November 04, 2003

The Weekend Deaths in Iraq—and the Pentagon's Response—Remind One Former CIA Analyst of Vietnam

There is so much to say, so much that is disgusting
over the last two days...The _resident had the gall --
on the day after the bloodiest day of his foolish
military advenure in Iraq -- to wrap himself in the
flag at a fundraiser in Alabama... Then the _resident
tromping through the desolation of southern
California, like a conquering warlord, with Conan the
Deceiver and Gray Davis (who like Gore in 2000 does
not get it, does not understand that when an electoral
and political crime is committed you do not get to be
a good sport) And, of course, no questions asked about
turning down Davis' request fir fire help months
ago...Meanwhile, SeeBS caving in to the "vast
reich-wing conspiracy" by cancelling its Reagan
mini-series (an unprecendented capitulation)...But
HERE, HERE is where you and I and Wesley Clark must
keep the focus...

Ray McGovern: Recent sloganeering is eerily reminiscent of a comparable stage in our involvement in Vietnam. We would have to "stay the course." We could not "cut and run"-though that is precisely what we ended up doing in 1975 after 58,000 US troops and 3 million Vietnamese had been killed. Why did we leave? Because Congress, at last, came to realize that the war was unwinnable.

Published on Monday, November 3, 2003 by

Helicopter Down
The Weekend Deaths in Iraq—and the Pentagon's Response—Remind One Former CIA Analyst of Vietnam

by Ray McGovern

The killing of 18 U.S. troops and the wounding of 21
others in Iraq on Nov. 2 brings to mind the successful
attack by Viet Cong guerrillas on U.S. forces in
Pleiku, Vietnam on February 7, 1965.

The Johnson administration immediately seized on that
attack, in which nine U.S. troops were killed and 128
wounded, to start bombing North Vietnam and to send
3,500 Marines to South Vietnam. Unlike the U.S.
advisory forces already in country, the Marines had
orders to engage in combat, marking the beginning of
the Americanization of the war. By 1968 U.S. forces
had grown to over 536,000.

From the outset, my colleagues in CIA were highly
skeptical that even with a half-million troops the
United States could prevail in Vietnam. They were
quick to remind anyone who would listen of the candid
observation made by General Philippe LeClerc,
dispatched to Vietnam shortly after World War II. The
French general reported that, mainly because of the
strong commitment of the Vietnamese
nationalists/communists and their proven proficiency
in guerrilla war, a renewed French campaign would
require 500,000 men and that, even then, France could
not win.

In 1965, similar warnings were blissfully ignored by
Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and the civilian
whiz kids with whom he had surrounded himself. Then as
now, the advice of our professional military was

Civilian Whiz Kids vs. Military Professionals

While today's civilian leaders at the Defense
Department hobbled through what passed for post-war
planning for Iraq early this year, Army Chief of Staff
Eric Shinseki warned the Senate Armed Services
Committee that post-war Iraq would require "something
on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers." He
was immediately ridiculed by Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz for having
exaggerated the requirement. This evokes vivid
memories of how McNamara and his civilian whiz kids
dismissed our professional military—and at such a high
eventual price.

The poet George Santayana warned, "Those who do not
learn from history are doomed to repeat it." What is
increasingly clear is that neither the present-day
Pentagon whiz kids nor their patron, Vice President
Dick Cheney, have learned much from history. They
encourage President Bush to insist, "We are not
leaving;" and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to protest
that this war is "winnable." But most of those with a
modicum of experience in guerrilla warfare and the
Middle East are persuaded that the war is not winnable
and that the only thing in doubt is the timing of the
U.S. departure.

After many weeks of refusing to admit the word
"guerrilla" into evidence, Rumsfeld seems to have made
his peace with it. Yet, when asked this past weekend
on television who are the guerrillas are, he
foundered, admitting in so many words that he hasn't a
clue. I was actually embarrassed for him. A terrific
debater and otherwise reasonably smart man, Rumsfeld
was reduced to telling us once again that Iraq is the
size of California and bemoaning the deficiencies in
"situational awareness" and lack of "perfect
visibility" into who it is that are killing our

At least we were spared the usual claims that we are
"moving forward" and will prevail "at the end of the
day." Apparently even Rumsfeld could see how
incongruous such banalities would have sounded after
such a disastrous week.

Recent sloganeering is eerily reminiscent of a
comparable stage in our involvement in Vietnam. We
would have to "stay the course." We could not "cut and
run"-though that is precisely what we ended up doing
in 1975 after 58,000 US troops and 3 million
Vietnamese had been killed. Why did we leave? Because
Congress, at last, came to realize that the war was

Is This Guerrilla War Winnable?

When Rumsfeld was asked when he thought it might be
possible to draw down U.S. troop strength in Iraq, he
employed one of his favorite adjectives, saying that
this was "unknowable"-that it all depends on the
security situation. It is a no-brainer that U.S. troop
reductions are unlikely anytime soon, but apparently
we shall have to wait for Rumsfeld to acquire better
"situational awareness" before he and his whiz kids
are willing to admit this.

Instead of drawdowns, pressure will inexorably grow
from those neo-conservatives already pushing for a
larger troop commitment. Having learned nothing from
history, from the U.S. intelligence community, or from
the professional military, Rumsfeld's whiz kids may
persuade President Bush that the best course is to
send more troops to "get the job done"—(and thereby
seal his fate!). One small problem, of course, is the
unwelcome fact that all too few troops are be
available for reinforcement. But this kind of military
"detail" would not likely affect the urgings of
advisers like William Kristol and Kenneth Adelman.

A Bush administration decision to escalate (to exhume
that familiar word from Vietnam) in that way would
only provoke more widespread guerrilla attacks in Iraq
and terrorist acts against U.S. personnel and
facilities elsewhere as well. The U.S. troop presence
in Iraq is the problem, not the solution.

And someone needs to dispel Rumsfeld's confusion
regarding who is the enemy. It is every Iraqi with
weapon or explosive who means to make the occupier
suffer. The tools are readily available, and the
guerrillas, whether homebred or from neighboring
states, will not be quelled—even if 500,000 troops are

Imperial Rome was able to work its will on lesser
states, but for the most part Rome had a corner on the
weapons. None of the subjugated peoples had rockets,
mortars, or missiles—and long lines were rare at
guerrilla recruiting stations.

"No One Knows"

The most embarrassing part of Rumsfeld's interview
with ABC's This Week came when he attempted to answer
a question about how to reduce the number of
terrorists. "How do you persuade people not to become
suicide bombers; how do you reduce the number of
people attracted to terrorism? No one knows how to
reduce that," he complained.

Over a year ago, CIA analysts provided an assessment
intended to educate senior policy makers to the fact
that "the forces fueling hatred of the US and fueling
Al Qaeda recruiting are not being addressed," and that
"the underlying causes that drive terrorists will
persist." The assessment cited a recent Gallup poll of
almost 10,000 Muslims in nine countries in which
respondents described the United States as "ruthless,
aggressive, conceited, arrogant, easily provoked and
biased." And that was before the war in Iraq.

How can we be so misunderstood, you might ask? A major
factor is the Bush administration's one-sided support
of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, whether he is
bulldozing Palestinian homes, encouraging new Israeli
settlements in the occupied territories, building huge
walls to make impracticable any viable Palestinian
state, or bombing Syria. Someone needs to tell
Rumsfeld that Muslims watch it all on TV—and then line
up at the recruiting stations.

But no one will. There is no longer any sanity check.
Sad to say, over the past year the director of the CIA
and his malleable managers have shown a penchant for
sniffing the prevailing winds and trimming the sails
of their analysis to the breezes blowing from the
Pentagon and White House.

The president's father had an acute appreciation for
the essential role of unbiased intelligence, but there
is no sign that the son understands this. Whether he
realizes it or not, the analysis of the intelligence
community has been thoroughly politicized, leaving him
no place to turn for a check on Rumsfeld's/Cheney's
whiz kids.

It is a Greek tragedy; with the major character flaw
of hubris planting the seeds of the ruler's own
destruction. Rumsfeld eventually will write his
memoir—his own version of McNamara's "We were wrong;
terribly wrong"—but this will bring no consolation to
what may be the next one-term president back in Texas.

It is also tragic that the president does not read
very much, for he would have found the following in
his father's memoir:

"Trying to eliminate Saddam... would have incurred
incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending
him was probably impossible... we would have been
forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq...
there was no viable 'exit strategy' we could see,
violating another of our principles... Going in and
occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United
Nations' mandate, would have destroyed the precedent
of international response to aggression that we hoped
to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the
United States could conceivably still be an occupying
power in a bitterly hostile land."

Real Power To The U.N.

As long as the occupation continues, so will the
killing of U.S. troops and others. The way to stop the
violence is to end the occupation; the only way to
protect our troops is to bring them home. Whether or
not U.S. policymakers can admit at this point that
they were "terribly wrong," they need to transfer real
authority to the United Nations without delay and
support the U.N. in overseeing a rapid return to Iraqi

But, many protest, we can't just withdraw! Sure we
can, and better now than ten years from now, as in the
case of Vietnam. If it is true that we are not in Iraq
to control the oil or to establish military bases with
which to dominate that strategic area, we can
certainly withdraw. As in Vietnam, the war is
unwinnable... hear that? Unwinnable!

If the U.S. withdraws, would there be civil war in
Iraq? One cannot dismiss this possibility lightly
given the history of Iraq. But it is at least as
likely that a regional-federal model of government
that would include substantial autonomy for the Kurds
in the north, the Sunnis in the center, and the
Shiites in the south (something foreshadowed by the
composition of the existing Council) could begin to
function in relatively short order with help from the
U.N. While some degree of inter-ethnic violence could
be expected, chances are good that this model would
still allow a representative national government to

We won't know if we don't try. Besides, there is no
viable alternative.

Ray McGovern (, a 27-year
veteran of the CIA, regularly briefed George H. W.
Bush as vice president and, earlier, worked with him
closely when he was director of CIA. Mr. McGovern is
on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence
Professionals for Sanity. He is now co-director of the
Servant Leadership School, an outreach ministry in the
inner city of Washington.


This site contains copyrighted material the use of
which has not always been specifically authorized by
the copyright owner. We are making such material
available in our efforts to advance understanding of
environmental, political, human rights, economic,
democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc.
We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such
copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of
the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17
U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is
distributed without profit to those who have expressed
a prior interest in receiving the included information
for research and educational purposes. For more
information go to: If you
wish to use copyrighted material from this site for
purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you
must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Common Dreams NewsCenter
A non-profit news service providing breaking news &
views for the progressive community.
Home | Newswire | About Us | Donate | Sign-Up |

© Copyrighted 1997-2003

Posted by richard at November 4, 2003 11:39 AM