Thursday, August 03, 2006

"My cousin Westmoreland?"

Earlier today, CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr said that staff for Donald Rumsfeld refer to General John Abizaid as the "Scarlet Pimpernel", because the general is very low-profile in recent months. It is one of those absurd references to which people under a tremendous pressure cling.

Political pressure has brought the Scarlet Pimpernel to Congress this morning. His emergence may cause some regret in the Pentagon. The AP:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The top U.S. military commander in the Middle East told Congress on Thursday that ''Iraq could move toward civil war'' if the raging sectarian violence in Baghdad is not stopped.

''I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I have seen it,'' Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said the top priority in the Iraq war is to secure the capital, where factional violence has surged in recent weeks despite efforts by the new Iraqi government to stop the fighting.
My first impression of this nickname and Abizaid's reluctance to appear in public was that he did not want to be another General Westmoreland. Then I read this from the BBC:
Waiting for an American military helicopter, I got chatting to the man next to me. His business card said he was an adviser on "strategic message" for the coalition.

"Casey won't get out in front and sell this war," he told me, "because he doesn't want to go down in history as another Westmoreland."

He was comparing Gen George Casey, head of the multi-force in Iraq, to America's ill-fated commander in Vietnam, Gen William Westmoreland.

As a private comment from one of the officials in charge of the image of this war, no less, it was highly revealing. Similarly revealing was the leak two months ago of a confidential memo from the US ambassador in Iraq.
This story goes on to detail the latest memo, unearthed by the BBC, that portrays great pessimism from the British. The Financial Times boils it down:
“The prospect of a low intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is probably more likely at this stage than a successful and substantial transition to a stable democracy,” he wrote, according to excerpts quoted by the public broadcaster.

“Even the lowered expectation of President (George W.) Bush for Iraq -- a government that can sustain itself, defend itself and govern itself and is an ally in the war on terror -- must remain in doubt,” said the cable, sent to Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Describing the main Shi’ite militia, he wrote: “If we are to avoid a descent into civil war and anarchy then preventing the (Mehdi Army) from developing into a state within a state, as Hizbollah has done in Lebanon, will be a priority.”

Patey did, however, also say that the situation in Iraq “is not hopeless”.


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