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Stay The Crooked Course
By Ray McGovern
June 28, 2005
Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C. Now retired, he is a 27-year veteran of the analysis division of the CIA, and more recently co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.
Forget the documentary evidence (the Downing Street minutes) that the war on Iraq was fraudulent from the outset. Forget that the United States and Britain started pulverizing Iraq with stepped-up bombing months before the president or prime minister breathed a word to Congress or Parliament. Forget that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his merry men—his co-opted military brass—have no clue regarding what U.S. forces are up against in Iraq. Get ready to hear President George W. Bush tell us this evening that we "have to stay the course."
As was the case in Vietnam, the Iraq war is being run by civilians innocent of military experience and disdainful of advice from the colonels and majors who know which end is up. Aping the president’s practice of surrounding himself with sycophants, Rumsfeld has promoted a coterie of yes-men to top military ranks—men who "kiss up and kick down," in the words of former Assistant Secretary of State Carl Ford, describing U.N. nominee John Bolton’s modus operandi at the State Department.
This is all lost on doting congresspeople like Sen. John Warner, R-Va., who has been around long enough to know better than to recite oxymorons. Most striking last week was his quixotic appeal to the military's top brass to give a candid assessment of the situation.
Is there no top military official—active duty or retired—around to tell it like it is? Active duty? No. Retired? Sure there are. But the latter get little or no ink or airtime in our domesticated media. There is Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, for example, or Gen. Brent Scowcroft (USAF), who was national security adviser to George H. W. Bush and, until this year, chair of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. If their remarks are reported at all, one must dig deep into the inside pages to find them.
A General Speaks The Truth
More outspoken still has been Lt. Gen. William Odom (U.S. Army, ret.), the most respected senior intelligence officer still willing to speak out on strategic and intelligence issues. Unfortunately, you would have to understand German to know what he thinks of "staying the course" in Iraq, because U.S. media are not going to run his remarks.
Here is my translation of what Gen. Odom said last September on German TV’s Panorama program :
When the president says he is staying the course, that makes me really afraid. For a leader has to know when to change course. Hitler did not change his course: rather he kept sending more and more troops to Stalingrad and they suffered more and more casualties.
When the president says he is staying the course it reminds me of the man who has just jumped from the Empire State Building. Halfway down he says, ‘I am still on course.’ Well, I would not want to be on course with a man who will lie splattered in the street. I would like to be someone who could change the course...
Our invasion of Iraq has made it a homeland for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Indeed, I believe that it was the very first time that many Iraqis became terrorists. Before we invaded, they had no idea of terrorism.
Gen. Odom, now professor at Yale and senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute, does not confine his criticism to the president, Rumsfeld and the malleable generals they have promoted. Odom has also been highly critical of leaders of the intelligence community, an area he knows intimately, having served as chief of Army Intelligence (1981-85) and director of the National Security Agency (1985-88). Commenting on the farcical pre-election-campaign "intelligence reform" last summer, he wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post , observing, "No organizational design will compensate for incompetent incumbents."
Odom is spot-on. In my 27 years of experience as an intelligence analyst, I learned the painful lesson that lack of professionalism is the inevitable handmaiden of sycophancy. Military and intelligence officers and diplomats who bubble to the top in this kind of environment do not tend to be the real professionals.
And who pays the price? The young men and women we send off to a misbegotten, unnecessary war.
When the president speaks on Iraq this evening, Medal of Freedom winners former CIA director George Tenet, Gen. Tommy Franks and Ambassador Paul Bremer are likely to be cheering on the president to "stay the course." A most unsavory spectacle.
If they question why we died,
Tell them because our fathers lied.