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"Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility, and endanger Americans for decades to come." -- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at swearing-in
Out with the old Defense chief, in with the new, and, everything is as it was. At least, the posturing and rhetoric remains the same. Watching Rumsfeld exit his job with pageantry usually reserved for victors and conquering heroes, it would serve this White House-in-denial if we somehow forgot that neither historic deployment of our military forces, in Afghanistan or Iraq, managed to come anywhere close to accomplishing any of the goals the Bush regime claimed would make our nation more secure in the wake of the 9-11 attacks.
Yet, there he was, standing beside the President and Vice-President of the United States in front of an honors ceremony -- reveling in Bush's praise for "racing down smoke-filled hallways to the crash site, so he could help rescue workers pull the victims from the rubble" on 9-11 -- instead of before a tribunal, being made to account for the hundreds of thousands of innocents caught in the way of his "shock and awe" campaigns, and to account for those held captive and tortured in the new gulags of his dual occupations.
"Under Secretary Rumsfeld's leadership," Bush proclaimed, "U.S. and coalition forces launched one of the most innovative military campaigns in the history of modern warfare, sending Special Operations forces into Afghanistan . . . On his watch," Bush said, "the United States military helped the Iraqi people establish a constitutional democracy in the heart of the Middle East, a watershed event in the story of freedom."
There was nothing "innovative" at all about charging into Afghanistan -- "to link up with anti-Taliban fighters, to ride with them on horseback," as Bush bragged; cornering bin Laden at Tora Bora, and then cutting-and running from that hunt to divert the bulk of our nation's defenses to Iraq, to "draw a line in the sand," as the terrorists escaped into the mountains of Afghanistan. There has been nothing "innovative" about the five years of freedom the terror suspects have been gifted with by that diversion in Iraq. In fact, there is nothing innovative at all about invading and occupying Afghanistan or Iraq, overthrowing their governments, and installing weak and compliant replacements. Both Britain and the former Soviet Union eventually abandoned their attempts to militarily dominate these nations in the past, victim to their own fatal overreaches.
There has been no "democracy" established under the respective rule of the 'mayors' of Kabul and Baghdad, Karsai and Maliki. The 'elections', held under the occupation of the invading forces, have done nothing to enable those who braved the U.S. generated violence and voted to effect any of the security, or basic tenets of citizenship, which should be assumed under a true democratic government. More often, these very voters have, themselves, come under attack from the forces of the government they've voted into power. Certainly, those communities whose residents have opposed the new regimes have been the targets of reprisals and suppression from government forces aided by the U.S..
Yet, the Bush regime would have us carry forward with the same false bravado of achievement they wave around behind the sacrifices of our soldiers, which has been repeated, over and over by the Bush regime, in the face of half a decade of bloody failure in the Middle East. Bush practically gushed with glee over the new, incoming manager of his dirty wars. "This has got to be an exciting time for Bob Gates," Bush said, before the new Defense chief was sworn in. "I can't tell you what an honor it is to be the Commander-in-Chief of unbelievably fine people. And I suspect he will share that same sense of enthusiasm as the Secretary of the Defense," he said.
Gates accepted the praise with the same qualifying language he used in front of the Senate committee, indicating his purpose in taking the job was less an enthusiasm than it was an assignment. "I return to public service in the hope that I can make a difference," Gates said after taking the oath.There has to be little comfort for Gates in his clean-up role; taking a hand-up from Bush to stand atop the rubble and humanity Bush and Rumsfeld have piled up since 2001. But, he did his best to blend into the mirage Bush has created to mask the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"All of us want to find a way to bring America's sons and daughters home again," Gates told those gathered. "But, as the President has made clear, we simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East. Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility, and endanger Americans for decades to come."
If we "simply can't afford to fail," at the risk of a "calamity," then the worst is already upon us. Iraq and Afghanistan are utter failures which have provided resounding demonstrations of the limits of our overwhelming military forces in effecting the creation of democracies; "constitutional" or otherwise. If Gates is set to angle our over-extended forces to avoid losing in Iraq or Afghanistan, he'll find there's little that our military can do at this point to repair the damage and mistrust Bush and his predecessor's arrogant militarism has fostered, generated, and perpetuated among the residents of these occupied nations.
The only way anything will be 'won' in these countries is through an effort to actually engage the "hearts and minds" which were crushed under Bush's heavy-hand. Gates will learn -- voluntarily or not -- that, the more he pursues his military mission, the further away the reconciliation he claims to desire will become. If he intends to succeed in his new job, where Rumsfeld failed miserably, Gates will need to do more than just reorganize the pawns in Bush's cynical game. He'll have to argue for a rare rationality to whatever mission from Bush he's expected to hoist onto our soldiers' backs, and not merely settle for coronations and plaudits from his bankrupt commander.