Look Who’s Joined the Antiwar Chorus

While Cindy Sheehan has deservedly gotten a lot of attention for reawakening the antiwar movement with her allies from veteran and military family organizations, the most interesting thing about the opposition to the Iraq war is that it includes former military leaders, national security and intelligence officials, and foreign service officers. Thus the Iraq war is opposed by those who generally support U.S. foreign and military affairs.

In fact, in March 2003, shortly before the war began, hundreds of retired military officers wrote President Bush requesting a meeting before a final decision was made to invade. They expressed grave concerns about a war with Iraq. Their letter foretold the future, saying:

"[W]e strongly question the need for a war at this time. Despite Secretary of State Colin Powell’s report to the Security Council and the testimony of others in the administration, we are not convinced that coercive containment has failed, or that war has become necessary.

"Our own intelligence agencies have consistently noted both the absence of an imminent threat from Iraq and reliable evidence of cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Again, we question whether this is the right time and the right war.

"Further, we believe the risks involved in going to war, under the unclear and shifting circumstances that confront us today, are far greater than those faced in 1991. Instead of a desert war to liberate Kuwait, combat would likely involve protracted siege warfare, chaotic street-to-street fighting in Baghdad, and Iraqi civil conflict. If that occurs, we fear our own nation and Iraq would both suffer casualties not witnessed since Vietnam. We fear the resulting carnage and humanitarian consequences would further devastate Iraqi society and inflame an already volatile Middle East, and increase terrorism against U.S. citizens."

President Bush and his advisers ignored their request.

Now that we are three years into the war, more and more military, national security, and intelligence leaders are speaking out. Some examples: Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush and deputy to Henry Kissinger in the Nixon administration, argued in 2002, "An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken." Weeks before the 2004 presidential election, he described the Iraq war as a "failing venture," President George W. Bush as being "mesmerized" by Ariel Sharon, and his unilateralist policy as undermining relations with U.S. allies. Scowcroft was a strong advocate for the Gulf War to remove Saddam from Kuwait, but during that war he opposed invading Iraq and removing Saddam:

"At the minimum, we’d be an occupier in a hostile land. Our forces would be sniped at by guerrillas, and, once we were there, how would we get out? What would be the rationale for leaving? I don’t like the term ‘exit strategy’ – but what do you do with Iraq once you own it?"

Recently, The New Yorker reported Scowcroft saying, "This is exactly where we are now. We own it. And we can’t let go."

General William Odom (ret.), former head of the National Security Agency under President Reagan, recently wrote an article, "What’s Wrong with Cutting and Running?,” in which he persuasively argued that the war is serving the interests of Osama bin Laden, the Iranians, and extremists in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. According to Odom, all that we fear could go wrong if we "cut and run" is actually made more likely by our staying in Iraq. He argues the first step is to admit that entering Iraq was a mistake.

In June, John Deutch, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency 1995-1996 and was deputy defense secretary 1994-1995, called for U.S. troops to leave Iraq immediately. "Those who argue that we should ‘stay the course’ because an early withdrawal … would hurt America’s global credibility must consider the possibility that we will fail in our objectives in Iraq and suffer an even worse loss of credibility down the road." He also wrote, "I do not believe that we are making progress on any of our key objectives in Iraq," adding that even when the Iraqi government appears to be functioning, "the underlying destabilizing effect of the insurgency is undiminished."

"Our best strategy now is a prompt withdrawal plan consisting of clearly defined political, military, and economic elements. Politically, the United States should declare its intention to remove its troops and urge the Iraqi government and its neighbors to recognize the common regional interest in allowing Iraq to evolve peacefully and without external intervention."

In a speech at Harvard, Deutch identified five steps to disengagement in Iraq: letting Iraqis make their own political decisions, adopting a clear exit strategy and timetable, beginning the military withdrawal, establishing regional diplomacy to discourage external intervention in Iraq, and continued training of Iraqi forces.

Last month, Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Carter, described President George W. Bush’s foreign policy as "suicidal statecraft" in a Los Angeles Times commentary.

"America is likely to become isolated in a hostile world, increasingly vulnerable to terrorist acts and less and less able to exercise constructive global influence. Flailing away with a stick at a hornets’ nest while loudly proclaiming ‘I will stay the course’ is an exercise in catastrophic leadership."

Brzezinski urged the Bush administration to seek a bipartisan solution, arguing that under such circumstances "it would be easier not only to scale down the definition of success in Iraq but actually to get out – perhaps even as early as next year. And the sooner the U.S. leaves, the sooner the Shi’ites, Kurds, and Sunnis will either reach a political arrangement on their own or some combination of them will forcibly prevail."

Melvin Laird, secretary of defense for President Richard Nixon, has also called for an exit strategy from Iraq because the Bush administration is repeating mistakes made by Nixon during the Vietnam War. He has a lengthy article in the November/December edition of Foreign Affairs comparing the "Vietnamization" program in which American troops were withdrawn from Vietnam with the current war in Iraq:

"We need to put our resources and unwavering public support behind a program of ‘Iraqization’ so that we can get out of Iraq and leave the Iraqis in a position to protect themselves. … Our presence is what feeds the [Iraqi] insurgency, and our gradual withdrawal would feed the confidence and the ability of average Iraqis to stand up to the insurgency."

Lawrence B. Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell and a retired Army colonel, in a speech to the New America Foundation accused Cheney and Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld of leading a "cabal" that circumvented the formal policymaking and intelligence processes in order to take the country to war in Iraq. In a Los Angeles Times commentary, he wrote,

"Today, we have a president whose approval rating is 38 percent and a vice president who speaks only to Rush Limbaugh and assembled military forces. We have a secretary of defense presiding over the death-by-a-thousand-cuts of our overstretched armed forces (no surprise to ignored dissenters such as former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki or former Army Secretary Thomas White).

"It’s a disaster. Given the choice, I’d choose a frustrating bureaucracy over an efficient cabal every time."

Wilkerson, while not calling for immediate withdrawal, was also critical of Capitol Hill in his speech to the New America Foundation:

"[T]he people’s representatives over on the Hill in that other branch of government have truly abandoned their oversight responsibilities in this regard and have let things atrophy to the point that if we don’t do something about it, it’s going to get – it’s going to get even more dangerous than it already is."

Gen. Joseph P. Hoar is a retired four-star general, led the U.S. Central Command (1991-94), and commanded U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf after the 1991 war. In testimony before the U.S. Senate in May 2004, he said, "I believe we are absolutely on the brink of failure. We are looking into the abyss. We cannot start soon enough to begin the turnaround." Before the Center for American Progress on Sept. 13, 2005, he criticized the Iraq war as "wrong from the beginning, and so as is often the case, it’s very hard to make it right once you start down the wrong road. I’m not at all optimistic about the outcome. I think part of the reason is that our leadership – civilian leadership – has got it wrong." Gen. Hoar also warned of the potential for expansion of the conflict, arguing that "the Defense Department not only needs to think about disengaging in Iraq, but to develop the contingency plans if you wind up with a full-scale insurgency in, say, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or if these people redouble the efforts of Hezbollah and Hamas in Israel."

Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan (ret.) has called Iraq "the wrong war at the wrong time," and, "As a result, terrorists are free to act at will on a worldwide basis while the U.S. searches for a way out of the Iraqi morass and while most of the rest of the world watches from the sidelines." One lesson we should take from Iraq, he says, is that "military power does not automatically translate into political and economic stability."

Vice Admiral Shanahan and Gen. Hoar were part of a group of 29 military leaders who criticized the conduct of the Iraq war when they wrote Sen. John McCain on Oct. 3, 2005 urging a clear policy forbidding torture of detainees: "The abuse of prisoners hurts America’s cause in the war on terror, endangers U.S. service members who might be captured by the enemy, and is anathema to the values Americans have held dear for generations."

Edward Peck, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and deputy director of President Reagan’s terrorist task force who served in World War II and Korea and then for 32 years as a diplomat, has described the Iraq war as "unnecessary, poorly conceived, and badly planned." He is critical of the U.S. for "installing" a democracy because such a democracy is doomed to fail: "You cannot impose democracy. That’s a dictatorship. Whatever you come up with is not a democracy because they have been coerced."

The views of these elite of military, intelligence, and foreign service veterans is buttressed by soldiers and commanders on the ground in Iraq. As the Wall Street Journal reported on Oct. 5,

"President Bush worries that withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq too quickly will embolden the insurgents there. A growing number of military commanders and civilian policymakers are voicing the opposite concern: They fear the large U.S. troop presence is actually helping feed the insurgency and stunting Iraq’s political growth."

Other returning soldiers have detailed atrocities, and some have refused to return to Iraq – even when threatened with incarceration.

The opposition to the Iraq war is broad and deep among those with expertise in military and intelligence matters. Indeed, their opposition reflects the views of most Americans, a growing majority of whom oppose the occupation. Will the political leadership of either party respect the views of the American public and end this debacle?