During a nearly two-hour interview, Paul Hackett spoke about the war in Iraq, terrorism, Iran and President Bush. This is a transcript of part of that conversation.
'You cannot impose democracy'
"George Bush has single-handedly done more to harm our nation than, I think, any other single president in my lifetime. We are more vulnerable today in the world politic. We are more vulnerable today, post-9/11, because of his missteps, his shortsightedness, his administration's simplistic view of the world, his administration's inability to understand and develop a cogent intelligent strategy on how to fight what they characterize as terrorism. It's more than that. (Terrorism) is rooted in social problems, religious discord.
"It needs a cultural solution. It needs a political solution.
Yeah, sure the military plays a role in it, but the military's not the sole solution. You can not go and kill people and bomb people and then think they're going to like you. That's absolutely fucking stupid. And this administration actually believes that you can go invade a country, kill the people, destroy their cities and those folks will rally in support of you, although I think they're beginning to understand the error and the ignorance of their beliefs. What's even more troubling than that is that there are people still in America today that think that can be a reality.
"I'm just here to tell you, you cannot go destroy a city the size of downtown Cincinnati so that all the buildings are rubble and kill five or six thousand people, insurgents — rotten, shitty people that I've got no heartburn with the fact that they were killed — but you can't destroy a city and the city's infrastructure and on a broader level, destroy the infrastructure of a country and expect those people to turn around and like you. That's wrong. That's Hollywood. It's far more complicated than that, and that is what this administration is asking the military to do. It is not what the military recommended as a solution once the military was given the order to invade Iraq.
"Let's go back four years when the military was engaged to develop or retool the military's plan on the invasion of Iraq. The consensus among (Eric) Shinseki, (retired Marine Corps General Bernard) Trainer, all these other generals who spent a lifetime in the military, that at a minimum it would take 500,000 American troops, on the ground, in Iraq post-invasion to maintain order in a 24 million person population in a country the size of California. Donald Rumsfeld arbitrarily came up with 125,000, which after negotiations was increased to 150,000, because he thought somehow or another, through high-tech wizardry, we could force our will on a foreign nation. You cannot impose democracy. It just can't be done. There's no example in the history of mankind where you can impose democracy. It's nuts. It's not the solution and it's not why we went there."
"This is not about militarily winning a conflict. You cannot impose democracy and you cannot impose a military solution to a geopolitical idea. It's not the job of the military to do that.
"Look, George Bush said, 'I'm not gonna use the military to nation-build.' We're nation-building in Iraq. Nation-building begins at home. We've got enough nation-building to do here in this country. There's a reason why we don't use the military to nation-build; it's not really what it's designed to do.
"But if you do want to nation build, you have got to do it with more than a military. You've got to do it with a coalition, just like George Bush's father did. Bush's father invaded Kuwait, rightly or wrongly. He had a strategy, an end state or goal and he had an exit strategy that were all militarily achievable. He caught a lot of criticism: 'Why didn't you go to Baghdad and topple Saddam Hussein?' At that point in history, it was not an intelligent use of the military.
"In this conflict, we don't have a goal. What's the strategy? What's the end state? And what is the exit strategy? Spreading democracy? That's not an objective end state. That's a subjective end state. The Palestinians had a democratic election that voted in Hamas. That was democracy, and I don't think too many people are happy with that. So what if that happens in Iraq and we're not happy with the result? Democracy is somewhat subjective, so what definition are we going to lend to it and when are we going to know when we've achieved it? Piss poor planning by this administration, not the military."
'You can't kill an idea'
"What this administration is learning, has already learned, is that in order to influence politics throughout the world, we have to first and foremost be a leader that leads equitably and fairly. We invite our allies to participate in the planning and the conversation of how we maintain some semblance of civility throughout the world. This administration is learning that within the context of Iran, because what this administration knows and the American people don't know and don't fully understand and appreciate is just how vulnerable America is today by virtue of what this administration has done to our military by using it incorrectly in Iraq.
"We can not militarily invade Iran if we really had to. We can't do it today. We don't have the military to do it. We have got military technology that dwarfs any other nation on the face of the earth but look, that still has not solved the challenge posed to us by the insurgency in Iraq. You can have all the smart bombs in the world but ultimately all those smart bombs, all that high tech wizardry, doesn't win the hearts and minds or kill an idea.
"The war in Iraq is about an idea. You can't kill an idea by occupying a certain amount of terrain or killing a set number of insurgents or bad guys — no can do. My perfect example of that (is) Ché Guevara. Our CIA played a role in that. He was killed in Bolivia, if I remember correctly, on the edge of an airstrip; and for whatever reason, they cut his hands off and buried him. Well, that was over 30 years ago, and his idea still lives. Let's say the idea is that he represents power and equity of working class people around the world, revolution for the people, equity for the people. Let's just say we can agree with that, whether it's right or wrong. You can argue about whether he was a good guy or a bad guy; let's set that aside. My point is, no matter where I traveled in Ohio and across the United States and the world, I hardly ever go into a town no matter how big or how small without seeing the iconic picture of Ché Guevara. He's got the beret on, he's got the scruffy beard. I opened up the New York Times yesterday; there was a picture of that iconic photograph in poster form in the demonstrations in Paris for the new labor law that removes rights for young French people. Everywhere you go there's some social dispute, there's Ché Guevara.
"We killed him. His idea lives on. He represents an idea. My point is the insurgency, whether you like 'em or not, whether or not there's a poster child like Ché Guevara was, it's an idea, it's an idea.
"We, the American people, are paying the price for that. We're paying for it in terms of lives, tax dollars and international leadership.
'We want to run our country'
"The 'insurgency' is an umbrella terms that really describes different factions that are fighting over there for different reasons. I've read, as far as pure jihadists who want to return Sharia law to the governance of Iraq, maybe there's 2,000 or 3,000 of those. Then there are the former Baathists that want to return the glory days of the Baath party. Then there's the just common everyday criminal who we most frequently see in the news, who kidnap people and hold them for ransom for just common criminal purposes. Some of them have criminal motivation, political motivation, religious motivation. Those are the people who are causing all the problems.
"I suspect the numbers are growing largest in the faction that wants to return Baathist leadership. Not because they thought Saddam Hussein was a great guy, not that they enjoy the terror that he reigned with, but because the Baath Party represents a nationalistic leadership in Iraq, in other words, a return to Arab leadership in Iraq. So these factions have overlapping interests. The common denominator is they want America out of there.
"Stop for a moment and imagine, just imagine if America got to the point where somebody overthrew our government in order to free the people. Look, I don't like George Bush but I'll guarantee if somebody came over and tossed him out of the White House, I'd be one of the nuts up in the tree taking pot shots at them because we will handle him in our way. Now the argument can be made that the Iraqi people weren't able to do that. That's fine, there's a whole list of nations around the world that have brutal dictators, lousy leadership, lousy political organizations, but we're not invading all those countries.
"The idea at this point, from the Iraqi's point of view, is we are Iraqis first: 'Thanks very much for getting rid of Saddam Hussein, but we want to run our country.' Until this administration gets a hold of that concept that they're capable of running their country, and no matter how long we stay whenever we leave, they're going to run it their way. There's probably gonna be a temporary up-tick in the violence whenever we leave. It's gonna happen; history tells us that. They're quite capable and we, as Americans, should understand that. The Iraqi people are proud, nationalistic people that are currently in the process of making coalitions that they would not otherwise make in an effort to get rid of us.
"When we leave, I'm certain of this. The Sunni and the Shia are going to get rid of the foreign fighters, the Zarqawians, the jihadists — they're toast, they're history, they're gone or they're dead. And then the Sunni and the Shia are gonna work out among themselves how their government's gonna work. It's gonna happen. The question is how many more lives and how much more tax money do we want to spend."
Cheney on his haunches
"I think the people we send to Washington should set the policy that the war's over today and give the Pentagon the mission to redeploy our forces. Don't tell the Pentagon to accomplish it in six months, don't tell them the troops have got to be home in seven months — that's an arbitrary date. It's pulled out of the air. Tell the military what you want them to accomplish, let them accomplish it. If they want, throw in there, 'Secure the exterior borders to contain whatever additional unrest takes place in Iraq when we depart.'
"I love it when I hear people say, 'Oh, if we leave now it's gonna be civil war and it's gonna be chaos.' It's already been civil war for at least a year and a half now, maybe longer, and its already chaos.
"I hear or some of those other toadies — some of those dumbasses who have screwed this mission up so badly and took us on this mission — will say, 'Ninety percent of Iraq is not in chaos. It's just theses small pockets.' Look, 90 percent of Iraq is a frickin' empty desert, okay? Twenty-four million Iraqi's live in a handful of densely populated areas. The rest of the country is a big, hot, dirty, dusty desert. That's why nobody lives there. It's an argument that's gotten traction because American's don't fully understand the dynamic on the ground there.
"Another lovely argument I like is, 'Oh, if we leave now, the Iranians are going to take over.' No, I don't think so. The Iraqis are Arab; the Iranians are Persian. They don't share a common ancestry; they're a different people. They have been historically killing each other in big numbers. When we leave, their temporary coalition is over. Whatever influence the Iranians have down in the southeast of Iraq is going to go away.
"I can't remember which jackass it was — Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld — who said, 'Oh, the Iranians are importing IED (improvised explosive device) technology.' First of all, there's not a whole lot of sophisticated technology going on here. They wire artillery rounds together and they detonate them remotely with hard cable or you hit the garage door opener and they detonate. They've been around a long time. They've got Internet access over in Iraq. You can hop on the Internet and you can figure out how to do this stuff. And guess what? They actually had a pretty well trained military and we're now fighting that military in a guerilla environment. They know what they're doing.
"Dick Cheney can sit back on his haunches in his nice office in the White House and say, 'Oh, they're on their death throes. They're cowards. They don't know what they're doing.' Those of us who have been over there and fought those little bastards don't speak that way about 'em. We don't think they're on their death throes. We don't think they're all that unsophisticated. I never thought lightly of the people who were trying to kill me over there. Every single fucking day that I left the base either in Ramadi or in Fallujah, I was trying to get inside the mind of that little son of a bitch with a little red and white checkered scarf around his head and how he was going to try to kill me and my marines today. I never took him lightly. I knew he was very effective. I knew he was very dedicated, very smart. Those guys know what they're doing.
"For Dick Cheney, George Bush or Donald Rumsfeld to lie to the American people and belittle the skill and the will to fight that those folks has doesn't serve anybody well. I am just paranoid enough to believe that, in part, the reason they belittle the insurgency — mark my word on this: When history begins to write about this conflict, the spin from the Rumsfelds and Cheneys and Wolfolwitzes and George Bush will be that it was a military failure. They're gonna spin it that the military failed the American people, but not the planning of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, George Bush and Paul Wolfowitz. That's exactly what happened post-Vietnam; it will happen again. I think that's a shame because the military was not listened to by this administration. The average American doesn't quite understand that. They're not really paying close attention to what's going on over there. The civilian leadership has failed the American people by ignoring and disregarding the advice and professionalism of the professional war-fighting class."
'No back roads'
"Utter fucking bullshit. They don't have unprecedented access. There's very, very few press that travel any more in an embedded way in Iraq. And if they do, it's for a week here and there. That's better than nothing but Ernie Pyle went and traveled with the Marines for a couple of years until he was killed on le Shima on Okinawa. There's an MSNBC guy I saw over there a few times; he had been over there for like a year. He just went from base to base, traveled on convoys, saw everything.
"My take — and I'll stand corrected if I'm wrong — is that a vast majority of the media go over and they hang out in the Green Zone and they wait for public affairs officers to drop them a story, and they stand in front of one of the mosques in the Green Zone and give their report like that dude from CNN with the British accent — I forget his name. I'll see him in front of what's basically the convention center. He give the same old scoop, which is he's spoon-fed.
"There are a few that go out embedded or, even worse, un-embedded. The reason you don't see many of them do that is the place is outrageously fucking dangerous. And there's no more dangerous place to be in Iraq than on the road. I was a convoy commander with my unit in Ramadi and Fallujah, so I was the guy in charge of getting us from point A to point B. Some people say, 'Oh, you didn't fight in Iraq.' Let's just ignore that conversation and try to keep in mind what's involved from getting from point A to point B.
"When we had our choice, we'd climb into a helicopter in the middle of the night any day of the week, and those helicopters we're flying are from Vietnam, as opposed to make the drive. Given my druthers, I'd wait six hours for a helicopter in the middle of a sand storm as opposed to take that drive. When you leave a base — if you 'leave the wire,' to use the slang — you've got to be prepared to fight for your life, period.
"The (reporters) that get kidnapped are not embedded; they're going over there independently and I just, wow. I don't know what to make of that. They're either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid. I'm not sure which category they fall into.
"If you're going to land in Anbar or Baghdad Province, you can not drive the roads over there without the expectation of being engaged militarily, in simple parlance, somebody trying to kill you. If you're doing that, you're not in touch with reality. If you're going to rent a driver and rent an interpreter, you stick out like a sore thumb. What do you do if you're driving along in your little Toyota and you get forced over in a checkpoint? And they've got checkpoints all over the place. You've got your spider web, and anything that comes through is yours to filter. There ain't no back roads through the desert."