“Present approach will not work.”
Major General (Retired) Paul Eaton addressed members of the Lakewood First Lions Club regarding his role in the buildup and training of an Iraqi military force, and his thoughts on the country’s future. Those thoughts held out little hope for the future of Iraq as a free and unified country as defined and promoted by the present administration.
Unabashed and adamant about his professional opinions about Iraq war policies and especially former Secretary of Defense, Eaton places responsibility for the present chaos squarely on the desk of Donald Rumsfeld. The failures can easily be tracked back to Rumsfeld’s failure to take the advice of experienced military commanders, especially with regards to the number of divisions initially tagged to prosecute the war. According to Eaton, General Shinseki was the only one to get it right, but because he was so brash as to present findings before congress that were not in lock-step agreement with Rumsfeld it “was a contributing factor to the very shoddy treatment” that led to Shinseki’s forced retirement.
Picked to lead the mission of growing a defense structure in Iraq after L. Paul Bremer scattered the existing military forces to the winds, Eaton arrived in Kuwait, apparently with no one aware or in support of his assigned responsibilities. Arriving at the airport in Kuwait, he learned he was not expected and no arrangements had been made to transport him to Baghdad. Fortunately he was able to hitchhike on a helicopter offered by an officer standing behind him at the processing station. Whisking along at 50 feet above the Euphrates River for the bulk of the trip, with a stifling hot wind howling through the chopper, the helicopter ride proved to be “the most exciting helicopter ride of my life.” That probably translates into a sense of relief at reaching his destination.
But even with a convenient ride north, he learned he could not gain access into the Green Zone, since nobody knew he was arriving. His attempts at getting a call through to the command in the Zone did not succeed. His only recourse was to call his office in the U. S. and have his aide email authorities in the Green Zone from his computer at his home and finally arrange to have the general met and delivered.
With his boots on the ground and a night’s rest, Eaton set about his task. “I looked constantly over my shoulder for help and advice,” he said, but there was none to be had. It was apparent that building an entire military structure from the ground up would be a learn-as-you-go process. There wasn’t even a desk or chair to form a central command with, and gaining staff from the ranks of experienced war veterans was, at best, through-the back door.
When he approached the Baghdad command about staffing he was told he would be allowed to pull seven men out of Kuwait that were preparing for rotation back to the U.S. Eaton refers to them now as the “magnificent seven.” Within days they had surveyed Iraq by helicopter and selected locations suitable for the initial training bases.
From there the project was off and running, even though often through what my have amounted to a logistical and managerial obstacle course. With little background to prepare the team for such a complex task, they designed everything about the army, from how to select volunteers to what their standard of living would be and what their retirement system would look like. “Everything started with a white piece of paper.” As for their standard of living, Eaton said he based their daily living conditions on the U.S. Army’s training base at Grafenw??hr, Germany, a facility that often evokes less than fond memories in American soldiers that have trained there.
Among the restrictions the general established for the build-up of the Iraq army was that no former military members under Saddam Hussein with ranks above colonel would be accepted. All recruits would be “trained as infantry first,” and then individuals would be selected to fill the ranks of “all the enablers,” members that would make up the support units such as signal and engineer corps.
While there was an embarrassing incident following the Iraqi’s first combat engagement, an incident Eaton accepts responsibility for, he believes they have developed into a dedicated force that will be capable of achieving the onerous task of defending the nation.
But there remains the very big question of the kind of nation that will emerge from the present chaos. Eaton said he does “-not believe President Bush will achieve the objectives that he set out to achieve.” He compares the conditions contributing to the chaos with the conditions that existed in Yugoslavia, and which led to that nation’s break up. “If you couldn’t hold Yugoslavia together, you’re not going to hold Iraq together.” He foresees an eventual loose federation based in Baghdad, overseeing a division based on ethnic and religious differences.
All the majority of the population wants is to “Put food on the table to feed their families, and peace.” But, he said, “If Iraq doesn’t turn out well, there will be a national and global calamity.”
Gen Eaton was a guest speaker at the Lakewood First Lions Club during one of their regular meetings at Burs Restaurant in Lakewood. For information about the Lions Club call 588-0302 or 588-6637.
Story and Pictures by
Ed Kane, Freelance Graphics