Sunday, May 6, 2007

Bush's Leadership, An Historical Perspective

I wrote the following op-ed for a class at CMC in October 2005. It would have been an automatic A if it had been published, but it got an A anyway. Professor Pitney, for whom I have the utmost respect, said that it was more likely to get picked up than any of his op-eds, but alas, it was not.

In reading it now, I am surprised that I had as much perspective as I did at this point. I was still laboring under the illusion that there was nothing I could do about Iraq, and the only reason I wrote this was for the chance to get it published in order to get an A. After it was written and submitted, I didn’t think twice about it. I just went on with my life and got ready to go back to Iraq.

I wish that instead of warning me about possible violations of the UCMJ, Professor Pitney had encouraged me to speak out further. But to say that is to place blame where it is undue. He encouraged my perspective and my voice, and yet I allowed it to go silent. But not anymore. Please enjoy this, “historical perspective.”

Bush’s Leadership

Sgt Adam C. Kokesh, USMC

If it were not for the “Sgt” appearing before my name, would it be obvious that an op-ed titled “Bush’s Leadership” would be critical of the President? Don’t let it fool you. The administration has done well styling its man as a leader. Unfortunately, the illusion is wearing thin. With his last vacation, Bush will surpass Reagan’s record of 335 days of vacation, but with over three years left in his Presidency.

As an idealistic young Marine Reservist who opposed the war, I found myself attending a protest on my college campus when I realized that I was surrounded by mostly dirty hippies whose ignorance was only surpassed by their hatred of the man in office. I was against the war more as a matter of policy than as a matter of principle. I could see (not that I was the only one) that we were not going to be getting our money’s worth.

But the war went ahead and a lot of people who were not in the Texas Air National Guard died. Those holding their breath for the WMDs slowly exhaled. And then the President went on vacation. No one is quite sure when, but at some point between “Mission Accomplished” and his reelection, it became an afterthought. After all, there was Social Security to privatize and lots of college buddies to appoint. But the American effort in Iraq plodded on through a schedule of constitutions and elections and the occasional headline of a dozen soldiers dying in an isolated attack.

At a press conference in December, 2003, Bush said, “In order to fight and win the war, it requires an expenditure of money that is commiserate with keeping a promise to our troops to make sure that they're well paid, well trained, well equipped.” Aside from the exaggerated problems of distributing vehicle armor, he has kept that promise. The current expenditures for Iraq total $204.4 billion, or $727 per person in the United States, making it the most expensive military effort since WWII. I do not think I need to reiterate any of the death tolls from the coalition forces (2060), contractors (255), journalists (66), Iraqi troops (some estimates as high as 45,000), and Iraqi civilians, (some estimates as high as 98,000) to underscore the human costs.

When the war started, everyone in my reserve artillery unit was excited at the prospect of joining the fight. Even after it became clear that there was not going to be any need for more artillery, they told us that we were on the short list of reserve units for the next rotation. But in December of 2003 we learned that units stationed at Camp Pendleton were looking for volunteers. Because I believed in the effort to clean up the mess, and that any system of government that ensures us the quality of life we enjoy is worth supporting, I went out of my way to join the fight.

I joined the 3rd Civil Affairs Group and while in Al Anbar Province we helped distribute a big chunk of the $18.4 billion allocated by Congress for reconstruction (an unfortunately small piece of the $204.4 billion). We saw hundreds of projects such as schools, clinics, mosques, and water stations completed. It felt good to have a purpose. We were there for the handover in June when most of the funds we had for projects went to the ministries in Baghdad. Although Iraq had an interim constitution, it was sorely lacking the rule of law.

But we kept patrolling, and reaching out to communities, and laboring under the illusion that we were gaining ground on the insurgency. The ratio of coalition soldiers to Iraqis is 6 to 1000. Historically, occupation forces facing armed resistance have required a ratio of 20 to 1000. Americans seem to think that military patrols in Iraq have some of the effect of police patrols in America. But soldiers on patrol roll through town, make a very deliberate stop, then maybe wander around within a hundred yards of their vehicles. They are hardly a presence. They may be preventing bomb makers from setting up shop on street corners, but they are not stopping any crime.

On June 28th 2005, a year to the day after the handover of power, President Bush outlined his goals in Iraq before an audience of soldiers at Fort Bragg. “Our mission in Iraq is clear. We're hunting down the terrorists. We're helping Iraqis build a free nation that is an ally in the war on terror. We're advancing freedom in the broader Middle East. We are removing a source of violence and instability, and laying the foundation of peace for our children and our grandchildren.” While I have come to grips with going back to Iraq, I hope my children and grandchildren do not find themselves in the same predicament. He emphasized the progress made and praised the soldiers before him. “Our strategy can be summed up this way: As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” Some of the soldiers in the room may have wondered why troop levels have been steady since the end of the “war” and why the Army is planning on maintaining current levels through 2006 despite all of the “standing up” that has been going on. Yet I doubt any jumped at the opportunity to point this out to the Commander in Chief.

Like an anxious mother teaching her sixteen-year-old son to drive, we sit in the passenger seat stomping on an imaginary brake pedal. The President is right that we are not done in Iraq, but it is time that we stopped trying to do the security job for the Iraqis at hundreds of times the cost for them to do it. Stomping that imaginary brake pedal does not slow down the car. We can still contribute logistics and training for security efforts, and support for the political process, but sustaining the illusion that our presence is still “removing a source of violence and instability” will only further delay the day when Iraq can prosper under its own laws. As troops in Iraq stay levelheaded on 120 degree days, the heat builds in Washington for the White House. I hope it is not getting too intense for him. As he said himself the day before leaving Washington, "No matter how hot it gets, I enjoy spending time in Texas."

Adam Kokesh ( is a senior at Claremont McKenna College and a Sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserve. He served in Fallujah in 2004 with the 3rd Civil Affairs Group and will return for another tour in 2006.