Sunday, March 11, 2007

Déjà vu in Iraq?

Huffington Post
Richard Klass
Déjà vu in Iraq?

by Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, US Army (ret.) and Col. Richard Klass, USAF (ret.)

For those of us who served in Vietnam, the war in Iraq seems to have reached the same point where we were in Vietnam in 1967.

In the documentary The Fog of War, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara recounts how he told President Johnson as early as 1967 that the war in Vietnam could not be won.

He then went on to muse that it just kept going because we did not know what else to do. More than half the names on the Vietnam War Memorial are from the last five years of the war, after the judgment was made that we could not win.

Today there is general agreement that military force cannot resolve the Iraq conflict. Yet the President has decided to throw more soldiers and marines at the problem because he does not know what else to do. How can the President be made to change course and begin an orderly redeployment?

If the parallels are accurate, the task will not be easy.

Both conflicts were started by presidents apparently looking for a fight. In Laos and Vietnam, President Kennedy wanted to show U.S. will and capability to combat Soviet-sponsored "wars of national liberation." And President Johnson was not going to be the first American president to lose a war. President Bush had his sights on Saddam from the first days of his administration. Both conflicts were erroneously set in the context of a wider struggle, the Cold War and the "War on Terror." In each war the military strategy emphasized technology and firepower to kill the enemy instead of boots on the ground to protect the population; the current move toward a counterinsurgency strategy is too late. In neither case was the existing or created government able to gain enough popular support to sustain the effort. And it appears that this President also seems committed to leaving the resolution of the conflict to his successor.

But one parallel offers hope. Only after the election of a Republican president was a Democratic Congress willing to assert its Constitutional authority and do what it was unwilling to do under a Democratic president. Now the new Democratic controlled Congress must do the same. President Bush is unlikely to change course based on "recommendations," as his rejection of the core recommendations of the Iraq Study Group shows. Only Congress can show the nation the way out of Iraq and thereby avoid more years of war with no attainable political purpose or defensible military mission.

Several proposals are now circulating in Congress, from the Senate's rescinding or modifying the resolution that underpins the war to the House's consideration of placing conditions on the supplemental appropriations bill such as requiring that troops be sent to Iraq only if they were properly trained and equipped. There are those who argue that these conditions limit the powers of the President as Commander in Chief. We find these arguments unpersuasive.

We acknowledge that the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces; however, Congress also has Constitutional authority such as the power the purse and a mandate to provide oversight of the Executive Branch. The President often cites the original resolution as the basis for his authority to conduct the war, thus acknowledging the Congressional role. The resolution authorizing the invasion and occupation of Iraq is no longer relevant to the current situation of civil war and sectarian violence. What Congress grants, Congress can modify. In no way does this micro-manage the President. No commander, not even the Commander-in-Chief, should be allowed to send troops not properly trained and equipped into harm's way. Conditioning funding so as to protect the troops and ensure proper training and equipment increases their chances for survival and success. This is a more urgent responsibility of Congress in light of the continued failures of the administration to do so.

Congress must not let this conflict drag on for lack of will or imagination. As retired armed services officers, we believe from our experience that there are sound military reasons to support proposals to achieve a change of course in Iraq. Many these proposals will help recruitment and retention and lessen the need for continued lowering of standards for enlistment. Above all they respect the service our fighting men and women give each day in the Iraq cauldron.

There are potential parallels between Vietnam and Iraq we hope never to see. Vietnam broke the U.S. Army and it took more than a decade to rebuild it. The current Army and Marine Corps are severely overstretched and showing the strain. We cannot afford another broken force, a force that is needed in Afghanistan and the real war on terrorism. And there is a strong case to be made that a Vietnam settlement no worse than the one eventually concluded could have been reached in 1967-68. We do not want to look back in three to five years and see that the Iraq outcome was no better than could have been achieved in 2007-08.

Col. Richard Klass, USAF (ret) is currently a Director of the Veterans Alliance for Security and Democracy Political Action Committee (VETPAC). Lt. Gen. Gard is the Senior Military Advisor for the Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation and a member of the VETPAC Advisory Board. Both were awarded the Silver Star during their service in Vietnam.