Friday, August 11, 2006

Arrogance, ignorance invite disaster

Arrogance, ignorance invite disaster
Copyright by Te Chicago Sun Times
August 11, 2006

In a war, as Secretary Rumsfeld says, stuff happens. Things go wrong, sometimes a lot goes wrong, on occasion everything goes wrong. Then you have a fiasco (the title of the best book about Iraq, written by Thomas E. Ricks).

Military history is filled with fiasco stories -- the French army at Agincourt or the Union army at Fredericksburg. A more recent fiasco was Operation Market Garden in the autumn of 1944, a scheme cooked up by British Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery. The Germans, driven out of France, were falling back behind the Siegfried line. Montgomery desperately wanted to win the war by himself. The plan was for his British 2nd Army to run around the end of the line and go on to Berlin. Three airborne divisions (two American, one British) would secure bridges over the Rhine at Nijmegen, Enthoven and Arnheim. An armored corps of the 2d Army would drive up the road, cross the Rhine and strike into Germany.

It was an ingenious scheme, at least on paper. It turned into a fiasco (recorded in the book A Bridge Too Far and a film of the same name). The U.S. airborne divisions captured the first two bridges. The British failed to capture the bridge at Arnheim and their armored corps moved too slowly. The English paratroop division was destroyed and the war went on. Why the failure? Market Garden was developed in less than two weeks. The intelligence was inadequate. There were more Germans moving into Holland than Montgomery realized. There were not enough paratroop divisions. The armored corps was not strong enough and moved too slowly. The causes: arrogance and ignorance. The result: fiasco.

This paradigm matches the Iraq war: terrible intelligence, inadequate planning, not enough troops, underestimating the enemy. More arrogance and ignorance. Only the size of the fiasco is much larger, a terrible blow to the U.S. military and American prestige for the next decade. The pessimism among American leaders at the Senate Committee last week was palpable. There might be a civil war and, if there is, there is little America can do but get out of the way. Probably the worst fiasco in American history, worse than Pearl Harbor.

In the years to come people will ask why did they do it? They had been warned about what would happen and they went ahead anyway. The Congress and the media did not protest. Were they out of their minds?

The answer, I suspect, is yes, we all were out of our minds. Osama bin Laden in his wildest dreams could not have imagined that the United States would have responded to the World Trade Center attack with such madness. Ricks, the Washington Post's Pentagon reporter, points out that the columnists and editorial writers at his paper and the New York Times supported the war at the beginning.

Most of these writers, sentinels against government failures, have changed their minds as sanity begins to return, but they have yet to admit their mistakes and take responsibility. Thomas Friedman of the Times, its all-purpose pontifical expert on the Middle East, has finally announced, yes, it is time to call a peace conference among Iraq parties and get out. Where was he three years ago? Why doesn't he admit flat-out that he was wrong and apologize? Why doesn't he say that he was swept along by the 9/11 frenzy and the blatant lies of the administration, and that he ought to have known better? Why doesn't he credit those of us who warned all along that Iraq was worse even than Vietnam? Why doesn't he concede he, too, failed the American people by not standing up to the frenzy sweeping the country? Why doesn't he criticize the media, which propounded the false cliché that America would never be the same again and the misleading shibboleth "war on global terror''?

Arrogance and ignorance were not limited to the administration. Friedman, David Brooks, Robert Kagan and James Hoagland failed in their duty to cry "hold, enough!" We should not permit them to change their minds until they admit full responsibility for the fiasco, which has given bin Laden his biggest victory yet.


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