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Kubler-Ross gives us a perspective on the evolution of the Iraq War

11 November 2006

Summary:  This is the introduction to a series about the Iraq War, a brief on the key aspects of the War.  What stage are we in?  What do we expect to happen next?  Links to the other chapters appear at the end.

As many 4GW experts forecast, the western nations’ (largely US and UK) Expedition to Iraq was doomed before it began, largely due to unrealistic goals.  As such the Kubler-Ross “Death and Dying” process offers the best metaphor for our conduct of the war.  (For more on the theories of Kuber-Ross see Changing Minds and Wikipedia).

The five stages described by Kubler-Ross:

  1. Shock & Denial:  Initial paralysis at hearing the bad news:  trying to avoid the inevitable.
  2. Anger:  Frustrated outpouring of bottled-up emotion.
  3. Bargaining:  Seeking in vain for a way out.
  4. Depression:  Final realization of the inevitable.
  5. Testing and Acceptance:  Seeking realistic solutions; finally finding a way forward.

 America’s elites remained for a long period in Denial, and then moved into Anger.  They directed their anger at anybody other then themselves:  Bush/Hitler, Leftist traitors, “Neville Chamberlain’s” in the Democratic Party, Al Qaeda, various elements of the Iraq people, and Iran.

There have been, of course, few mea culpa’s from our leaders, Democrat or Republican.  Such as former Senator John Edwards, who said on 17 August 2006: “I voted for this war. I was wrong. … I should not have voted for this war and I take responsibility for that.”  Also note the exceptional actions and words of Marine Lieut. General Greg Newbold, the Pentagon’s top operations officer from 2000-2002, quoted here in Time magazine.

Now we advance to Bargaining.  Unfortunately we will bargain in vain, as we have not accepted the inevitability of our defeat.  Too many of us have come to think like President Nixon:

“What President Nixon means by peace is what other people mean by victory.”
— Said in 1972 by Don Oberdorfer of the Washington Post, from the last chapter of David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest.

 Seeking victory – even a small one – by negotiating with the true winners seems unlikely to achieve anything but burning more time.  One common expression of this foolishness is the “retreat to the desert” proposal.  For example, Stratfor has long recommended that we abandon Iraq’s urban areas (returning only to bomb them as needed) and relocate our forces into massive desert bases.  From these we can achieve what they see as our original and primary goal of the invasion:  secure bases from which to project military power throughout the Middle East.

Like the invasion itself, this seems poorly conceived, perhaps absurd.  Let’s withdraw from the urban battle zones and watch the ethnic and religious groups fight to a conclusion.  This might be fast or quick – who knows?  There will likely be ethnic cleansing – probably the only thing that can now bring peace to Iraq – involving few or many deaths.  The only certainty:  the winners then owe us nothing, and will likely order us out.  Just like our previous plans:  failure guaranteed in advance – brought to you by the best and the brightest of the American governing class.

Unless we use Kurdistan as a base.  That makes a twisted sort of sense, with our chief regional allies then being Israel and Kurdistan — enemies of everyone else in the region.  Hardly steady platforms from which to project power, and no basis for viable diplomatic efforts.

Our slow process through the Kubler-Ross process results from our reluctance to accept reality – its conflict with our belief in American omnipotence and time is our ally.  That is, the belief that events will await our pleasure, that we need not hurry.  This remains one of our greatest and most foolish assumptions.

Could we have know that the war would end badly for us?

It was obvious.  To mention just one source, the reporting and analysis published on DNI by various authors has proven quite remarkable — often prescient.  Other experts also correctly and quickly forecast the outcome.  Here are two examples.

George Friedman of Stratfor, published 30 December 2004:

After the January elections, there will be a Shiite government in Baghdad. There will be, in all likelihood, civil war between Sunnis and Shia. The United States cannot stop it and cannot be trapped in the middle of it. It needs to withdraw.

Certainly, it would have been nice for the United States if it had been able to dominate Iraq thoroughly. Somewhere between “the U.S. blew it” and “there was never a chance” that possibility is gone. It would have been nice if the United States had never tried to control the situation, because now the United States is going to have to accept a defeat, which will destabilize the region psychologically for a while. But what is is, and the facts speak for themselves. …

If Bush has trouble doing this, he should conjure up Lyndon Johnson’s ghost, wandering restlessly in the White House, and imagine how Johnson would have been remembered if he had told Robert McNamara to get lost in 1966.

General William Nash, published in The Observer on 23 June 2003 (source):

One of the most experienced and respected figures in a generation of American warfare and peacekeeping yesterday accused the US administration of ‘failing to prepare for the consequences of victory’ in Iraq.

At the end of a week that saw a war of attrition develop against the US military, General William Nash told The Observer that the US had ‘lost its window of opportunity’ after felling Saddam Hussein’s regime and was embarking on a long-term expenditure of people and dollars for which it had not planned.  ‘It is an endeavor which was not understood by the administration to begin with,’ he said.

 Now retired, Nash served in the Vietnam war and in Operation Desert Storm (the first Gulf War) before becoming commander of US forces in Bosnia and then an acclaimed UN Civil Affairs administrator in Kosovo.   He is currently a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, specializing in conflict prevention.

 In one of the most outspoken critiques from a man of his standing, Nash said the US had ‘failed to understand the mindset and attitudes of the Iraqi people and the depth of hostility towards the US in much of the country’.   ‘It is much greater and deeper than just the consequences of war,’ he added. ‘It comes from 12 years of sanctions, Israel and Palestinians, and a host of issues.’    As a result, he says, ‘we are now seeing the re-emergence of a reasonably organized military opposition – small scale, but it could escalate.’

 It was insufficient for the US to presume that the forces now harassing and killing American troops were necessarily confined to what he called a residue of the Saddam regime. ‘What we are facing today is a confluence of various forces which channel the disgruntlement of the people,’ said Nash.   ‘You can’t tell who is behind the latest rocket propelled grenade. It could be a father whose daughter has been killed; it could be a political leader trying to gain a following, or it could be rump Saddam. Either way, they are starting to converge.’   He said: ‘the window of opportunity which occurred with the fall of Saddam was not seized in terms of establishing stability’.   ‘In the entire region – and Iraq is typical – there is a sense that America can do whatever it wants. So that if America decides to protect the oilfields and oil ministry, it can.   ‘And if America doesn’t provide electricity and water or fails to protect medical supplies, it is because they don’t want to or they don’t care.’

 Nash is reluctant to make comparisons with Vietnam: ‘There are far more things that were different about Vietnam than there are similarities. Except perhaps the word “quagmire”. Maybe that is the only thing that is the same.’

For more information about the Iraq War

Other articles in this series:

Reference pages with links to other sources

Afterword and contact info

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