Iraq: 50 Years of War

Modeling our Iraq strategy off the U.S. experience in Korea relies on a grossly inaccurate historical comparison, and runs directly opposite Americans' view that the U.S. should disengage from Iraq.

JUNE 4, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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50 Years of War

In 1964, when the Vietnam War “was only a small dark cloud on the very distant horizon,” President Lyndon Johnson privately told National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy, “I just stayed awake last night thinking of this thing, and the more that I think of it, I don’t know what in the hell — it looks like to me that we’re getting into another Korea. It just worries the hell out of me.” For President Johnson, Korea was the model he privately feared. For President Bush, Korea is the model he has publicly embraced. The White House announced last week that it “would like to see a lengthy U.S. troop presence in Iraq like the one in South Korea,” where U.S. troops have been stationed for over 50 years. (Never mind that in June 2006, Bush said, “I’ve told the American people I’d like to get our troops out as soon as possible.”) Defense Secretary Robert Gates endorsed the “Korea model” on Thursday, and Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, who oversees daily operations in Iraq, called it a “great idea.” In fact, modeling our Iraq strategy off the U.S. experience in Korea relies on a grossly inaccurate historical comparison, and runs directly opposite Americans’ view that the U.S. should disengage from Iraq.

IRAQ IS NOT KOREA: “In no meaningful way are these two wars, or these two countries, remotely similar,” military analyst Fred Kaplan writes of Korea and Iraq. “In no way does one experience, or set of lessons, shed light on the other.” To begin with, “we intervened in South Korea as a response to an invasion and as part of a broad strategy to contain Communist aggression. We intervened in Iraq as the instigator of an invasion and as part of a broad strategy to expand unilateral American power.” Second, in South Korea, there is something concrete to defend — the border with North Korea. “In Iraq, no border divides friend from foe; no clear concept defines who is friend and foe.” Jonathan Alter adds in Newsweek, “The only two reasons to station troops in the Middle East for half a century are protecting oil supplies (reflecting a pessimistic view of energy independence) outside the normal channels of trade and diplomacy, and projecting raw military power. These are the imperial aims of an empire.

PERMANENT BASES OUT IN THE OPEN: The Iraq Study Group advised, “The President should state that the United States does not seek permanent military bases in Iraq.” Yet for the first time, the Bush administration “is beginning publicly to discuss basing American troops in Iraq for years, even decades to come,” the New York Times reported yesterday, noting that the subject is “so fraught with political landmines that officials are tiptoeing around the inevitable questions about what the United States’ long-term mission would be there.” In public, administration officials are mostly silent. “But when speaking on a not-for-attribution basis, they describe a fairly detailed concept. It calls for maintaining three or four major bases in the country, all well outside of the crowded urban areas where casualties have soared.” This report comes despite the fact that the Iraq spending bill just signed by Bush includes a provision prohibiting any U.S. funds from being expended to “establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq.”

IRAQIS DO NOT WANT THE KOREAN MODEL: Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski last week observed another crucial difference between Iraq and Korea: the U.S. military presence “has engendered stability on the Korean peninsula because ‘the South Koreans welcomed us,'” and the United States was viewed as a force for good. In Iraq, an ABC News poll earlier this year found that 78 percent “oppose the presence of U.S. forces on their soil“; just one percent of Iraqis “want the US military presence to go on without end.” Thus, Brzezinski noted, “the US could never hope to sustain an enduring presence unless American leaders resigned themselves to facing enduring resistance.” Indeed, the prospect of permanent bases is a significant threat to U.S. forces, “because the specter of a permanent military presence in Iraq is widely considered to be one of the most inflammatory incitements to Iraq’s ever-growing anti-American insurgency,” and may even be destabilizing to the region. “The president and vice-president like to say that insurgents in Iraq listen to what we say over here,” said Jon Soltz of the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans group VoteVets. “If they do, there’s no question that this morning, those who seek to kill our troops are buzzing with talk that America plans on occupying Iraq forever. The bulls-eye on the back of our troops just got a whole lot bigger, and the president is to blame.”


CIVIL LIBERTIES — VETERANS GROUP URGES MILITARY TO BACK OFF VETS PROTESTING IRAQ WAR: On March 20, Adam Kokesh and Liam Madden, members of both the Marine Ready Reserve and Iraq Veterans Against The War, protested the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by “going on ‘patrol’ from Union Station to Arlington National Cemetery” with 12 other veterans while dressed in full desert camouflage. They made sure to remove all of the military insignias from their uniforms before the protest. After the Washington Post printed photos of the protesting veterans, the Marines opened investigations into three of the inactive reservists, including Kokesh and Madden, “for wearing their uniforms during antiwar protests and allegedly making statements characterized as ‘disrespectful’ or ‘disloyal.’ Upon hearing of the investigation, Kokesh wrote an e-mail to the investigating officer, concluding with “an obscene recommendation” about what the officer should do. This earned Kokesh a count for a “disrespectful statement.” A military panel in Kansas City, MO, will hold a hearing today to decide whether he should have his honorable discharge from active duty altered to “a general discharge or an other-than-honorable discharge.” A “less-than-honorable discharge could threaten potential educational and other veteran benefits for Kokesh.” Vocal and influential supporters have spoken out in support of the two Marines. On Friday, the nation’s largest combat veterans group “urged the military to ‘exercise a little common sense’ and call off its investigation.” “‘Trying to hush up and punish fellow Americans for exercising the same democratic right we’re trying to instill in Iraq is not what we’re all about,’ said Gary Kurpius, national commander of the 2.4 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars.”

Last week, President Bush nominated James W. Holsinger to become the next Surgeon General of the United States. “As America’s chief health educator, he will be charged with providing the best scientific information available on how Americans can make smart choices that improve their health and reduce their risk of illness and injury. … I am confident that Dr. Holsinger will help our Nation confront this challenge and many others to ensure that Americans live longer, better, and healthier lives,” Bush stated. But as BarbinMD points out, Holsinger’s nomination to be “America’s doctor” is troubling. He has a long history of prejudice toward gays and lesbians. For example, Holsinger founded Hope Springs Community Church, which “ministers to people who no longer wish to be gay or lesbian.” Holsinger said that he sees homosexuality as “an issue not of orientation but of lifestyle.” In serving on the United Methodist Judicial Council — the “court” that resolves “disputes involving church doctrine and policies in the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination” — Holsinger “opposed a decision to allow a practicing lesbian to be an associate pastor, and he supported a pastor who would not permit an openly gay man to join the church.” And in the early 1990s, Holsinger resigned from the United Methodist Church’s Committee to Study Homosexuality “because he believed the committee ‘would follow liberal lines.'” He also warned “that acceptance of homosexuality would drive away millions of churchgoers” [Arkansas Democrat Gazette, 5/26/07; Time, 6/24/91]. Despite this history, Holsinger-supporter Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) inexplicably insists, “Anyone who knows Jim Holsinger knows that he’s not an individual given to prejudice.” A date for Holsinger’s Senate hearings has not been set.

AFGHANISTAN — COMBAT OPERATIONS, RECONSTRUCTION SLOW AND STEADY: Over the weekend, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made his “second visit to Afghanistan since taking over at the Defense Department last December.” After meeting with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Gates said he believed conditions there are “slowly, cautiously headed in the right direction.” Gates said further that “the pace of combat operations and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan — while slow — remains steady.” The New York Times reports, however, that despite Gates’s guarded optimism, “a total of 75 allied troops died in Afghanistan in the first five months of this year…compared with 53 allied troops in the same period a year ago.” Further, “suicide bombers strike several times a week and have recently moved into relatively peaceful northern areas of the country.” Gates also said there are new indications that suggest that over the past few months weapons have been coming [into Afghanistan] from Iran, though he added that he had no evidence to suggest that the Iranian government “is supporting this [or] is behind it.” NATO forces are also attempting to quell Afghanistan’s opium trade, which supplies 90 percent of the world’s heroin and last year grew in size by 59 percent. The $3 billion per year industry in large part “helps finance the Taliban insurgency.” One of Karzai’s senior advisers recently called the situation a “crisis” and added, “If today the foreigners desert Afghanistan…then it will be seen for how many days the national army of Mr Karzai will resist? … Nothing will remain stable even for a week.”


“The protests in Europe started even before President Bush’s scheduled departure Monday morning for an eight-day visit to six countries, including the G-8 summit in Germany. Over the weekend, demonstrators in Germany were out protesting many issues, but Bush and Iraq are near the top of their list.”

“House Oversight and Government Reform Committee staffers appear close to an agreement that would limit the number of e-mails the panel will demand from the Republican National Committee as part of an investigation of political presentations given to federal agencies.”

War critics in Congress “plan a summer of repeated Iraq-related votes” designed to force Bush supporters “to abandon the White House before the fall.” The votes will be linked to expanded local campaigns to pressure members in their own states. “Our job is to go into the congressional districts of members and create a political environment that is toxic,” said Tom Matzzie of Americans Against Escalation in Iraq.

A legal battle with global implications begins tomorrow with the Guantanamo Bay arraignment of Omar Ahmed Khadr, accused of killing a U.S. soldier with a grenade in 2002. “A range of legal experts describe as the first child fighter in decades to face war-crimes charges.”

“After promising unprecedented openness regarding Congress’ pork barrel practices, House Democrats are moving in the opposite direction as they draw up spending bills for the upcoming budget year.” Democrats are sidestepping their own rules and adding earmarks when it is “too late for critics to effectively challenge them.” 

More than four years into the Iraq war, the Defense Department “has formed a task force comprised of military and federal law enforcement agencies” to “investigate contract fraud and public corruption related to Iraq reconstruction.”

The Senate architects of a “delicate immigration compromise are increasingly convinced that they will hold together this week to pass an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, with momentum building behind one unifying theme: Today’s immigration system is too broken to go unaddressed.”

Due to the growing climate crisis, The Weather Channel “has seen its primary subject turn into a hot-button issue,” and “has decided not to tread gingerly,” covering climate change and related science. “If The Weather Channel isn’t talking about climate change and global warming, who is?” a network executive said.

The Philadelphia Inquirer editorial argues that “expanding coal isn’t a smart choice for America right now. Although cheap and plentiful, it’s dirty. Its environmental byproducts outweigh its benefits.” It also criticizes “a bipartisan group of coal-state lawmakers wants to grant billions in taxpayer subsidies to turn coal into liquid fuel to power cars, trucks and airplanes.” Find out more on coal-to-liquid fuels HERE.

And finally: Last week at a conference, a colleague of actor Ben Affleck asked former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay if he’d sign a copy of ‘No Retreat, No Surrender‘ for the Hollywood actor.” Even though Affleck is outspoken on liberal issues, DeLay admitted that he is a big fan of Affleck’s 1995 film “Mallrats.” DeLay’s inscription to Affleck: “Ben and Jen — Loved you in Mallrats, this book is kind of like that. Keep the Faith — Tom DeLay.”

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) plans to offset the carbon dioxide emissions from her recent climate change fact-finding trip to Europe “by contributing to the Pacific Forest Trust.”


ALASKA: A growing number of churches in Alaska are joining a movement to combat global warming.

LOUISIANA: Federal government attempts to rebuild New Orleans’s ailing criminal justice system.

EDUCATION: Sex-education including contraception is becoming more prevalent nationwide.


THINK PROGRESS: Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) says he has “lost a lot of confidence” in military leaders, including Gen. David Petraeus.

THE GAGGLE: Price of a photo-op with President Bush keeps dropping.

CROOKS AND LIARS: Prominent Arkansas conservative: “I think all we need is some attacks on American soil like we had on [Sept. 11, 2001], and the naysayers will come around very quickly to appreciate” President Bush.

EDITOR & PUBLISHER: Washington Post backs U.S. troops in Iraq for decades.


“President George W. Bush would like to see a lengthy U.S. troop presence in Iraq like the one in South Korea to provide stability but not in a frontline combat role.”
— Reuters, 5/30/07


“I just stayed awake last night thinking of this thing, and the more that I think of it I don’t know what in the hell, it looks like to me that we’re getting into another Korea. It just worries the hell out of me.”
— President Lyndon Johnson, May 1964

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