Thursday, NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” ran a segment called “Is Victory in Iraq Still Possible?” Host Neal Conan was joined by retired Gen. John “Jack” Keane, former Army vice chief of staff, and Larry Diamond, an author and former senior advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad.
Gen. Keane has been cited in a number of articles, and in testimony before Congress as saying the Iraqi people were passive after 35 years of oppression (the violence, paradoxically, doesn’t seem particularly passive). Diamond — who opposed the war but worked in the occupation government — wrote in his book Squandered Victory that the lesson of Iraq is not “‘don’t do it’ but ‘don’t do it alone’ and ‘don’t do it with an imperial approach'”. In essence, both of the interviewees — while not necessarily advocates of the war in Iraq — were participants in the execution of the war and occupation.
Which leaves me to wonder why — given all that has transpired in this war which has lasted almost as long as the US involvement in World War II — nobody from the ranks of the people who advocated against going to war in Iraq in the first place ever seems to be asked to join these panels. Shouldn’t the opinion of people who were right from the outset — predicting that there were no WMDs, no connection to al-Qaeda, that deposing Saddam Hussein would lead to a civil war, that an American occupation would not be welcomed with open arms, etc. — be more valuable than the constant re-estimations of the people who’ve been wrong about everything since before the invasion?
More particularly, as we ramp up for future military operations (both Democrats and Republicans have called in the past for more troops to be sent to Iraq, but we’ll probably need them for Iran next month) it’s time for the networks to cast beyond their stable of military warhorses for commentary on strategy and tactics.
The networks need to get people involved in the conversation who aren’t ex-military. Retired generals may know how to run a military machine, but that doesn’t make them astute political observers, historians, or even knowledgeable about military strategy. Sure, they may know about strategy but it doesn’t mean they were good at it themselves.
More importantly, American generals are about the most unlikely people to unsparingly criticize current US foreign policy or military operations. We’ve seen over the past five years (including the failure of both in Afghanistan as well as Iraq) where a lack of critical discussion of the reasons for going to war and how the war is conducted can get us. It’s as if you’d decided to convene a panel to select the greatest films of all time and filled it with nothing but STAR WARS fans. It’s going to skew the results.
So please, great gods of cable news, get some people who’ve studied politics and conflict in region on your speed dials before the next military action. If you’ve got to use military guys, get some foreign generals who aren’t going to be beholden to their former colleagues running the show or who will feel unpatriotic if they make a criticism. Because sometimes we need a little truth for clarity.