While on vacation in Crawford, Texas, Commander in Chief George W. Bush must have been drinking from the same well as Lyndon B. Johnson when LBJ got American boots stuck in Southeast Asia’s unforgiving swamps.
In April 1965, as he was secretly signing off on the Vietnam troop buildup that would eventually grow to more than 500,000 American soldiers, LBJ said, “Let no one think for a moment that retreat from Vietnam would bring an end to conflict.”
Bush’s assertion that our battered, overstretched combat troops in Iraq would “never retreat” was a major deja vu moment. And the similarities don’t stop there. Both presidents got into deep doo-doo because they listened to their arrogant defense secretaries and an all-knowing coterie of civilian and uniformed go-along types running the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff rather than some smart, straight-shooting field generals.
LBJ consequently lost his job and caused millions of American and Vietnamese casualties. Let’s hope that GWB isn’t leading us down another rocky road.
Wise commanders know when to attack, when to retreat and when to adjust their battle plans. They’re in sync with the drumbeat of the battlefield the way a doctor is with the pulse of his or her patient. Tactics, strategy, enemy strength and intentions dictate maneuvers and courses of action, not the whims of a bunch of clueless chest-beaters still having trouble accepting how dead wrong they were with their post-Saddam plans for rebuilding Iraq.
Because of a massively flawed policy, a proven miscalculation for which Congress should demand accountability, America is in big trouble in Iraq. Heads should roll – and the necks of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Myers and Pace should be first on the chopping block.
As the body bags returning home mounted from a few a week to thousands a month, LBJ stayed with the same flawed team of advisers right up until the nation told him to pack his bags and go back to the ranch – permanently. And today Bush is still in bed with his bureaucrats as well as scores of politicians who collectively keep conning decent Americans across this nation with the party line that all will be well after “we drain the Iraqi swamps.”
Of course, neither they nor their kids are the soldiers draining the undrainable swamps during Mission Impossible. The folks on the killing fields who dodge incoming daily are mainly products of blue-collar families from small-town USA, along with the 40,000 mostly Latino green-carders who fill the ranks of the assault units.
Meanwhile, yet more troops are desperately needed to perform the peacemaking /nation-building jobs – and they can’t be American. The U.S. military’s ground forces are just about tapped out. The Marine and Army guys needed down on the deck have barely the strength to sustain the Iraq mission at present level, let alone cover our other worldwide commitments.
Yet for every guerrilla in Iraq, John Abizaid, the general running the show there, needs a minimum of 10 counterguerrillas. Otherwise, it’s impossible to protect the oil pipelines, power stations, mosques, police stations, embassies or hotels from a foe who strikes from the shadows and runs. Look at the havoc two goofy snipers operating out of a beat-up car caused in the Washington, D.C., area last year. They were fumbling amateurs – not dedicated fanatics who get off driving a bomb-loaded truck into a U.N. building or a mosque – and it still took thousands of folks to track them down.
With perhaps 100,000 guerrillas operating in Iraq, Bush finally seems to be doing his ’04 campaign math. If he can lose the flight suit and drop the “retreat” rhetoric and “bring ’em on” bravado while Colin Powell schmoozes the United Nations into taking over in Iraq, maybe the secretary of state will be able to broker a deal – as we did in Korea and Somalia – where an American general runs the show.
Russia, Turkey, Pakistan, India and dozens of other counties waiting in the wings would then hopefully buy into our effort to rebuild Iraq and share the heavy costs both in blood and dollars now borne almost exclusively by thee, me and our kids.
It’s the wise commander who knows when to retreat. Let’s hope this time around Bush bites the bullet and we don’t pay the price we did in Vietnam.