The Saddamino Theory

Note: This is a transcript of a speech I delivered at the Oshkosh Candlelight Club on December 2, 2003. The speech takes the affirmative side in this debate topic: Resolved, America should withdraw from Iraq. --Tony Palmeri


When our great, great grandchildren are taught the history of Operation Iraqi Freedom, this sad chapter in our nation's military history will be referred to as "The First Great Chickenhawk War."

Bush Administration chickenhawks, most notably Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and his henchman Paul Wolfowitz, and the president himself spent much of 2002 and the early part of 2003 passionately making four major claims:

Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Powers, in an important December 4, 2003 New York Review of Books piece called The Vanishing Case for War, examines the intelligence behind the claims and concludes:

The administration's justification for war was not merely flawed or imperfect-it was wrong in almost every detail, and completely wrong at the heart. There was no imminent danger-indeed there was no distant danger. Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction to give to al-Qaeda or anyone else. How is it possible then that the United States Congress allowed itself to be convinced to believe in this nonexistent danger, and to authorize in advance a war for which there was no justification?

On February 15th of 2003 the world witnessed the largest antiwar protests in history. Not even the most rabid antiwar protesters could have predicted the horrible human and political toll wrought by Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The human toll has been devastating, from US military casualties, to tragic killings of Iraqi civilians by American forces and insurgent thugs. The war has also featured unprecedented assaults on civilian contractors, diplomats, and journalists.

And what about the political toll of the war? Commenting on the results of a Pew Research Center survey of global attitudes toward the United States, Pew Director Andrew Kohut said, "Anti-Americanism has deepened, but it has also widened. You now find it in the far reaches of Africa - in Nigeria, among Muslims - and in Indonesia. People see America as a real threat. They think we're going to invade them." The study released in June of 2003 also found that, "In France, Germany and Spain, where public anger over the US war plans spilled massively into the streets this winter, fewer than 50 percent have a positive view of the United States."

We know that the president will not leave Iraq on the basis of the human or political toll. So let me provide three additional reasons why America should leave now: we cannot afford the operation, we are not prepared to fight a guerrilla war, and the Iraqis do not want us there.

First, we cannot afford this operation. At least $80 billion has been spent so far, another $87 billion recently allocated, while budget watchdogs estimate that the war will conservatively cost a minimum of $221 billion. All this while the president's homeland security and education initiatives remain underfunded, the new Medicare legislation will make major demands on the federal budget, and Senator John McCain says the congress is "spending like drunken sailors."

By the way, federal budget watchers estimate that the $221 billion for Iraqi Freedom is just $1 billion less than the total annual cost of the National Cancer Institute, FBI, pollution control, foreign aid, NASA, agricultural support payments, food stamps, non-defense homeland security, health research and training, highways, financial aid to college students, and federal support for grade-school education and high-school education

Second, we are not prepared to fight a guerrilla war. In trying to subdue and contain the Iraqi insurgency, our conventional military forces inevitably commit atrocities against the very civilian population whose "hearts and minds" we say we are trying to win. A good example was the recent skirmish in Samarra, where an attempt to put down guerrilla fighters resulted in enraging the civilian population. The New York Times coverage quoted 47 year old Satar Nasiaf, a shopkeeper who said he watched two Iraqi civilians fall to American fire. He said, "If I had a gun, I would have attacked the Americans myself . . . The Americans were shooting in every direction."

The article goes on to quote Adnan Sahib Dafar, 52, an ambulance driver, who "walked with anger in and out of the morgue, pointing to the dead woman who lay on the bloody steel tray. The woman, Mr. Dafar said, had been an employee at the city's big pharmaceutical factory when she was caught in the crossfire.

'Is this woman shooting a rocket-propelled grenade? demanded Mr. Dafar, who said he saw only eight dead Iraqis. 'Is she fighting?'"

The respected international Human Rights Watch concluded that US troops were operating "with impunity. The individual cases of civilian deaths... reveal a pattern by US forces of overaggressive tactics, indiscriminate shooting in residential areas and a quick reliance on lethal force . . . The lack of timely and thorough investigations into many questionable incidents has created an atmosphere of impunity, in which many soldiers feel they can pull the trigger without coming under review."

The "atmosphere of impunity" exists because neither Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Wolfowitz, Secretary Powell, or Generals Myers and Franks ever imagined we would be engaged in a drawn out guerrilla war. While some of our forces are trained to fight in urban combat zones, we are completely unprepared to fight a guerrilla resistance that the CIA recently estimated as much more vast and wide than initially thought.

Third, the Iraqis don't want us there. A major survey, published recently by independent British research consultancy Oxford Research International (ORI), sampled the views of 3,244 Iraqis, interviewed in their own homes in October and early November. The results are troubling:

Meanwhile Tony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies produced a report on "The Current Military Situation in Iraq." Here's an example of what he was hearing from our own division commanders: "The reaction of the Iraqis is already one of 'descending consent.' It is clear that the US must make it clear it will leave and then do it. The US cannot stay. The more time elapses, the more Iraqis will turn against the US. The division commander felt that the US has a year maximum in Baghdad to accomplish its mission and leave."

If it is true, and I emphatically believe that it is, that we cannot afford this operation, we are not prepared to fight a guerrilla war, and the Iraqis do not want us there, what do we do? The answer is simple: Declare victory and leave.

The Bush administration has accomplished enough in Iraq, most notably the toppling of Saddam Hussein, so that they could easily and with justification declare victory and leave. But instead of leaving, the administration plans to transfer power to the Iraqis via the selection of delegates to participate in caucuses while providing "security" for an indefinite period of time. Does the administration honestly think that Iraqi leadership perceived as being chosen by the Coalition Provisional Authority or the puppet governing council and backed up by the US military has any chance of being accepted as legitimate? What planet are our policy makers living on?

Iraq's most powerful cleric, the Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has openly opposed the US plan for handing over power to the Iraqis. He has called instead for direct election of a national assembly that would be charged with writing a new Iraqi constitution. As Shiites make up sixty percent of the Iraqi population, Sistani's plan may appear to be somewhat self-serving. On the other hand, what kind of representative democracy is it exactly that we are trying to give Iraq if we are at the outset afraid of the consequences of majority rule?

Bush Administration officials and the Coalition Provisional Authority led by Mr. Bremer have essentially dismissed Sistani's proposal out of hand, claiming that it would be too difficult to develop accurate voter lists. To that I ask, only in part facetiously, whether any Iraqi election could be as problematic as what we saw in Florida in November of 2000?

James Goldsborough, foreign affairs columnist for the conservative San Diego Tribune, I think has identified accurately the bad thinking at the root of the administration's Iraq policies. He writes, "Bush's error, the mote in his eye stuck there by his neoconservative nation-builders, has been to believe that U.S. occupation could remake Iraq in the American image. It is not working, and a Vietnam-strategy of sending more troops, staying longer, laying more razor wire and killing more Iraqis isn't the answer. When you're headed for the rocks, full steam ahead is a poor solution. We need a new course in Iraq."

Well known Helen Thomas of UPI says, "President Bush should take advice from a Vietnam-era Republican senator: Declare a victory in Iraq and get out. The late Sen. George Aiken, R-Vt., gave that counsel to both Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon when things were going from bad to worse in the Vietnam War, but they ignored him."

Presidents Johnson and Nixon could not leave Vietnam in large part because of their adherence to the Domino Theory: if Vietnam was allowed to go Red, then all of Asia and eventually the whole world would go Red with them.

The Bush administration's refusal to declare victory in Iraq and leave, and insistence on staying even though we are not welcome by huge majorities of the population can only be explained by what I call the Saddamino Theory: If the Iraqis are allowed free elections, they will elect leaders not suitable to Washington and London. Then all the oil rich states might get the idea that they can defy Washington and London. Then we will have chaos.

I repeat that we cannot afford this operation, we are not prepared to fight this operation, and the Iraqis do not want us there.
Mr. Bush, do not sacrifice the lives of civilians and soldiers on the altar of the flawed premises of the Saddamino Theory. Listen to James Golsborough when he says, "The occupation can end today or in 10 years - after thousands more casualties and hundreds of billions more dollars - and the same power struggle will take place when we are gone. Bush cannot impose a made-in-America model on Iraq."

Declare victory in Iraq, let the Iraqis choose their own leaders in UN supervised elections, and leave.

Thank you.