Let’s give credit where credit is due. George W. Bush finally admitted some mistakes last night. For instance, he noted that tough talk, such as challenging the Iraqi insurgents with the retort, “bring ‘em on”, sent the wrong signal and was counterproductive. The road to recovery, whether from addiction or failed policy, starts with admitting one has a problem. It is time for the President to do more than admit rhetorical mistakes. It is time to call a halt to our mistaken policy in Iraq.
It is becoming increasingly clear that when it comes to Iraq, President George W. Bush is the Wrong Way Riegels of the 21st Century. Wrong Way Riegels was a football player made infamous for running the wrong way and scoring a safety for the opposing team. During the 1929 Rose bowl game between Georgia Tech and California, Riegels, the center of the California Bears, grabbed a fumble, was hit and spun around, and proceeded to run 64 yards to the wrong end zone. Riegels’ mistake gave the championship to Georgia Tech.
Like Riegels, George Bush is an amiable, enthusiastic player. Unlike Riegels, however, Bush’s actions have weakened the military, damaged our nation’s prestige, and unleashed forces in the Middle East that pose long term threats to the United States. Let’s face it; Bush has scored a touchdown for Iran, our nemesis.
As we enter Memorial Day weekend it is time to take stock of the progress, or lack of progress, in bringing peace to Iraq. The “new” Government is one in name only. The Iraqi factions have failed to agree on who will control the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior. While Iraq politicians squabble, Iraqis with close ties to Iran are moving forward. Moqtada al Sadr, for example, is working quietly behind the scenes to infiltrate and seize de facto control of the police, the intelligence services, and the military. It appears he has made significant progress in this regard.
The bottomline, Iran is consolidating control of critical parts of Iraq through its surrogate, Moqtada al Sadr. The civil war now underway consists largely of surreptitious group murders and retaliatory bombings. Since January of this year, the number of daily attacks has surged from 72 a day to 135 per day. Most of this violence is directed against civilians—Shia and Sunni. Yet, U.S. soldiers continue to pay a costly, bitter price. Our men and women are being killed at a rate approaching three per day. The wounded are triple that.
Baghdad remains without a consistent supply of electricity, gasoline, and potable water. Electricity production, for example, hovers between two to six hours per day. Friends who have recently returned from Iraq tell me that much of the disruption in the electricity and oil pipelines is actually caused by the Iraqis assigned to repair these systems. In other words, the local Iraqis with a vested financial interest in repairing these systems are also sabotaging them—think of it as a guaranteed jobs program.
There are two significant dangers for the United States based on our current operations tempo (ops tempo) and force deployment—1) we are degrading the quality of the force, and 2) we are leaving the force vulnerable to a disruption of the logistics supply line if we decide to attack Iran.
The decline of the quality of the U.S.military—the Army, the Marines, and the Navy—is a middle to long term problem. An officer who works in military intelligence recently sent me the following after reading the email exchange between Joe Galloway and DOD press spokesman, Larry Dirita (note, the term “O-3” refers to a Navy Lieutenant or a Captain in the Army and Marines; an “0-4” is either a Lieutenant Commander or Major.)
Through the scuttlebutt of my buddies in the community, a military intelligence unit alone hemorrhaged 27 out of 35 O-3s. The community is not large enough for losses like that and thus those of up for promotion soon should not be overly proud they made it to O-4; it is nearly automatic now. The promotion rate is at 80% plus or minus a few points. I respect what Joe Galloway wrote recently. It is unfortunate that the sycophants have the run of the place in the OSD.
These trends mean that we will lose nearly a quarter of our potential O-4’s before they have even been boarded. Military and civilian leaders are trying to solve this personnel loss by offering more money for folks to stay in and lowering standards for those both recruited and promoted.
The United States ability to stay the course in Iraq is threatened by a fragile re-supply line, which runs from Kuwait north to Baghdad. This road runs thru the heart of Shia controlled territory. Everything we need to keep our Army fed and fueled comes up that road.
We face a dilemma if we decide to attack the neighboring country of Iran because of its nuclear ambitions. Iran is not a passive observer. Iran is providing extensive, covert support to Shia militia in Iraq. U.S. military planners must assume that it is highly likely that insurgents backed by Iran will attack and cut the re-supply line. Truck convoys will be captured and destroyed. Re-opening these roads would require significant military ground forces—forces that are not in the area and probably could not be deployed in any significant numbers for at least several weeks, if not months.
Our options in Iraq are shrinking with each passing day. The Shia forces are slowly consolidating their power. These are not secular Shia. They are religious fundamentalists bent on imposing their vision of sharia on Iraq. The secular Iraqis—Shia and Sunni alike—are fleeing Iraq. This brain drain further undermines the ability of Iraq to form an effective, competent Government.
The Shia backed by Iran are biding their time and moving methodically forward. The challenge for the United States will be to decide what level of support to provide to this emerging government. To the extent we are perceived as facilitating or supporting the Shia consolidation of power, we will also be perceived as an enemy of the Sunnis. While the Sunnis are a minority within Iraq, they have powerful ties to Sunnis in neighboring countries and will retain a robust ability to conduct insurgent operations against Shias (and their allies) for the foreseeable future.
Memorial Day 2004 was commemorated when almost 1100 American soldiers and sailors had died in Iraq. Two years later the number is rapidly approaching 2600. It is time for the President and the Congress to get serious about how long we will continue to sacrifice our young men and women in a cause that will ultimately strengthen Iran’s control of critical Middle East oil reserves. That, in my view, is not a policy worth dying for.
Larry C. Johnson is CEO and co-founder
of BERG Associates, LLC, an international business-consulting firm
that helps corporations and governments manage threats posed by
terrorism and money laundering. Mr. Johnson, who worked previously
with the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. State Department’s
Office of Counter Terrorism (as a Deputy Director), is a recognized
expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, crisis and risk
management. Mr. Johnson has analyzed terrorist incidents for a variety
of media including the Jim Lehrer News Hour, National Public Radio,
ABC’s Nightline, NBC’s Today Show, the New York Times, CNN, Fox News,
and the BBC. Mr. Johnson has authored several articles for
publications, including Security Management Magazine, the New York
Times, and The Los Angeles Times. He has lectured on terrorism and
aviation security around the world. Further bio