October 26, 2006 at 8:04 AM #7778adminKeymaster
This was in yesterday’s “Best of the Web” (free) from the Wall Street Journal. This, to me, seems to be a clear assessment of the situation and a logical plan. What do you think?
Our item yesterday in which we reaffirmed our support for the liberation of Iraq brought some very interesting reader comments. This is from an American there who asks not to be named:
There’s been a lot of discussion back home about the course of the war, the righteousness of our involvement, the clarity of our execution, and what to do about the predicament in which we currently find ourselves. I just wanted to send you my firsthand account of what’s happening here.
First, a little bit about me: I’m stationed slightly northwest of Baghdad in a mixed Sunni/Shia area. I’m a sergeant in the U.S. Army on a human intelligence collection team. I interact with Iraqis on a daily basis and I help put together the intel picture for our area of operations. I have contacts with friends, who are also in my job, in every are of operations in the Fourth Infantry Division footprint, and through our crosstalk I’d say I have a pretty damn good idea of what’s going on in and around Baghdad on a micro and intermediary level.
I wrote heavily in favor of this war before I enlisted myself, and I still maintain that going into Iraq was not only the necessary thing to do, but the right thing to do as well.
There have been distinct failures of policy in Iraq. The vast majority of them fall under the category “failure to adapt.” Basically U.S. policies have been several steps behind the changing conditions ever since we came into the country. I believe this is (in part) due to our plainly obvious desire to extricate ourselves from Iraq. I know President Bush is preaching “stay the course,” but we came over here with a goal of handing over our battlespace to the Iraqis by the end of our tour here.
This breakneck pace with which we’re trying to push the responsibility for governing and securing Iraq is irresponsible and suicidal. It’s like throwing a brick on a house of cards and hoping it holds up. The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF)–a joint term referring to Iraqi army and Iraqi police–are so rife with corruption, insurgent sympathies and Shia militia members that they have zero effectiveness. Two Iraqi police brigades in Baghdad have been disbanded recently, and the general sentiment in our field is “Why stop there?” I can’t tell you how many roadside bombs have been detonated against American forces within sight of ISF checkpoints. Faith in the Iraqi army is only slightly more justified than faith in the police–but even there, the problems of tribal loyalties, desertion, insufficient training, low morale and a failure to properly indoctrinate their soldiers results in a substandard, ineffective military. A lot of the problems are directly related to Arab culture, which traditionally doesn’t see nepotism and graft as serious sins. Changing that is going to require a lot more than “benchmarks.”
In Shia areas, the militias hold the real control of the city. They have infiltrated, co-opted or intimidated into submission the local police. They are expanding their territories, restricting freedom of movement for Sunnis, forcing mass migrations, spiking ethnic tensions, not to mention the murderous checkpoints, all while U.S. forces do . . . nothing.
For the first six months I was in country, sectarian violence was classified as an “Iraqi on Iraqi” crime. Division didn’t want to hear about it. And, in a sense I can understand why. Because division realized that which the Iraqi people have come to realize: The American forces cannot protect them. We are too few in number and our mission is “stability and support.” The problem is that there’s nothing to give stability and support to. We hollowed out the Baathist regime, and we hastily set up this provisional government, thrusting political responsibility on a host of unknowns, each with his own political agenda, most funded by Iran, and we’re seeing the results.
In Germany after World War II, we controlled our sector with approximately 500,000 troops, directly administering the area for 10 years while we rebuilt the country and rebuilt the social and political infrastructure needed to run it. In Iraq, we’ve got one-third that number of troops dealing with three times the population on a much faster timetable, and we’re attempting to unify three distinct ethnic groups with no national interest and at least three outside influences (Saudi Arabian Wahhabists, Iranian mullahs and Syrian Baathists) each eagerly funding various groups in an attempt to see us fail. And we are.
If we continue on as is in Iraq, we will leave here (sooner or later) with a fractured state, a Rwanda-waiting-to-happen. “Stay the course” and refusing to admit that we’re screwing things up is already killing a lot of people needlessly. Following through with such inane nonstrategy is going to be the death knell for hundreds of thousands of Sunnis.
We need to backtrack. We need to publicly admit we’re backtracking. This is the opening battle of the ideological struggle of the 21st century. We cannot afford to lose it because of political inconveniences. Reassert direct administration, put 400,000 to 500,000 American troops on the ground, disband most of the current Iraqi police and retrain and reindoctrinate the Iraqi army until it becomes a military that’s fighting for a nation, not simply some sect or faction. Reassure the Iraqi people that we’re going to provide them security and then follow through. Disarm the nation: Sunnis, Shias, militia groups, everyone. Issue national ID cards to everyone and control the movement of the population.
If these three things are done, you can actually start the Iraqi economy again. Once people have a sense of security, they’ll be able to leave their houses to go to work. Tell your American commanders that it’s OK to pass up bad news–because part of the problem is that these issues are not reaching above the battalion or brigade level due to the can-do, make-it-happen culture indoctrinated into our U.S. officers. While the attitude is admirable, it also creates barriers to recognizing and dealing with on-the-ground realities.
James, there’s a lot more to this than I’ve written here. The short of it is, the situation is salvageable, but not with “stay the course” and certainly not with cut and run. However, the commitment required to save it is something I doubt the American public is willing to swallow. I just don’t see the current administration with the political capital remaining in order to properly motivate and convince the American public (or the West in general) of the necessity of these actions.
At the same time, failure in Iraq would be worse than a dozen Somalias, and would render us as impotent and emasculated as we were in the days after Vietnam. There is a global cultural-ideological struggle being waged, and abdication from Iraq is tantamount to concession.October 26, 2006 at 8:50 AM #38461JESParticipant
Interesting piece JG and I think it is clear that something needs to change fast. IMO the most likely outcome of this war is going to be the division of Iraq into a loose confederation of three autonomous ethnic regions after a significant withdrawal of US forces over the next two years. Democratic wins this November – heaven forbid they should occur – will quicken the calls for withdrawal and we are already seeing policy changes in the White House in anticipation of this.
The real problem we have now is the barbarian tactics of the various ethnic groups against each other and for that we should accept no blame. I’m afraid that there are only two arrangements that will bring partial peace to that area – a strong handed dictator like the one we got rid of or separating the country along ethnic lines. At the outset I was optimistic about the chances of democracy taking root in a unified Iraq, but no longer.
I think history will look back at this as a failed experiment of trying to bring democracy to a people whose culture and attitudes just aren’t ready for it. I believe it was a noble cause that needed to be undertaken, and perhaps the three regions will develop democratic governments. If they don’t, only the Iraqis are to blame. At this point I think we should divide the country in three along ethnic lines and assume the role of defending the regions against outside attack.October 26, 2006 at 9:23 AM #38466
How is spreading Democracy a noble cause? Where is the proof Democracy is a superior form of government?
Obviously you supported the invasion and thought the outcome would be much differnent. Why do you think you now have the answers?
You can’t “bring” people anything. People must liberate themselves. Check history.
Would it be Noble for communists to come here with war because they truly felt their form of government was a better way for us to live?
This area has already been divided many times by the west. Why would more division solve the problem?
I’m not saying I have the answers. It just always bugs me that everyone (including people who can’t even manage their own personal affairs) believe they have the solutions for a people and country they know little about.October 26, 2006 at 9:56 AM #38469
That’s an interesting article and it’s always good to hear the news from people who are actually there seeing firsthand what’s going on. But it’s scary to me to hear everyone throw the word “democracy” around like it’s some kind of magic incantation that can turn a war-torn country into a paradise overnight. A little civics lesson — we Americans don’t live in a democracy, we live in a constitutional republic.
This article gives a pretty good overview of our founding fathers’ opinion of democracies.October 26, 2006 at 10:03 AM #38470CardiffBaseballParticipant
My thoughts are similar to the author’s. We did not handle the assimilation correctly. The occupation’s of Japan and Germany were far more reaching, and allowed over that 10 year period, better assimilation.
Let’s face the Japanese and German fighters were far more fierce and not impotent like Arab fighters, who wage war from behind women and children. Yet, despite being more worthy opponents, they were eventually controlled, and are now stable vibrant democracies.
Oh and for Wiley, history has shown in general that democratic nations tend not to attack one another. If you bust up the center of the Arab world with a democratic nation, you could potentially have a more far reaching peace. This is why I believed in the effort. As it stands there is only one democracy in the Middle East.October 26, 2006 at 10:23 AM #38474
Okay, this is getting WAY off-topic for a real-estate board, but let’s really think about this. We DEFEATED the Japanese and Germans, but the French, British, and Israelis (and perhaps we Americans too) have all failed to subdue Arab rebellions, so the Arabs are less worthy opponents? It’s true they don’t play by our rules, but of course we didn’t play by the British rules of engagement back in 1776, now did we? While they lined up in their fancy redcoats and marched in formation through the fields, we picked them off while hiding in trees. We didn’t even have the decency to wear uniforms! The American fighters were unkempt, unshaven, and uncouth, and the British were horrified at our uncivilized guerilla tactics. I am in NO WAY equating our founding fathers with the Iraqi resistance, I am just saying that you can’t be surprised that they’re not fighting by our rules. If they did, they’d last about 30 seconds, just long enough for us to drop some 2000-pounders on ’em!
As for hiding behind women and children, that’s just what happens in urban warfare. The Russians did the same thing to the Germans in Stalingrad. There was less of this in Western Europe because the front lines advanced very slowly and civilians usually had time to evacuate. In Iraq we occupied the whole place in the space of a month and the army just evaporated into the general population. Par for the course in any case where the opponents are drastically overmatched.
Our ONLY hope in Iraq is to get the people to trust our troops and the new Iraqi police and army. I am not sure if it’s even possible, but I hope that we still have a chance. We will all pay the price for many years to come if we don’t…October 26, 2006 at 11:04 AM #38476
Oh and for Wiley, history has shown in general that democratic nations tend not to attack one another. If you bust up the center of the Arab world with a democratic nation, you could potentially have a more far reaching peace. This is why I believed in the effort. As it stands there is only one democracy in the Middle East.
I'm glad you put the disclaimer "in general". Off the top of my head we've interfered with Democratically elected governments in Chile and Nicaragua. If we're so peaceful why are we constantly waging war? Why do we spend more than all other countries in the world combined on our military?
Wasn't Hitler democratically elected?
The fact is we are an empire and act like all other empires before us. Waging war around the world in an attempt to show others how much better our way of life would be. The only big difference is other empires collect tributes from their newly conquered lands. We don't. But our will end as all others. Debasing our currency in an attempt to pay for all the folly, leading to ruin. All else is noise (imho).
Bagdad has been invaded so many times by people who had the answers its incredible. Each one grew tired of the expense and eventually left. We will too.October 26, 2006 at 12:32 PM #38485AnonymousGuest
Democracies work in Muslim countries: look at Turkey. It doesn’t export terrorists. A priori, there was no reason to believe it could not work in Iraq.
Young men with no jobs and with limited access to women (many of whom are in the harem of the princes and their retinue); that’s why terrorism flourishes in Saudi Arabia, etc. Heck, I’d become a terrorist, too, under those conditions.
Was the election in Iraq a farce? Turnout was 50-72%. Why would folks risk death to vote? Because freedom is a universal human desire, and democracy (whether direct or representational) is a proven method for ensuring it.
Hitler elected? He was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg. Do you remember the burning of the Reichstag? That’s how he seized control of the levers of government. Yeah, that’s democratic.
Iraq could survive as a democracy, but it may take a post-WWII occupation or British-style-empire-in-India to get it there.October 26, 2006 at 2:00 PM #38490
Yeah, don’t count out Iraq yet but they need to do it for themselves and it may take a long time. I firmly believe the US must offer support (including military support), but we need to be realistic and accept that their government may not look like ours or even agree with us much of the time after all is said and done. And as for countries in the middle east being skeptical of democracy, they do have some legitimate concerns. Ever wonder how the Shah of Iran came to power? He deposed democratically-elected president Mossadegh in a US/British-engineered coup in 1953. Although Mossadegh was friendly to the US and was considered a valuable ally in our battle against the communist threat, he made the mistake of nationalizing Iran’s oil industry, depriving US and British companies of their “rights” to Iranian oil fields. Whoopsie! Good-bye, open democratic government, hello repressive monarchy! The Shah allowed US and British oil companies back into the country and many Iranians were none-too-pleased at Western meddling in their affairs. Decades of brutal oppression by the Shah’s SAVAK police allowed the Islamic fundamentalist crazies to win lots of converts, eventually giving their movement enough momentum to otherthrow the Shah in 1979. Now we’ve got an Iran that is far more unfriendly and dangerous than the one we interfered with back in 1953. And don’t take my word for it, you can read the history yourself in this excellent wikipedia entry about the Shah.October 26, 2006 at 2:11 PM #38491PerryChaseParticipant
JES, what is the difference between what you’re advocating and not invading Iraq in the first place? It’s pretty clear to me that Iraq was a mistake.
Now that the mistake was made, how do we solve the problem? I don’t have the answer. But America needs to take responsibility for its error and not leave the Iraqi people in worse shape that when we first got in. It’s our moral responsiblity and our national interest depends on it. If we fail to fix our mistake, American influence will suffer for decades to come.
I’d say that the first step is to admit our errors and get rid of the people who caused that fiasco. Then we can come up with new ideas to fix the problem.October 26, 2006 at 3:46 PM #38498
I stand corrected on Hitler. I should have said he came to power in a democratic government.
On your other statement that democracy is a proven method for ensuring freedom I’d disagree. Do you think we are more free then say someone living under a monarchy?
Even the thought that a democracy is sustainable is highly dubious. A professor from Scottland once said during the formation of our government that democracies can only last approximately 200 years because as the people realize they can vote themselves more and more from the public treasury they slowly vote themselves into a tyranny. (or something close to that). I’d say he was pretty astute.
I don’t know if democracy would be better for them or not. I do know this. If a people wants a new form of government then it is their responsibility to make it happen. You cannot liberate a country. Only they can.
I think it very naive to think our government cares about the plight of the Iraqi’s (or our moral obligation). This is about money and power. If it were otherwise we’d send our army to Sudan.October 26, 2006 at 8:03 PM #38523qcomerParticipant
“Young men with no jobs and with limited access to women (many of whom are in the harem of the princes and their retinue); that’s why terrorism flourishes in Saudi Arabia, etc. Heck, I’d become a terrorist, too, under those conditions.”
This quote oozes of American ignorance about other cultures in the worrld. I am just hoping that Washington is not basing tactics to engage terrorism based on the theory that “limited access to women” causes people to become terrorists.
For all now proclaiming that we went there to spread democracy are hiding behind an excuse. Americans went to Iraq believing it had weapons of mass destruction and moreover, beleiving that those weapons would go into hands of terrorists. Iraq could have been democratized anytime from early 90s, but without the WMD, this thing could never have taken off. People say that well in hindsight this war was a mistake. No way, the whole world told us that this was a mistake from the beginning but the American bravado wouldn’t listen to the european pansies. This govt pushed for this war so badly, with so little concrete evidence that one seriously doubts the motives of this govt for the invasion of Iraq. What are the intelligence reports now about Iran and North Korea? What about Pakistan who supplied atomic technology to NK? Why did we ignore much more dangerous terrorist havens and ended up invading a poor, weak, hollow disctatorship and turned the country into terrorist haven?
Another arrogant American concept is that Americans went to Iraq to “liberate” Iraqi people. A recent poll by NBC found that 87% Americans think their govt system is broken. Should another country invade the US with true intentions of fixing its broken democracy and with noble intentions of liberating its people from the corrupt politicians or corporates? The reason why we attacked Iraq ………. well because we could and because we knew that it will be the people of Iraq who will be paying major collateral for any mistakes or error of judgements, that we made. Well the war has caused Americans billions of dollars in debt as a gift to pass onto future generations, ~3000 soldiers and a budding ground for terrorism.October 26, 2006 at 9:13 PM #38530socalarmParticipant
someone mentioned a british styled empire in india as a viable precedent.
that’s pretty ridiculous. your argument gives credit for gandhi’s peace struggle to the british empire?
if a culture gives the world buddhism and secular peaceful protest in exchange for colonial oppression, wouldn’t you say that’s a quality intrinsic to a culture, not something bequeathed to it by an invader?
that’s pretty lazy and arrogant thinking.
should we take credit for civilizing black slaves and chinese railroad workers too ?
here’s samuel huntington, someone people love quoting about a ‘war of civilizations’:
“The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do.”October 26, 2006 at 9:58 PM #38539AnonymousGuest
Lovely Indian custom before the civilizing hand of the British, the burning of the wife upon her husband’s funeral pyre.
Lovely thing to live with, that caste system.
What ugliness, exactly, is there today in the world’s largest democracy that arose from its British subjugation?
Lovely condition that Black Africa is in: famine and rampant AIDs despite great mineral wealth. The Brits, French, and Belgians have been gone for decades; who’s to blame, now?
Lovely place to live, South Africa is, since the departure of the Afrikaaners from power: life expectancy of men of 54 and of women of 58, unemployment of 30%, per capita GDP of $3K. I know, I know, they’re poor but happy.
Gimme a break, guys. Culture matters. That’s why San Diego is rich and safe and Tijuana is poor and dangerous. Some cultures are better than others. Yeah, we’ve got our weaknesses — producing tarts like Britney and trash like ‘Desperate Housewives.’ But, I guarantee we Westerners won’t decapitate the Hollywood punks for giving us such.October 26, 2006 at 10:32 PM #38542socalarmParticipant
“The Brits, French, and Belgians have been gone for decades; who’s to blame, now?”
btw, arabs colonized and enslaved africa too.
yes it’s just those sorry-assed black folk who can’t stop invaders and are too busy fornicating with each other spreading aids. they should really ask to bring the belgians back. hey what the hell, let’s bring the spaniards back to mexico and the arabs to israel and the japanese to nanjing and the british to india and the turks to spain. that’ll show ’em 😉
i mean who cares if they’re free now.
you seem to know a lot about other cultures. san diego is rich and safe. i agree. take away rich and you will take away safe. your illusion of superiority will suffer remarkably the day the word ‘rich’ loses it’s power.
the caste system may not be half as bad as black slavery in the south. i forgot that’s been declared illegal. well, so was the caste system. there’s really no point to such irrelevant comparisons.
you’re subtly shifting responsibility from the occupier to the occupied.
i forgot. we just came in with our slaves and eradicated the previous inhabitants. we even gave them reparations but look them now. they’re just a bunch of drunks running casinos.
change the century and there’s always one dominant power who pooh-poohs the others to proclaim his own unprecedented superiority. great attitude jg. bring ’em on.
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