Iraq: ‘The Greatest Strategic Disaster in American History’
By Patrick Cockburn, AlterNet. Posted October 31, 2006.
The following is an excerpt from Patrick Cockburn’s new book, The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq (Verso, 2006).
The US failure in Iraq has been even more damaging than Vietnam because the opponent was punier and the original ambitions were greater. The belief that the US could act alone, almost without allies, was quickly shown to be wholly false. By the summer of 2004 the US military had only islands of control. The failure was all the worse because it was self-inflicted, like the British invasion of Egypt to overthrow Nasser in 1956. But by the time of the Suez crisis the British empire was already on its deathbed. The disaster only represented a final nail in its coffin. Perhaps the better analogy is the Boer War, at the height of the British imperial power, when the inability of its forces to defeat a few thousand Boer farmers damagingly exposed both Britain’s real lack of military strength and its diplomatic isolation.
In many ways the guerilla war in Iraq resembled Vietnam. A year after it started I talked to US sappers with the highly dangerous job of looking for buried bombs, known as IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), usually several heavy artillery shells wired together and detonated by a long wire or by remote control. These so-called “convoy killers” were to prove a devastating weapon, causing half of US fatal casualties. The sappers explained they had received no training for the job. “I never heard of an IED before I came to Iraq,” remarked one soldier. A sergeant said that he had with difficulty obtained an old but still valid US Army handbook, printed during the Vietnam war, about this type of bomb and the lethal booby traps often placed nearby to kill unwary sappers. He believed the army had not reissued the handbook, useful though it was, because doing so might appear to contradict the official line from the Pentagon that Iraq was not like Vietnam.
There should be no doubt about the extent of the US failure. General William Odom, the former head of the National Security Agency, the largest US intelligence agency, called it “the greatest strategic disaster in American history.” Back in the US it took time for this to sink in. Right-wing commentators claimed that the good news about Iraq was being suppressed. US network news programs were edgy about reporting the bad news because they feared being accused of lack of patriotic zeal. The same inhibition hamstrung the Democrats during the presidential election in 2004.
Read all of it here.