Read time: 4 minutes

Gen. Odierno Still Rationalizing Military Deaths In Iraq

There's such a fog of war surrounding our invasion and occupation of Iraq that we're still trying to rationalize 4,000+ military deaths. And that doesn't speak well to our involvement in Afghanistan.

(I've linked to the entire hour-long talk, relevant portion begins at 9:20)

One of the reasons that John Amato created this blog, that I began writing here and that the larger progressive blogosphere came into its own is because it was quite clear that many of us were paying attention and what we were collectively being told about Iraq and Afghanistan just didn't make sense, and we had unwittingly been forced into a shock doctrine war of choice (killing hundreds of thousands of military, Iraqis and displacing a million more) to fulfill some vague ideology of American exceptionalism and personally enrich a very few.

That's hard to swallow if you're in the military. In exchange for voluntarily risking one's life, the promise is that the country never asks you to do so lightly or without just cause.

Unfortunately--and history will judge us for this--that is EXACTLY what we did.

But, bless his heart, General Ray Odierno can't admit to that. So he insisted to the National Press Club that the deaths of 4,804 service members in Iraq was absolutely worth it...because they wanted to:

The bottom line is, we raise our right hand in order to defend the Constitution of the United States. And when we do that, we are prepared to go forward and do what is necessary as we’re asked to do by our civilian leadership in order to provide security for this nation…

We raised our right hand, we did and our job…

It’s difficult to deal with lives lost in Iraq. It’s difficult to — with lives lost that are lost to a car accident of a military member or a suicide of a military member because we’re brother- and sister-in-arms, and there’s a relationship there that’s built that you’ll never forget. And so I can never explain properly to anybody when somebody gives their life…

But the bottom line, what I do know, in each and every one of those cases, they raised and volunteered to be in the military because they were proud to be part of the Army…

Many of them died doing the things that they wanted to do.

No, no, a thousand times no. I don't care if your lifetime dream is to be an enlisted soldier. No one's dream should be to die for Dick Cheney's personal portfolio. No one should want to die because the elected officials who put them in harm's way LIED to them. The Constitution was not defended in Iraq. It was never threatened there, except by the politicians who decided that we should invade and occupy a sovereign nation who posed no threat to us.

That fog of war still surrounds Iraq for so many people. And it pervades the discussion of Afghanistan as well.

[T]he United States knows how to start wars but has seemingly forgotten how to conclude them. Yet concluding war on favorable terms — a concept formerly known as victory — is the object of the exercise. For the United States, victory has become a lost art. This unhappy verdict applies whether U.S. forces operate conventionally (employing high-tech "shock and awe" tactics) or unconventionally ("winning hearts and minds").

As a consequence, instead of promoting stability — perhaps the paramount U.S. interest not only in the Islamic world but also globally — Washington's penchant for armed intervention since the end of the Cold War, and especially since 9/11, has tended to encourage just the opposite. In effect, despite spilling much blood and expending vast amounts of treasure, U.S. military exertions have played into the hands of our adversaries, misleadingly lumped together under the rubric of "terrorists."

How can we explain this yawning gap between intention and outcomes? Fundamentally, a pronounced infatuation with armed might has led senior civilian officials, regardless of party, and senior military leaders, regardless of service, to misunderstand and misapply the military instrument. Force is good for some things, preeminently for defending what is already yours. Not content to defend, however, the United States in recent decades has sought to use force to extend its influence, control and values.

In a world divided between haves and have-nots, between postmodern and pre-modern, and between those for whom God is dead and those for whom God remains omnipresent, expecting coercion to produce reconciliation, acceptance or submission represents the height of folly. So force employed by the United States in faraway places serves mostly to inflame further resistance, a statement that is true whether we're talking about putting "boots on the ground" or raining down Hellfire missiles from the heavens.

What then is to be done? That which Washington is least capable of undertaking: Those charged with formulating policy must think anew. For starters, that means lowering expectations regarding the political effectiveness of war, which is demonstrably limited

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