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On Veteran’s Day…


(Soldiers guarding the Sufaya Oil Fields in Iraq.)

National Guard combat brigades are facing a second deployment in Iraq, breaking the 24-month deployment window that had previously been promised.  You read that correctly — brigades, not just individual units — because the strain on our troop strength is so much at the moment.

Spencer Ackerman shares some thoughts on the mess that is Iraq, and they are worth a read and some thought this morning:

Rumsfeld was incontrovertibly, and by a wide margin, the worst. No defense secretary in history ever consciously sought to antagonize the Army on matters great, small and otherwise. No defense secretary in history devoted more resources to rebutting editorials about his mismanagement than looking into what might have caused those criticisms to arise. And no defense secretary in history has ever managed to preside over two deteriorating wars, let alone simultaneously.

But there's an additional upside to the end of the Rumsfeld era: No more will Iraq hawks be able to wash away their sins in the blood of the defense secretary….

A better question, of course, concerns why the Washington aviary of hawks–some sincere in their hopes for an ideational Iraqi democracy, others unconcerned–believed that it was in America's power, let alone interest, to topple a contained dictator; introduce chaos into the heart of the Middle East; rearrange the sectarian balance of power in Iraq; occupy a frontline Arab state for an indefinite amount of time; and usher in not merely a "democracy" but what Bush called in his press conference Wednesday an "ally in the war on terrorism."

While the Iraq war has become a disaster, the obvious failures in its implementation–the inability to deliver basic services like electricity and gas, to say nothing of security or political progress–have overshadowed the more basic failure in its strategy. The 10 or so daily crises that Iraq generates have largely allowed hawks to avoid confronting unpleasant truths, such as the degree to which the war plays into Osama bin Laden's conscious, broader strategy of drawing the United States into counterproductive overreactions.

Yes, let's do ask those questions. Frequently. And let's further explore this:

Panetta would not discuss the options the group is considering, noting that members have not reached a consensus yet, but talked about what he has learned about Iraq. The group spent three days in Baghdad in early September and has been briefed by military, intelligence and diplomatic officials.

Private assessments by government officials are much more grim than what is said in public, Panetta said, "and we left some of those sessions shaking our heads over how bad it is in Iraq."

U.S. forces can't control sectarian violence and powerful militias. One of the most disturbing findings, Panetta said, is that many Shiite religious leaders who are a big part of the government have no interest in deals or compromises with Sunnis and other groups, and are "playing for time because they say it's their show."

After years of Bush administration rhetoric about establishing democracy in Iraq, Panetta said the only achievable goal is a rough stability, "which can't be done by the military. It requires political reconciliation."

One scaled-down goal, he added, is "how do you maintain a low-level civil war so it doesn't blow up into a full-scale civil war?"

Just begs the question as to how many lies we've been spoon-fed the last few years, doesn't it?  And while we're at it, let's discuss the use and misuse of foreign policy and diplomacy, and the idiocy of injecting our troops in the middle of things without proper planning, thought, and long-term, worst-case-scenario, whether-we-should-or-shouldn't, thought process:

Whatever else it was, the U.S. invasion of Iraq was an attempt to break a dysfunctional Middle Eastern status quo. It blew away a Stalinist dictatorship garbed in fin-de-régime Islamist velleities, removed a monstrous ruler and sent tremors through authoritarian regimes from Damascus to Cairo.

That was a big undertaking to embark on without notes. A lot has been made of Rumsfeld's grave tactical blunders. But they pale beside the strategic failure to grapple with the implications of the social revolution an invasion would ignite: the replacement of a heavily armed ruling Sunni minority convinced of its right to govern by a seething, oppressed Shiite majority.

Freedom! It sounds wonderful. But, when dictatorships end in countries of fragile multi-ethnic and multi-religious composition, freedom is seldom understood as an invitation to liberal democracy. It's understood by each constituent group as an opportunity to be free of others, to go it alone at last.

Democracy cannot be implemented by the barrel of a gun, held by someone from the outside. It does not work — never has. That we did not think that through is appalling enough, that we are stuck in this mess at the moment is even worse.  The best way out?  We are long past due for that conversation, on all sides of the aisle, so if anyone has a solution with little to no bloodshed involved, there's a Nobel Peace Prize in it for you, among other things, I'd wager.

The biggest gift of thanks that we could give to our soldiers currently serving this nation in uniform, and those vets who served us in generations past and present, is to provide oversight and get to the truth of what is truly going on in Iraq and Afghanistan and with veteran's benefits cuts and everything else under the sun that has been hidden away under rocks the last six years. Let the sun shine in…

And our troops?  While they await some change in orders from somewhere, they are still missing basic stuff like adequate toilet paper and chapstick and all the other things we all take for granted.  You can help through the AnySoldier program.  Our local Democratic Women's group has sent out packages to troops all over Iraq and Afghanistan, and I can tell you that the thank you notes we received back were heartfelt and grateful and worth the postage and then some.

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com