On War #312: The Silence of the Sheep

William S. Lind
4 August 2009

In early July, U.S. Army Colonel 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), Colonel 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, Colonel 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 1000 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 Shiite 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 Colonel 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.

William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

To interview Mr. Lind, please contact (no e-mail available):

Mr. William S. Lind
Free Congress Foundation
1423 Powhatan Street, # 2
Alexandria, Virginia 22314

Direct line: 703 837-0483

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Filed in Uncategorized | 10 responses so far

10 Responses to “On War #312: The Silence of the Sheep”

  1. Duncan C Kinderon 04 Aug 2009 at 3:05 pm 1

    America’s first black President remains immune to criticism because he is America’s first black President.

    Except insofar as his birth certificate is concerned. Furthermore, Lind should subscribe to blogs like DailyKos. People are screaming bloody murder about how Obama is handling / mishandling health care.

    Addressing Lind’s major point, the United States populace, elite, and government collectively are in a state of denial about Iraq. Iraq’s current lull, IMHO and probably in the opinion of most readers of this blog, is a phony war. Afghanistan is where the action is; while Al Qaeda is establishing itself in Somalia, Yemen, and probably Nigeria and points northward. But most Americans treat Iraq’s lull as stability. So does Obama.

    [CR: It certainly seems to me that the president’s media holiday is over. Check out Counterpunch and Reason, for example.]

  2. Maxon 04 Aug 2009 at 8:28 pm 2

    “exactly why are we keeping 130,000 men in a horribly exposed position”

    Bill Lind is the only writer I know who recognises, and frequently reminds us of the percarious circumstances of the protracted military occupations in both Iraq, and Afganistan.

    The US is effectively engadged on two fronts.

    Human losses saging military moral at the grass roots, and accumlated debt continues to grow at a time when the entire
    US economy is in a similarly vunerable situation.

    What I find also astonishing, is how Obama and his handlers have
    played this hand, on the surface a seeming unmitigated disaster
    in progress.

    With the healthcare debate pushing continued losses in Iraq, and record losses Afganistan to the back pages, Obama skips along merrily as the campained lip-service champion of both the anti-war crowd, and by action or lack thereof, depending on your postion, those who stand to gain from the continuance of the status quo under Bush.

    I deplore the sleaze and lack of accountability, but marvel at the skill
    of the public relations if not even mass hypnosis involoved, it is indeed America at it’s finest.


  3. loggie20on 05 Aug 2009 at 7:37 pm 3

    The only mistakes that matter are the strategic ones.

    The strategic errors starts with: What good is supporting the Iraqi government to anyone but Maliki? And maybe very moderate Shi’a.

    As to exposing US troops and assets, Afghanistan is landlocked and the main airbridge, expensive wearing out C-17’s like no ones business, is through Russia landing in some place no one in the US ever heard about unless you were targeting Soviet counter force sites.

    Neither Afghanistan nor Iraq are issues in a strategic sense.

    It is far less costly to point defense against terrorists than to try to stomp them out with the hugely profitable terrible swift sword each place they might set up.

    The sledgehammer can be worn out trashing ants.

    Then who loses?

    Logistics mistakes are bad, too. The US has enough of that!!

  4. Maxon 06 Aug 2009 at 9:08 am 4


    “People are screaming bloody murder about how Obama is handling mishandling health care.”

    CR; “It certainly seems to me that the president’s media holiday is over.”

    Humm, Seems like pepole maybe getting pretty p*&^$d at the whole
    sorry lot.

    In terms of the really big picture, and cumulative effects of the legacies
    of abuse of the founding principles, this maybe aptlly chararacterised by
    the old backwards cliche, “the camel that broke the straws baclk.”

    Or at least strained it a little.



  5. JRBehrmanon 06 Aug 2009 at 12:16 pm 5

    [Note: This is far too long for a comment, interesting as it may be. Please observe our comment policy.]

    Anglo-America, not just the US, not just the Obama administration, is engaged on broad fronts. This anglophile perspective is the international security framework we have today, like it or not. It is rather more parochial than that of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson.

    I don’t like that, but so what?

    A kind of siege warfare is what I expect Fourth Generation Warfare to look like from BoWash and Londinium. I hope those folks figure that out and do not think this is just another Great Game we are in.

    The situation today probably does look to Bill Lind like an administration that is “a mile wide and an inch deep”. Maybe, so. I am an official of his party, but not in Chicago, so I count for little or nothing. LIke Spinney, I marveled at the campaign, but am rather baffled by what has happened since. I know a lot of deep folk who were in his campaign but are not in Obama’s administration.

    Are we unhappy at this point? Sure, does that matter? Not really.

    Bill’s unrelated cousin, Michael Lind, asks “Can Obama Be De-Programmed?”

    Now, that is an important, historical question, as probably both of the Linds would agree, if they ever even met. Maybe, it can be answered, but probably not by one person. And, I tend to think of the problems my fellow Texan describes as institutional, not racial or personal, probably a deficiency of my party, not so much of our President.

    Personally, I hope a lot of people in the Obama administration or my party start asking the Boyd question, “to be or to do” and to find some useful role. We cannot afford to do to Barack Obama what we did to Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, as described by John Judis in “Lost at Sea”

    I am sure the President’s race, whatever that is, has nothing to do with where is head is or all of us need to be. His age may be a handicap, as is any age, but not if he proves to be a pretty fast learner. I like it when he says of most questions, “it is not about me”. Let’s all agree here that what he and his officer corps learn about 4Gen, how, and how fast is more important than what any of us know about its predecessors.

    He is not just the first black President, he is the first Democratic President to really fill Lincoln’s shoes, to fire one General just to get what he figured might be a better one, and to actually kill a stupid piece of agro-military pork. So, I figure he is moving beyond the “to be” and getting to some “to do’s”. Could not a four-star or even a five-star, but more or less the six-star CINC answer Boyd’s question “to do”? Well, General Gray did. So, maybe so.

    I think the CNAS crowd are thinking both strategically and operationally in a way that this administration will find instructive. My sons do not seem to be demoralized, and these wars here and there are mostly theirs now. Some factions of the left, right, and center all feel left out and baffled just now by what is or is not going on in Iraq and Afghanistan or, for that matter, umpteen other places.

    But, I do not think the people or the administration are wrong to focus on the domestic economy. Moreover, I do not see why Obama should signal his strategy, priorities, whatever, … to our or his enemies domestic or foreign. We and others, even Russia, have lots of enemies, domestic and foreign in common. He gets that. But, even in the national or just the palace games of political vanity and petty advancement, this President, as two Democrats before him, have an undisciplined majority party and an irresponsilbe minority party to deal with. And, he hast to figure out how to administer defense and foreign affairs without a bi-partisan coalition to rely on. No Democrat since Buchanan has had to, and that did not work out so well.

    So, I think that like combat engineers across all generations of warfare, this administration is going to have to fight and build at the same time. I will be passing up buckets of cement or sand, whatever is needed. In siege warfare, even old men did that.

    Better we should die in the bucket-line than our sons and daughters in a breach.

  6. senor tomason 06 Aug 2009 at 1:52 pm 6

    “Iraq seems to have vanished off Washington’s radar screen”

    And off of mainstream America’s radar screen. I believe this is one of the hazards of having an all-volunteer military. As harsh as this is to say, I don’t believe mainstream America cares about the all-volunteer military as much as they would about a military comprised of conscripts. The all-volunteer recruiting system creates a disconnect between the military and mainstream America. The late military sociologist Professor Charles C. Moskos mentioned this frequently in his writings. The same Charles C. Moskos who came to the rescue of Bill Clinton in 1993 by suggesting the “don’t ask-don’t tell” policy.

  7. loggie20on 08 Aug 2009 at 6:39 am 7

    Senor Tomas,

    Good point I was just cogitating about what if Afghanistan were fought like the WW II European Theater. Ike kept all the US divisions in line from D Day until VE Day. Some respite occurred when the Wehrmacht was beaten or withdrawn in a given sector until they pulled off things like the Bugle. Then Ike responded by tightening the ring (hold the shoulders, Patton was thrilled that all those Germans came out to be killed) around the break through , showing that blitzes could be held off.

    If that were done in Afghanistan with troops in for the duration…..

    Then someone may just ask: what is the point?

    Afghanistan is the death of a thousand cuts, made easier by rotating victims between cuts.

    It takes no longer for all the victims (ISAS) to be killed.

  8. Maxon 09 Aug 2009 at 8:34 am 8

    A couple of thoughts I want to share.

    1) S. Tomas consitantly contributes concise and poinient

    2) I want to give JRB full credit (not withstanding the lengthy posts)
    as being by admission a professed politico, and insider, for his participation in this forum, and taking us seriously.

    In reply to JBRs latest, I percieve the Obama situation similarly
    to the previous Bush disaster, in focusing it’s agenda to serve narrow
    vested interests. JBR mentions the “Chicago” factor.

    Obama seems to focused singularly on repaying the vested interests that brought him to power, in a similar fashion to the way Bush did, at the exclusion and at severe peril to the overall good.

    The road to hell is indeed a smoothly paved ride these days.

    “I do not think the people or the administration are wrong to focus on the domestic economy.”

    I don’t see how we can address the current finanical catastropie
    without first coming to grips with “The Military Industrial Welfare State”
    (WIMS (C Loggie)).

    Cancilation of the rediculous F-22 program was a step forward,
    but only a single drop in an ocean.


  9. Maxon 15 Aug 2009 at 8:56 am 9

    “that it is time “for the U.S. to declare victory and go home.””

    I find that the ONLY explanation, the only possibility,
    that makes any sense out of the conduct of the GWOT,
    since day 1, is over arching vested economic interests.

    That which my freind Loggie characterises as the
    “Mil. Ind. Wellfare State.”

    And yet Americans currently obsess about public healthcare,
    meanwhile 3 million or so Americans involved in said
    “MIWS” recieve exactly that, state provided, subsidised

    Pat Buchcanan provides this poinient observation
    in relation to the current situation, and the blindlingly apparent
    military reality thereof, that given the benefit
    of hindsite, one can just easily apply to S. Vietnam, if to sum
    up the explanation for the loss in a single phrase.


    “Whatever we may say of them, Taliban (Vietcong) fighters have shown a greaterwillingness to die for a country free of us Americans than our Afghan (Arvin) allies have shown to die for the future
    we Americans envision for them.”


  10. Sven Ortmannon 18 Aug 2009 at 2:28 pm 10

    “Bill Lind is the only writer I know who recognises, and frequently reminds us of the percarious circumstances of the protracted military occupations in both Iraq, and Afganistan.”

    Check out Bacevich:

    To me it seems as if it’s really not about U.S. politics anymore. The Iraqis have pulled their act together enough to expel the foreigners with political action.

    The whole OEF thing has become – after an extremely wasteful period of violent occupation – a success in form, and an utter failure in function.

    It was about as smart as Mussolini’s invasion of Greece ’40.

    [CR: Sven — thanks for reminding us about Bacevich.]