Wednesday, September 26, 2007


United in Defeat

In commentary published in the Christian Science Monitor, former three-star vice admiral and now Congressman, Rep. Joe Sestak (D) of Pennsylvania declares that ending the war in Iraq is necessary, as it has “degraded our security” and pushed the Army “to the breaking point.”

I actually have to confess that I retain admiration for the Monitor, despite its soft progressivism and reflexively anti-war prejudices. I am quite sure they know the differences between armed services, and equally certain they recognize partisan flag bearers. I suppose with all the pro-Petraeus press reports of late, war opponents feel the need to trot out the reliably pro-Dem military.

Rep. Sestak’s not the only pro-Dem military figure who’s spoken out against our efforts in Iraq, but he surely constitutes the most clearly partisan and political.

Sure, he was once upon a time a three star admiral. Then he worked as a national security advisor in the Clinton White House. He ran for Congress demanding a pull-out from Iraq, and won, against a rather weak and stumbling 20 year incumbent Curt Weldon. (Reports have indicated Rep. Sestak has also been the beneficiary of campaign donations from democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu.)

Here’s a small sample of what he’s been saying since hitting the campaign trail for his current seat in congress, this from October 2006:

"We must redeploy out of Iraq with a certain date," he told a crowd of roughly 20. "It’s not just the $8 billion, it’s the loss of life. But it is also the less secure America.

"We went in there. We never found those (weapons of mass destruction). There were none to be found," Sestak said.
Sestak said America is less safe today, because sectarian violence broke out in Iraq and a "breeding ground" for terrorists now exists. He said the remedy is not military, but political.
After the event, Sestak said when troops withdraw, the U.S. should instead provide military support from outside Iraq. He added that some special forces may go into Iraq for short periods of time, if necessary.

None of which takes away the legitimacy of his voicing his opinion, no doubt informed by his military experience. But do take note how remarkably unchanged his characterization of the situation in Iraq from 2006 to now (post-surge); how his solution then is his solution now; and how his idea of a bipartisan solution is to have the other party entirely adopt his point of view:

I have consistently argued that a planned end to our military engagement in Iraq is necessary, and that such a "date certain" deadline will force Iraqi leaders to assume responsibility, providing Iran and Syria the incentive to prevent violence otherwise caused by our departure.

Our troops could either return home or deploy to areas (such as Afghanistan) where terrorists pose a threat to our security, while others remain at our existing bases in Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and on aircraft carrier and amphibious groups, to ensure our interests in the region (as we did prior to invading Iraq).

Because our Army must either start a lengthy redeployment or risk unraveling, we have the catalysts for a bipartisan agreement to end this war with a stable Iraq, if we also work with Iran and Syria to meet this goal. However, this opportunity for a bipartisan congressional approach – to convince the president to use diplomacy to bring about a stable accommodation in Iraq once our troops redeploy – will undoubtedly require an initial redeployment deadline that is a "goal" instead of a "date certain."

Indeed, Rep. Sestak has a strange conception of bipartisanship. I suppose it would be a bipartisan approach for Democrats and Republicans to agree that the war was a tragic mistake, that President Bush lied us into war, and that Democratic plans for an immediate withdrawal should be implemented. “Agree with me, and we’ll have consensus!” I wonder were the Admiral picked up that bit of political wisdom?

No surprise, he holds equally bizarre ideas of what “ahead” and “progress” look like in terms of National Security. Does Rep. Sestak really believe that Iran and Syria would be reliable guarantors of US National Security?

In no way would I dismiss Rep. Sestak’s 31 year Navy career, but some of us in sister services find his characterization of having “led an aircraft carrier battle group in combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq” as a tad, well, embellished. I know Navy pilots must be flying sorties in Iraq, but is there really that much Naval-related combat?

And even if individual pilots or squadrons did, would you call the Navy Commander of the Carrier Group a participant in the combat? Oh I’m sure for service ribbons and commendations and the like, but to highlight that as combat duty, and to use as the military basis for what is a much different area of operations (ground combat)?

I’m sure my MILBLOGGER friends will correct any misimpression on my part on that score.

Even if one grants Sestak military cred for his Naval service, what expertise does he have on the health of the Army, or the pros and cons of ground operations?

Rep. Sestak also highlights his stint as Director of the Navy's anti-terrorism unit after 9/11, and declares that “an inconclusive, open-ended involvement in Iraq is not in our security interests.” You know what? I’d agree with him. Only, our involvement in Iraq is hardly inconclusive nor open-ended. This is confirmed, not only by remarkable progress in surge and counter-intelligence operations, but in continued lack of patience in Washington over our commitment in Iraq. Open-ended, not hardly.

I can’t argue that Rep. Sestak has not thought carefully about what’s involved in withdrawal, even if he blithely ignores the consequences and significance of that withdrawal:

Moving 160,000 troops and 50,000 civilian contractors and closing bases are logistically challenging, especially in conflict. To ensure our troops' safety, it will take at least a year – probably 15 to 24 months.

The "long pole in the tent" is the closure or turnover of 65 Forward Operating Bases (FOBs). Conservatively, it takes 100 days to close one FOB. It will be important to balance how many to close at one time with calculations about surrounding strife. Kuwait's receiving facilities to clean and package vehicles for customs and shipment back to the United States can handle only 2 to 2½ brigade combat teams (BCTs) at a time, and that there are currently 40 BCT-equivalents in Iraq.

Redeployment is the most vulnerable of military operations, particularly because this one will be down a single road, leading from Iraq to Kuwait – "Road Tampa." Such vulnerability is why, in 1993, after "Blackhawk Down" in Somalia, it took six months to extract our 6,300 troops safely, and only then after inserting another 19,000 to protect their redeployment.

Why do I get the feeling that one of Admiral Sestak’s areas of expertise was logistics? He’s absolutely correct in noting the complexities and heavy lifting involved in fully withdrawing from Iraq. But he reminds me of those no doubt well-intended organ harvesters in terminal care situations, hovering, pleading, persuading the grief-stricken family to give up hope, and let them have their corpse? Based on General Petraeus’s report on progress since Rep. Sestak made up his mind on Iraq in 2006, I’d call for a hearty cry of, “I’m not dead yet!” to echo Monty Python.

Sestak concludes with his plea for bipartisanship: not because we should work together to advance US national interests, but because withdrawal will continue into a Democratic Presidential Administration:

Because a redeployment of troops will take a long time, we can have a bipartisan approach to Iraq's security. To do this, the Democratic leadership must turn from pure opposition to this war and an immediate withdrawal, and begin to help author a comprehensive regional security plan that accepts the necessity of a deliberate redeployment. In turn, the Republican leadership must accept that the US government must also work diplomatically with Iran and Syria during this deliberate redeployment. While these two countries are currently involved destructively in this war, according to our intelligence community, these nations want stability in Iraq after our departure and, therefore, can play a constructive role.

Which only serves to underscore how pathetically out of touch senior military officers can be, when asked to render judgments out of their area of expertise.

The only constructive role Syria and Iran want to play in Iran is that of victor over an American defeat. Which will no doubt be accompanied by celebratory gunfire, crowds chanting “Death to America,” and Iraqi despair.

(Via Mudville Gazette's Dawn Patrol)

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