to make the troops thinks so.

But, as you should have realized by now, Mr. Ellsberg missed the last helicopter out of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) and he wonders why there are so few other passengers waiting on the embassy roof with him. Maybe it's his next statement:

This is the system I have been part of, giving my unquestioning loyalty to for 15 years, as a Marine, a Pentagon official and a State Department officer in Vietnam. It's a system that lies reflexively, at every level from sergeant to commander in chief, about murder.

And finally this:

Haditha holds a mirror up not just to American troops in the field, but to our whole society. Not just to the liars in government but to those who believe them too easily. And to all of us in the public, in the administration, in Congress and the media who dissent so far ineffectively or who stand by as murder is being done and do nothing to stop it or expose it.

It is past time for Americans to summon the civil courage to face what is being done in their name and to refuse to be accomplices. We must force Congress and this president, or their successors if necessary, to act upon the moral proposition that the U.S. must stop killing men, women and children in Iraq, and must not begin to do so in Iran.

Please be sure to read the entire thing because, somewhere in there, Mr. Ellsberg brings up the concept of "just war" and that tired argument from Vietnam that, because it is unjustified, any death dealt by US forces is, in fact, murder.

While Mr. Ellsberg and certain of his fellow travelers remain on the roof top waiting for the last helicopter, the rest of us are living in a Post-Vietnam, Post-Gulf War, Post-USSR/Glasnost, Post Somolia, Post Rawanda, Post Bosnia, Post Kosovo, Post Khobar Towers, Post Nairobi-Kenya Embassy, Post USS Cole, Post-9/11, Post Baghdad Bob, Post Iraq Mass Graves, Post, Post, Post, world. In this world, there are more than three network stations and a few "papers of record". We now get international news within minutes of an occurance, not three days later. We get to see the war up close and personal via satellite feed. We've done this for over a decade now. We get war pictures like Platoon, Apocolypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan and on and on with all it's blood and gore, insanity, complexity and angst. We're not the generation that grew up on sanitized war movies showing John Wayne dying gracefully as Sgt. Stryker, with nary a bullet hole apparent, in the Sands of Iwo Jima.

Nor did we grow up on sanitized newsreels from the front and a press that believed it was part of the war effort only to be shocked to see images from Vietnam that did not look like the heroic war between two uniformed forces we were led to believe was our fathers' wars. These are the images of our wars. It includes literal rivers of blood, dead children and faceless men.

Our fathers' wars are ugly, messy, brutal, bloody, unmerciful and there is no good or just way to die, you just die. We grew up in a Post-Vietnam world led by the victors of Vietnam who educated us to question authority, particularly those who declare a moral authority because all moral's are relative; the morality of the whole is oppressive and what matters is an individual's morality or reasons for taking an action which can mitigate the immoral act. We were educated to believe rebellion against your father is a rite and necessary in order to shake off his antiquated ideas. We were educated to believe that truth is subjective, thus we should question all those who claim to know the truth. And, finally, all wars are terrible, thus, there is no "just war", only war and that war is defined not by reality, but by the winner.

Mr. Ellsberg, having participated in the events that created us, including having collective morality beat out of us as uncompassionate, un-American and against the principles of the Constitution that protects individuals' rights to be immoral (morals are relative and subjective, yes?), he now demands that we reach down and find this collective morality in order to end collective immoral acts of murderous, stupid, lying soldiers at the behest of our murderous, conspiring government, duly elected and seated representatives of the American people, thus making us all accomplices to said acts.

Maybe, the real issue here is that, over 60 years ago, we learned of genocide and said "never again", yet we have watched from our shores wars of every magnitude and witnessed 1 million Rwandans killed in the span of three months, or tens of thousands of Kosovoans and Bosnians, or three hundred thousand victims of Saddam or four hundred thousand Sudanese and we actually know what a massacre and genocide look like, up close and personal. Many of the victims are in mass graves we are still trying to discover and dig up. Let us not forget the daily bombings, shootings and beheadings we have seen flashed across our TV and computer screens by this newest enemy who declared themselves our enemy with barely a provocation. We have modern history to compare the actions of our soldiers to and by which we can set our collective morality as Mr. Ellsberg demands. From this position, our collective morality is shining and nearly unbleamished by comparison.

Not to say we should not be careful that we do not go down that road or shrug off misdeeds because this world we have inherited, thanks partially to Mr. Ellsberg, makes us inured or callous to the deaths of others or the acts of our voluntary representatives who are, as Mr. Ellsberg points out, acting in our names. Shame if we do and history is a reminder that we never should lest the few become the many and we completely lose our way.

We are thirty six years and two generations (going on three) beyond Mr. Ellsberg. We're in Baghdad, Iraq and Kandahar, Afghanistan. We're in Indonesia, Djibouti and places more people cannot even pronounce. We have fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, aunts, uncles, sons and daughters (and sometimes grandfathers and grandmothers) deployed to these places acting on our behalf. It's one piece of the Vietnam to Iraq paradigm that Mr. Ellsberg conveniently leaves unmentioned. If there was one other thing we learned from Vietnam, growing up with those same family members, neighbors and friends is that we did an incredible disservice to an entire generation. Thirty six years ago, we bought such arguments as proposed by Mr. Ellsberg, that these people who were from us, were dishonored because of the political reasons for the war or the acts of a few conflated to the whole. Our nation charged them as murders and treated them as pariahs. We gave little thought to their care or the damage that was done. Yet, in this piece, Mr. Ellsberg relishes the idea that someone will do it again because, after all, we are still in Vietnam. If there is one thing that we promised and our working to uphold in this generation or the next, it's "never again" will we let that happen.

Debate the war, it's causes, it's "justness" and it's management? Yes. Debate whether there is damaged collective morality of our family, friends and neighbors? No. In fact, when that argument gets presented, it's likely to raise a very different reaction than that expected by Mr. Ellsberg and his fellow travellers.

In Iraq, the military has relied on an all-volunteer force of trained professionals.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said it is possible to oppose the war but "nonetheless see the military as divorced from that. The military is our sons and daughters and, of course, we wouldn't systematically engage in something that defiles American values."

Finally, let us turn to Mr. Ellsberg's real reason for writing such a hysterical historical accounting: the potential for war with Iran. Every conspiracy theory has its roots in reality so let's own up to it now. Mr. Ellsberg is right. Somewhere in the Pentagon are papers that outline contingency plans for the invasion of Iran. These documents have existed since at least 1979 when the Shah was overthrown and our men and women were held hostage for 444 days. In fact, it's likely they existed long before then since we should all be aware that the Pentagon routinely prepares a threat matrix and defense plans against said threats. It is also very likely that, in the face of current statements made by the "elected" President of Iran, including "wiping off the map" an ally of the United States and continuous chants of "death to America", these plans are being furiously reviewed and updated as you reaad this.

Are you surprised? Would you be surprised if it wasn't?

It's also very likely there are secret documents that outline the overthrow of the Iranian government, the assistance to democratic liberals and assessments about the impact of Iran on Afghanistan and Iraq, it's ties to terrorist organizations and a whole host of communiques about what should or should not be done. If there isn't, we should just roll over and play dead now.

On top of that, there are probably discussions about protecting oil resources which drive the economy, not just of the United States, but our allies and China and any number of growing economies. There is oil in Iran and in the region.

But, once again, Mr. Ellsberg gives us the convenient omission. He is worried, he says, about the "planned war" and the deaths of Iranian men, women and children from such an activity, yet, we see nary a word about the pending nuclear arms race in Central Asia between Shia Islamist dominated Iran, Sunni Islamist Pakistan and barely Communist India. All this fueled by the provision of nuclear arms and technology from Russia to China to AQ Khan in Pakistan and beyond, aided by technology from France, Germany and, you guessed it, the USA. None of which holds a very good future for these innocents.

Will we have war? Are we planning to have war, whatever the outcome of negotiations, Iran's persistant in obtaining nuclear capabilities? Are we planning some action that will precipitate a war (as if we haven't done enough already)?

Maybe those are the things Mr. Ellsberg thinks exists in these secret documents, but, considering the things that are leaked by all the ideological travellers on the train of self-rightousnes and the greater good; if it did, why hasn't it been leaked already?

I think the real question is, in the current atmosphere and given situation, why would any such person risk imprisonment for doing something that could very well endagner troops, our allies or our people? Let us hope that this ideological savior decides to spare us, our children and millions of Iranians from such an event and such a future. If they don't, I suspect, once again, that Mr. Ellsberg might be the one surprised by the reaction of the American people.

Sorry, but I have had the Vietnam comparisons up to my eyeballs and it is giving me a severe case of eye rolling and anti-hysterics.

Please, just keep the Pentagon Papers in the Pentagon.

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