I just finished watching the documentary “The Fog of War”, which is a 100 minute long discussion with Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and part of the Johnson administrations, during the Cuban missile crisis and the escalation of the Vietnam War. The lessons from his experiences are many, though the most poignant, and applicable, to our current situation in Iraq come through clearly. He articulates two guideposts to making a decision to go to war, that any such action should not be taken unilaterally, except in the case of immediate defense, and that in order to be successful it is necessary to empathize with the enemy in order to understand their motivations.
It becomes clear, with those principles as guides, how the Iraq war has failed, and is at this point irreriersible. The US failed to suffieciently convince the world of the case for war, particularly the people and governments of the West, our fellow nations of like-minded values. While there was inherent corruption within such programmes as the Food-for-Oil swap, and cheating on sactions, had sufficient evidence been discovered and the appropriate diplomatic channels been followed, a case for war would have been made, or a war would have become irrelevant. Either would have avoided the conflict before us today.
The second element, and perhaps even more important, is that it is the understanding of the “enemy” that is necessary in order to make the appropriate decisions to have any conflict come to a successful resolution. This, even more than a failure to convince our fellow nations of a case for war, is responsible for the current situation that we face in Iraq. We have failed because we have not understood what motivates the Iraqi populace. We have ignored the aspect of revenge among Iraqis, the sense that many Iraqis are fighting for their freedom against us. That we are not seen as their to grant freedom, but to colonise them, to secure oil supplies for our own consumption, to subjugate them to Western rule, Western values. We have failed to grasp this, and as a result we are losing. And it may be, and in fact likely is, already too late to change the course.
During the documentary, this lesson became extremely clear when McNamara met in 1995 with former officials of the Vietnamese government. He spoke of how they disagreed, how the Vietnamese saw this as a clash for independence and that the US were an imperial power, while we saw this as securing their freedom from China and Russia. The disconnect between the two sides was huge, and in our situation today in Iraq may be similarly large.
I do not know that there is any way the situation can be salvaged, or if changing Presidents can in any way alter the course upon which we have been set. But I cannot fathom how rewarding the man who is singularly accountable for setting us on this path with a second term will even become to resolve the conflict. Especially with the lessons that should have already been taught.