News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 12, 2006

Pete Chalos: In Iraq, we must get job done, then get out

You can call it what you want to call it but what is happening right now in the country of Iraq is a civil war. Fancy words like “insurgency” aren’t fooling anyone. You’ve got two sides fighting over the fate of a country. That is a civil war.

Last week, Saddam Hussein and six others faced new charges concerning the organized and premeditated genocide committed against Iraqi Kurds during the war with Iran in the late 1980s. Saddam now stands accused of killing more than 100,000 people in the Anfal campaign.

The new trial will be held alongside the current trial in which Saddam has been charged with the murder of 148 Shiites in retaliation for an assassination attempt. Iraqi authorities have chosen to try Saddam separately for each of the various crimes he is charged with over the course of the next several months.

Why are all of these people still alive? The longer Saddam’s trial lasts, the longer we risk losing him to a rescue attempt by his loyalists. Any one of his former aides would also serve as a powerful figurehead if rescued. For goodness sake, get this trial over with and bring a close to the old regime.

The latest U.S. intelligence estimates put the present number of hardcore guerrilla fighters involved in insurgent activity between 12,000 and 20,000. That’s quite a bit more than the estimate of 5,000 given in 2003. Earlier this year, General Mohammed Abdullah Shahwani, director of the Iraqi intelligence service, said he believed there could be as many as 200,000 insurgents, including 40,000 hardcore fighters. Remember, these are only estimates. The numbers could be higher.

Meanwhile, America only has between 130,000 and 150,000 troops deployed in Iraq, counting all categories of troops. How on Earth would we hope to stop the insurgents if they made a genuine and well-organized effort to rescue Saddam?

Justice should be swift. When you catch a rattlesnake, you don’t catch it by the tail and squeeze. You grab it by the nap of the neck and you crush its head as quickly as possible. You don’t cut an inch off of its tail every week. You crush its head immediately.

Instead of worrying about making a show of Saddam’s guilt to convince the world that his execution is just, get it over with. The people know he’s guilty. The blood of his victims still cries out from the ground. Convict Saddam and carry out his sentence. Let the history books do the educating.

Retired four-star General Anthony Zinni warned the White House before the invasion that 180,000 troops would not be enough. Zinni was commander-in-chief of the United States Central Command from 1997 to 2000. He was in charge of all American troops in the Middle East.

These days, Zinni is a harsh critic of the way the war has been handled by the Bush administration. In a recent interview on “60 Minutes”, Zinni said, “I think there was dereliction in insufficient forces being put on the ground and fully understanding the military dimensions of the plan. I think there was dereliction in lack of planning. … The president is owed the finest strategic thinking. He is owed the finest operational planning. He is owed the finest tactical execution on the ground… He got the latter. He didn’t get the first two."

Former General and National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, former Central Commander Norman Schwarzkopf, former NATO Commander Wesley Clark, and former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki have also voiced their concerns over how the war is being handled.

In Vietnam, we learned that a body count does not indicate progress. Troops must capture strategic geographic areas, gain control over roadways and cut off the enemy’s supplies. Currently, Iraq’s borders are not secure, roadside bombs are commonplace and the insurgency has control of major cities.

End this war and end it swiftly! Send enough troops over and move fast enough to gain a decisive victory. Execute Saddam and his aides for their war crimes, establish a central government, crush the insurgency, and get out.

According to legend, near the year 514 B.C., a very accomplished Chinese General named Sun-Tzu was interviewed by the king of Wu. Asked to give a demonstration of his leadership skills, the general created two companies from the king’s 300 concubines and he appointed two of the king’s favorites as company commanders. The general demonstrated a set of drill movements for the concubines to carry out. The concubines laughed at his order. He patiently repeated his order. Again, the concubines laughed.

The general remarked, “If the instructions are not clear, if the orders are not obeyed, it is the fault of the general. But if the instructions are clear and the soldiers still do not obey, it is the fault of the officers.”

Summoning the king’s executioner, he had the two concubine commanders beheaded, despite the king’s protests. New commanders were appointed from the ranks, and Sun-Tzu repeated his order. The concubines performed the required drill movements perfectly.

When asked why he executed the king’s favorites despite the king’s protests , the general replied, “Once a general is directing his troops, he should reject further interference from his sovereign.”

Today, Sun-Tzu is revered all over the world as a strategic genius. In his book “The Art of War”, he wrote, “The sovereign should never interfere with the capable general.” Once troops have been deployed, our presidents, civilian protestors and media organizations should stand aside and allow our military leaders to establish their own policies.

Give our generals the manpower they need and allow them the freedom to operate in the way they understand to be the most efficient. For goodness sake, let them win. Then, let them come home.

Pete Chalos, a longtime teacher, coach and public servant in Vigo County, was mayor of Terre Haute for 16 years. Send e-mail to