Walk Away from the Lies: A Recommendation to General Petraeus from a Foreign Service Officer
Dear General Petraeus,
In the coming week you will be briefing Congress and the nation regarding the situation in Iraq, specifically on the so-called "surge."
You will be providing statistics and other data to show the accomplishments of your counterinsurgency measures. Your report will doubtless repeat what you wrote three years ago in the Washington Post (September 25, 2004): "Now ... 18 months after entering Iraq, I see tangible progress."
You will, of course, also cite failures and disappointments. This will give the necessary "balance" to your presentation to make it sound as credible as possible. You will say that much work remains to be done, that the road ahead is a difficult one, but that with Americans' support our military will get the job done in Iraq.
In other words, General, you will be deluding the public. Report after report -- take the latest one from GAO, for example -- shows that we are not "winning" in Iraq. The stealth visit of President Bush to Anbar province -- under the cover of darkness, in a fortified camp, which reminded commentators of a moon landing - only confirms how precarious the situation has become in that country.
General, we are not "winning" in Iraq for one basic reason: Our army is an occupying force. We Americans are foreigners in a devastated country that did not ask for (and is increasingly disillusioned by) our "help." And our occupation is rendered all the less tenable because we are unable to explain convincingly to Iraqis why we invaded their land in the first place -- and why we must remain there. No matter how many "insurgents" we kill, no matter how many doors we kick down in downtrodden Baghdad neighborhoods searching for the "enemy," we cannot provide security (not to speak of democracy) to the local population because we cannot win over their hearts and minds due to the simple and brutal fact that we are occupiers.
As a Foreign Service officer for over twenty years, General, I served in countries that were under or had been under Soviet occupation: Czechoslovakia, Poland, Estonia, Ukraine. The Soviets may have talked about "socialist brotherhood" but the inhabitants of these countries remained unconvinced. That is because the Soviets and their local surrogates proclaimed eternal friendship while trying to impose their will by the barrel of a gun. Soviet embassies in Eastern Europe -- reminiscent of the monstrous one we are building in Baghdad -- were a symbol of oppression.
General, you know how much the good name of another, once highly respected, military officer, Colin Powell, has suffered as a result of his deceptive declarations about Iraq during his tenure as Secretary of State. History will probably remember him -- and not favorably -- for his speech at the United Nations that tried to justify, with misleading evidence, the Bush administration's Iraq policy.
When you speak before the Congress, General, may I suggest that, instead of promising "victory" in Iraq, you might follow the small step that two of my Foreign Service colleagues and I undertook in opposition to Mr. Bush's war: you should announce your resignation from your commission, as one more effort to help bring an illegitimate war to an end.
This -- and not more ambivalent statements justifying the president's destructive and immoral misadventure -- is perhaps the best that you, as a government official, can do for our country in this difficult period.
Simply, General, it is time to stop the lying, and time for you to walk away from the lies.
John Brown, who was in the Foreign Service for over twenty years, now compiles the "Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review," available free by requesting it at firstname.lastname@example.org.