A lieutenant general's op-ed about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
November 10, 2014 10:39 PM   Subscribe

Lieutenant General Daniel P. Bolger, recently retired from 35 years in the US Army, reflects on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "As a general, I got it wrong."
posted by paleyellowwithorange (30 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Something along the lines of the 9/11 Commission is in order. We owe that to our veterans and our fellow citizens.

I can't imagine this becoming anything other than a hugely partisan issue with Republicans trying desperately to whitewash...well, everything. Torture, piss-poor planning for the post-invasion era, all the lies that were sold to the public to make the whole thing happen in the first place...all of it. Yes, things could've gone better after Obama took office, but the whole thing was a giant fiasco cooked up by a single Administration.

And, FWIW, I really don't feel like the military deserves nearly as much of the blame as the Bush Administration. Pretty much every high-ranking officer who said anything counter to their rosy projections was summarily silenced or sacked. I don't see anything the military could've done to prevent the whole disaster short of a serious rebellion, and I absolutely don't want to see our military get into that sort of habit.

There are doubtlessly many points where the military could've done a better job (many of those innocent deaths could've and should've been prevented by the military watching its own people carefully, and the torture likewise never should've happened), but the ultimate blame lies with a bunch of civilian leaders...and a media machine that gave them all a free pass.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:55 PM on November 10, 2014 [30 favorites]


As a senior commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, I lost 80 soldiers.

So he feels he's responsible for 80 deaths worth mentioning?
posted by thug unicorn at 11:04 PM on November 10, 2014 [6 favorites]


The Persians had a trick, and they picked it up from the Assyrians - internal exile. Take the worst of the troublemakers, all of their family, and their family's family - and move them, really far away. Offer them a nice new home, let their kids integrate with local society as equals or better.

If we really wanted to end the Iraq war in a hurry, we'd identify our most strident enemies, and then buy them a mosque in Pittsburgh. Have cameramen ready to film their Friday sermon to put it on youtube.

It's almost as if everyone involved was willfully stupid of history. Including sad-faced former-generals who I know for a fucking fact were briefed and wargamed on all this shit. (No, not a typo - the War College here in Newport is famous for it's wargaming capabilities, where you get to emulate hard and soft military strategies and experience both expert-driven and computer-derived outcomes.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:10 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


That shit was some serious sanity.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:21 PM on November 10, 2014 [4 favorites]


Something along the lines of the 9/11 Commission is in order. We owe that to our veterans and our fellow citizens.

I don't think I'm alone in feeling like we already have a pretty good accounting of what happened and what went wrong, and that comes mainly from investigative journalists and repentent insiders. I feel like any blue ribbon commission is just another unhelpful delay in the consensus that various decision makers and their abettors deserve the public oubliette of seeing their legacy written down with contempt and derision.
posted by fatbird at 11:24 PM on November 10, 2014 [5 favorites]


That shit was some serious sanity.

I applaud it unreservedly.
posted by Wolof at 11:27 PM on November 10, 2014


I was about to write, "If only this guy could have gotten it published in something other than the NYT (maybe a Murdoch organization), it would hold something for those whoe need most to read it," but then I remembered Judith Milller.

Fuck you, NYT, and your revisionist bullshit. You failed yourselves and all the rest of us.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 11:42 PM on November 10, 2014 [12 favorites]


That shit was some serious sanity.

Yeah, he was on a roll until he fumbled it at the end and reverted to crazy when he says:

Maybe an incomplete and imperfect effort to contain the Islamic State is as good as it gets. Perhaps the best we can or should do is to keep it busy, “degrade” its forces, harry them or kill them, and seek the long game at the lowest possible cost. It’s not a solution that is likely to spawn a legend. But in the real world, it just may well give us something better than another defeat.

So permanent low intensity warfare in the Middle East, huh? Well low intensity for the drone operators, but I'm sure it will be pretty intense for the Iraqi and Syrian civilians who bear the brunt of our degradation.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:53 PM on November 10, 2014 [21 favorites]


Something along the lines of the 9/11 Commission is in order.

The same 9/11 Commission stated for the record that Saudi nationals — members of the bin Laden family — weren't safely whisked out of the country after the attack, despite FBI evidence to the contrary discovered through FOIA requests years after the fact.

It seems difficult to imagine "something along those lines" helping us deal with the crimes behind Iraq and Afghanistan in any functional way. Our current President will not even investigate these war crimes.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 12:28 AM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


Obama is beheden to the same defense contracters that urged Bush, after years of decay under Clinton, to let them loose into the world. They (and Bush) got what they wanted - a small scale, mostly containable war that the world just kinda gazed on with apathy because Saddam was an asshole, and it wasn't their soldiers doing the fighting - not to mention the intimidation tactics by the Bush administration.

They were unleashed, and now we're suddenly finding it's hard to reign them in isn't it? They've got money flowing in from Shiva only knows where buy lobbyists to intrude on Congress' little detatched world, while the rest of America slowly decays for their folly.

Thanatos cheers as we slaughter the innocent, I'm sure.

I feel a deep empathy for this man that wrote this; he is a troubled soul because of the things he was forced to witness. I worked alongside a Marine with PTSD who had been discharged because of whatever the fuck messed her up. Last time I heard, she was doing lines of cocaine on the backroom of a Payless Shoestore. This war, this madness that runs deep within American culture (that was touched on yesterday with this thread about worship of military and police), are symptoms of a society that has lost itself because of the rot at the core.

This general was at the behest of several of the puppets within the gigantic beaurocracy that requires conflict (preferably external, to mask the internal and provide the illusion of unity) - the intelligence agencies for providing false information to the Executive Branch, the Executive Branch for carrying through with a promise to the Oil Industry, the Defense Contractors needing to test 10 years worth of R&D on a large scale conflict, and the Banksters for being complicit in the funding of Yet Another War.

What we get is a massive, puppet show designed to keep the American Populace, who the above mentioned Deep State is dependent on as a docile and complicit workforce (and meat fodder for the military) entrenched in the illusion that they attacked us, that what happened on 9/11 was a threat to our very American Existence (spoiler: it never was)

I feel guilty about every single drop of petroleum that flows into my life because of these wars. I am ashamed to call myself an American because of these foolish, short-sighted Patriarchial Leaders who plunged us into a decade and a half of geopolitical turmoil and conflict only to promote the shadowy agenda of the aforementioned Deep State.

Having read Dante's Inferno, I hope they meet Judas Iscariot in the Ninth Circle of a frozen hell, and be devoured by the very Satan they served in life, for eternity.
posted by thebotanyofsouls at 2:05 AM on November 11, 2014 [10 favorites]


If insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, I think we’re there.

Pretty much sums it up, although at the risk of insensitivity I might liken it more to a learning disorder. Unfortunately the UK is almost as badly afflicted...
posted by Drexen at 3:30 AM on November 11, 2014


What if they had a stupid, pointless war that would predictably maim and kill thousands of American soldiers and accomplish nothing good -- and no generals came?

Where are the courageous senior officers who risked their lives careers to protect our nation and its soldiers from idiot policy-makers? This parade of repentant generals is getting annoying. They could have made a difference, or at least saved their own honor. They did not.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:01 AM on November 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


Something along the lines of the 9/11 Commission is in order. We owe that to our veterans and our fellow citizens.

Britain did this. It wasn't as satisfying as one would have hoped. The report has been delayed (they're wrangling over what to publish about communication between Bush and Blair I think), but in many ways I don't think that matters. Proof of what we've known all along isn't going to change things. The satisfying part would have been for Tony Blair to admit to lying his way into war during his testimony, but, somehow, he dug in his heels and was unrepentant.
posted by hoyland at 4:23 AM on November 11, 2014


> "The Persians had a trick, and they picked it up from the Assyrians - internal exile. Take the worst of the troublemakers, all of their family, and their family's family - and move them, really far away. Offer them a nice new home, let their kids integrate with local society ..."

This happened to the Jews during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar and we're still complaining about it two and a half thousand years later.

It is actually a pretty lousy way of reducing opposition.
posted by kyrademon at 5:09 AM on November 11, 2014


WRT some notional "truth commission", it might be worth remembering that one of the principal architects of the wars, Donald Rumsfeld, is a master of evasion. Errol Morris, who won an Oscar for his profile of Robert McNamara, The Fog of War, attempted a similar project with Rumsfeld, and the results were frustrating to both the general public and to Morris himself, who wrote a four-part essay for the NYT detailing his frustration at trying to nail the jelly of Rumsfeld's ego and preening self-regard to the wall.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:22 AM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


Something along the lines of the 9/11 Commission is in order. We owe that to our veterans and our fellow citizens.

I can't imagine this becoming anything other than a hugely partisan issue with Republicans trying desperately to whitewash...well, everything.

In other words, exactly like the 9/11 Commission.

Sometimes I imagine what Republicans would have done to a Democratic president with the kind of evidence of incompetence that became public knowledge in those hearings (let alone whatever the Bush Administration succeeded in obfuscating).
posted by Gelatin at 5:40 AM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


Britain did this. It wasn't as satisfying as one would have hoped. The report has been delayed (they're wrangling over what to publish about communication between Bush and Blair I think), but in many ways I don't think that matters. Proof of what we've known all along isn't going to change things.

The Chilcot Inquiry finished taking evidence in 2011 but has yet to report - largely because the government is fighting the release of extracts of conversations between Blair and Bush, and the minutes of Cabinet meetings leading up to the invasion. You may think this is a tacit admission of how damning the information contained within would be, but I couldn't possibly comment.

In any case the Inquiry is an abject lesson in how not to get to the truth. Its members were appointed by the then PM, and included Chilcot - who was involved in the previous whitewash of the Butler Review into WMDs - and two pro-intervention historians, one of whom was on record as comparing Bush and Blair to Roosevelt and Churchill. The Inquiry was also unable to take evidence on oath, subject to a government veto on publication, and one of the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks contained an assurance that steps had been taken to avoid the Inquiry causing embarrassment to the United States.

How you can have some sort of official Inquiry or Commission into these kind of events without being similarly hamstrung I have no idea.
posted by sobarel at 6:11 AM on November 11, 2014 [10 favorites]


That said, those who served deserve an accounting from the generals.
"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left... Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:41 AM on November 11, 2014 [4 favorites]




I'm glad a general is saying something like this, but it's very weird to read this op/ed without the words "Bush" or "Rumsfeld" being mentioned. There's no mystery about why things went wrong in Iraq.

The closest Bolger comes to a theory is "shackled to a corrupt, sectarian government in Baghdad and hobbled by our fellow Americans’ unwillingness to commit to a fight lasting decades". Well yes, the government we set up poorly because of the Bush Administration's contempt for "nation building". And the lack of commitment was based entirely on Rumsfeld's theory of a cheap occupation and short war.

I realize blaming Bush is sort of boring and de rigueur around Metafilter, so saying this is boring. But reading this op/ed makes me feel like we still live in the alternate America where the Iraq war was a necessary response to 9/11 and the Bush plan for the occupation was blameless and just failed for mysterious external reasons. Well, no.

Perhaps Bolger is just following the US tradition of military leaders not dabbling in politics. Except, well, he wrote this. You can't go half way here.
posted by Nelson at 8:07 AM on November 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


We did not understand the enemy, a guerrilla network embedded in a quarrelsome, suspicious civilian population. We didn’t understand our own forces, which are built for rapid, decisive conventional operations, not lingering, ill-defined counterinsurgencies.

I can't applaud this piece in the slightest. I find these two assertions in particular completely disingenuous. Pretty much any observer with a passing familiarity with the region and the makeup of the US military—not to mention anyone who'd studied the last 2,000 years of history—understood them implicity. "Quagmire" and "another Vietnam" were precisely the warnings that opponents of the war brought up, time and again, both before the invasion and during the early stages of the occupation. And those voices were shouted down and called unpatriotic by the entrenched political and military leaders, including if not Bolger then hordes of his colleagues. Fuck, I knew what we were getting into. It's not credible that the generals didn't. This just makes me angry.
posted by stargell at 9:13 AM on November 11, 2014 [10 favorites]


This parade of repentant generals is getting annoying. They could have made a difference, or at least saved their own honor. They did not.

While I appreciate (and largely agree with) the sentiment, I suspect we're getting deep into "careful what you wish for" territory here ...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:45 AM on November 11, 2014


The US military, and perhaps all militaries, is always re-fighting the last war. Have been since the Revolution, and the British have probably been doing it longer than that.

In Iraq in 2003, we re-fought Iraq in 1990, and the Army did a pretty respectable job by that standard. If anything, I think that people within the military establishment were stunned at how quickly the Iraqi Army collapsed, along with the Hussein government.

There were widespread assumptions, at least within the Army at the time, that Hussein was going to go down like Hitler; it was going to be the full götterdämmerung, digging out Republican Guard suicide squads from reinforced bunkers amidst a blasted, nerve-gassed, radioactive hellscape that the retreating army would leave behind as it scorched the earth, until it was annihilated or surrendered on the Iranian border. That is, after all, what dictators who have managed to run major industrialized countries do; it's the threat that keeps you in power, after all, the threat to burn everything rather than turn over power to anyone else. Anything less can only be better, it would seem, so of course you plan for the worst.

And so the Army went in loaded for bear rather than bees, and when the bear keeled over dead rather earlier and less ceremoniously than expected, we were left waving a rather big and unwieldy shotgun at the bees we had stirred up. (You could point out that we did much the same thing in Afghanistan, but the problem was that the timing of the two wars never gave the military establishment time to update its doctrine; Afghanistan wasn't the "last war".)

Today, of course, we are contemplating the Islamic State, and naturally the hammer we have at hand to bang that particular nail is the one fashioned by Iraq and Afghanistan, and involves a lot of ground troops. We seem, for the moment, disinclined to use it. But I see very little that has fundamentally changed; someday we will decide to, against ISIS or someone else, and we will find out to what extent the situation differs from the last time around.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:08 PM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


While I appreciate (and largely agree with) the sentiment, I suspect we're getting deep into "careful what you wish for" territory here ...

What I wish for is a military that is a LOT more reluctant to go to war, and a lot less afraid to tell the warmongers that their ideas are bad.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:20 PM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


You may think this is a tacit admission of how damning the information contained within would be, but I couldn't possibly comment.

Was this an intentional OG BBC House of Cards reference or just coincidental phrasing?
posted by reuvenc at 7:40 PM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


There are two sides to the civilian-control-of-the-military coin. One side says, when the civilian leadership says "don't do it", the military doesn't do it; the other side says when the civilian leadership says "do it", the military does it, even if everyone in the military thinks it's an poor idea.

A military that has the prerogative of not going to war when ordered to do so would not be under the civilian leadership's command in any real sense. This is typically considered a bug rather than a feature.

The US government contains a number of checks and balances, but there is very specifically not a check and balance relationship between the civilian government and the military. Command authority goes only one way there.

The check and balance control over the military was, I think it is quite clear, supposed to be between the President and Congress. That Congress has basically abrogated its responsibility in favor of unilateral Executive-branch power to prosecute wars is unfortunate, but it doesn't mean that the military should pick up where they left off.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:31 AM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


The military's check and balance over the civilian government is implicit. We're just fortunate in the US that it's pretty much never been exercised. Well, unless you count the Confederacy.
posted by Nelson at 8:54 AM on November 12, 2014


A military that has the prerogative of not going to war when ordered to do so would not be under the civilian leadership's command in any real sense.

Commissioned officers have the option of resigning their commission. An officer who knows that the Executive branch has decreed a disastrous policy that will cause harm to the troops, and who decides to keep their commission and carry out the policy, has placed their career ahead of the well-being of their subordinates and their country. For that officer to retire later and write a half-baked apology for carrying out the policy does not get my respect.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:32 AM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]






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