The Silence of the Sheep

In early July, U.S. Army Col. Timothy Reese committed truth. According to a story by Michael Gordon in the New York Times (reprinted in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where I saw it), Col. Reese wrote "an unusually blunt memo [concluding] that Iraqi forces suffer from entrenched deficiencies but are now able to protect the Iraqi government and that it is time ‘for the U.S. to declare victory and go home.’"

"As the old saying goes, ‘Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days,’" Reese wrote. "Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose."

As usual, committing truth horrified Reese’s superiors. Michael Gordon reported:

"Those (Reese’s) conclusions are not shared by the senior U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno. …

"A spokeswoman for Odierno said that the memo did not reflect the official stance of the U.S. military and was not intended for a broad audience."

Truth never is. On the situation in Iraq as on everything else, the American people get the mushroom treatment. That is how Brave New World works.

In fact, Col. Reese’s conclusion, that we should leave Iraq as quickly as we can, is so obvious it raises some second-order questions. First, exactly why are we keeping 130,000 men in a horribly exposed position, their main LOC running parallel to a potential enemy’s front for 1,000 miles, surrounded by a slowly accelerating civil war?

The official answer, that "we are there to back up the Iraqi government," doesn’t wash. The Iraqi government and its security forces represent the currently dominant Shi’ite faction, nothing more. There is no state. There won’t be one until the Iraqis settle their own differences, by fighting. Our presence may delay that conflict, but cannot prevent it.

So, Mr. Obama, what’s the real agenda? Under Bush, we knew: an Iraq that had been reduced to an American client state was to provide us with military bases from which we could dominate the region and an unlimited supply of oil. Is the Bush administration’s agenda now the Obama administration’s agenda? If not, what is? Exactly why are 130,000 U.S. troops hanging out in a bad part of town with a "kick me" sign taped to their backs? Inertia? Indecision? What?

That’s one second-order question. Another one is, why is no one in Congress asking the first question? Iraq seems to have vanished off Washington’s radar screen, despite the fact that so long as we’re there, we are smoking in the powder magazine.

It seems that whatever the Obama administration’s agenda in Iraq is, it has gathered virtually unanimous support in Congress. Having worked on the Hill, I know some institutional reasons for that. Congress focuses on whatever the voters are focused on, which at the moment means the economy. But even there, Iraq raises one of its hydra heads. The American occupation of Iraq continues to burn through money at the cyclic rate. So why aren’t the Blue Dog Democrats and other deficit hawks howling about our continued stay? All we hear is the silence of the sheep.

There are two possible explanations for the Obama administration’s remarkable failure to use its mandate to get out of Iraq while we still can. The first suggests some deep, dark plot, involving money, oil, the SMEC and the SMEC’s Washington’s agents in the White House. During the Bush administration, this explanation was plausible. It is still possible, but I think less likely true.

The more likely truth is that the Obama administration is a mile wide and an inch deep. The public is beginning to sense this, as President Obama’s falling approval ratings show. But within the Establishment, which includes Congress and most of the press, America’s first black president remains immune to criticism because he is America’s first black president. Were the current president, say, a Georgia cracker, the Establishment would already have him in the stocks, subject to a barrage of rotten fruit.

But even if President Obama were himself a man of depth and wisdom, an administration is much more than one man. Most of the Obama administration’s leading figures are merely second- and third-stringers from the Clinton administration, resurrected as zombies (starting with Hillary herself). I don’t know of a single strategist among the lot. Most are playing at government, just as little girls play house.

If there is one among the lot who can think beyond the end of his nose – Jim Jones, has the cat got your tongue? – he would do well to quote Col. Reese’s words to the president:

"We now have an Iraqi government that has gained its balance and thinks it knows how to ride the bike in the race. … Our hand on the back of the seat is holding them back and causing resentment. We need to let go before we both tumble to the ground."

With a thud that will be heard around the world.

Author: William S. Lind

William Lind is director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation. He is a former congressional aide and the author of many books and articles on military strategy and war.