Sunday, August 19, 2007

Iraq Reality Check from the Men on the Ground

Bush has consistently deflected the advice offered him by those with more experience in waging war than he has by insisting that he makes his decisions based on what his generals on the ground in Iraq tell him. The fact that the generals who don't tell him what Cheney wants to hear are shuffled off the battlefields is supposed to be something we ignore, I guess, but in the press this sound bite serves as cover for the obvious fact that Bush doesn't really care what the reality is on the ground. With God's help, he intends to will the US to victory in Iraq, just as soon someone tells him what victory there actually (i.e., in non-rhetorical terms) means.

Given he moves his generals around based on their support of the latest twists in Cheney's vision (i.e., what Cheney's buddies in the oil industry tell him they want on a silver platter this month), I don't expect the President to pay much heed to the observances and insights of mere soldiers on the ground in Iraq, but those of us left with no options for what to believe is really going on due to the traditional media's constantly confused and overall controlled coverage would all benefit greatly, I submit, from listening to the brave Americans putting their lives on the line in the service of their country.

Seven such soldiers have written a piece published in Sunday's New York Times: Buddhika Jayamaha, an Army specialist. Wesley D. Smith, a sergeant. Jeremy Roebuck, a sergeant. Omar Mora, a sergeant, Edward Sandmeier, a sergeant, Yance T. Gray, a staff sergeant and Jeremy A. Murphy, a staff sergeant. Their essay, The War as We Saw It, strikes me as one of the most lucid and truthful sounding assessments I've read (partly because of its absence of flag-waving bullshit and partly, because as they note at its end, "We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through").

Here's one of the key assessments they share:

[I]t is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.
That's important to remember: the ability of, say, John McCain or, say, a German journalist to stroll through a marketplace and not be shot reveals nothing significant about the experience of the local citizenry or how well the war is going. But more important than their warning to Americans about being fooled by such publicity stunts into thinking we're "winning" in Iraq (they note that although we have the power to win specific battles and secure areas, to make any of that mean anything long term "require[s] measures we will always refuse — namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force") is their assessment of why Bush's stated current political strategy is doomed to failure:

The Iraqi government is run by the main coalition partners of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, with Kurds as minority members. The Shiite clerical establishment formed the alliance to make sure its people did not succumb to the same mistake as in 1920: rebelling against the occupying Western force (then the British) and losing what they believed was their inherent right to rule Iraq as the majority. The qualified and reluctant welcome we received from the Shiites since the invasion has to be seen in that historical context. They saw in us something useful for the moment.

Now that moment is passing, as the Shiites have achieved what they believe is rightfully theirs. Their next task is to figure out how best to consolidate the gains, because reconciliation without consolidation risks losing it all. Washington’s insistence that the Iraqis correct the three gravest mistakes we made — de-Baathification, the dismantling of the Iraqi Army and the creation of a loose federalist system of government — places us at cross purposes with the government we have committed to support.
That's a fairly generous assessment on their part if you ask me, but they boil it down to what I feel are the un-ignorable indicators of colossal incompetence by this President:

Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages.
Of course everyone can criticize. What we need at this point are realistic next steps. These soldiers suggest the following:

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.

Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.
The bottom line here is that no amount of American prodding is going to make the Iraqi's form a government that will equally share the power among the factions. The Sunnis and Shiites, alone, obviously don't trust each other (the Kurds would likely be the first to sign off on a division of the country). Indeed, the idea of a unified democratic Iraq has been but a fantasy for quite some time now. Their next truly sovereign leader will be the person who manages to strong-arm his way into power and most likely will need to maintain that power via the sorts of compromises of the ideals that we had hoped to bring Iraq that eventually corrupted our previous ally there, you remember...Saddam Hussein?

UPDATE: For a lengthy, but thoughtful, dissenting view to the soldiers' opinions, see BlackFive's response. I have a few logical problems with his response (e.g., just because someone had incorrectly predicted the ability to [momentarily] secure Anbar province doesn't de facto mean the same result is possbile everywhere and assumes the insurgents learned nothing by being routed out of Anbar. Baghdad, where the soldiers who wrote the piece are stationed, will undoubtedly remain a challenge until the very end, given its importance to both sides ... and ... this idea:

Politics in Iraq, at this point, have to be viewed not as part of a "peace process," which is a foolish dream. They have to be viewed as a part of the war effort. They should not be designed to offer concessions in return for negotiations; they should offer concessions only in return for alliance, and should punish those who remain outlaws, who wage war against the central government. It is necessary that reconciliation be able and willing to forgive and offer amnesty to those who are willing to come in from the cold; if the COIN [counterinsurgency operation] is being fought successfully, there will always be more such persons arriving. As long as you remain opposed, however, you must be fought hard and offered no political relief. There must be consequences: this is a basic part of my understanding of COIN strategy.
is a recipe for a enduring conflict that will surely exhaust America's already tattered patience, ensure the deaths of many more innocent Iraqis [many of whom will undoubtedly be pulled into the conflict the longer it gets extended by such strategies], and that assumes the central government isn't a willing [if covert] player in the insurgency with their own reasons for perpetuating it, or at least assumes the Shiite vision of dominating the country post-invasion [i.e., oppressing Sunnis in the process] is fine by us.

Labels: Iraq


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for referencing this article, as a rule I don't bother with the Times, I don't see them as the cultural leaders they once were, just standing on the shoulders of their past reputation.
Occasionally as I'm surfing around I come across a link to an article of theirs I read it if I trust the source of the link. I'm glad I read this one.

This article highlights the ever widening gap between the reality of the occupation, and the propaganda the media broadcasts. since the beginning there has never been reporting of actual events, what exactly is going on over there? From the media representation of it American soldiers are driving around in Humvees getting picked of like ducks in a shooting gallery. The only time you see Iragis are either behind a reporter cheering for the Americans (or just hamming it up for the camera, capitalizing a phot-op seems to me universal, or wailing in grief over a corpse, depending on whether the network wants to give a positive or negative spin for the day. We live in a world that every little indiscretion celebrities make are captured on a cell phone, yet how dismal is the coverage in Iraq by comparison, I don't blame the military, they can't control everything the media is all too compliant by their own prerogative.

I would be interested in what Iraqis of all region and levels have to say, We have no sense of what life is like for the average Iraqi as in the article

"the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal."
so much for the hearts and minds campaign."

This shows that for America a minimal, (even one is a tragedy) number of casualties of a voluntary army, and a tarnished world opinion have been the cost of this occupation, but for the Iraqi populace, community, security, and even identity have been the price of this conflict. The US administration from the start ignored the welfare of the Iraqi people and it is refreshing to read these soldier write on this in an un-biased report, that subtly reveals a glimpse of the military objective.

"Sunnis, who have been underrepresented in the new Iraqi armed forces, now find themselves forming militias, sometimes with our tacit support. Sunnis recognize that the best guarantee they may have against Shiite militias and the Shiite-dominated government is to form their own armed bands. We arm them to aid in our fight against Al Qaeda.

However, while creating proxies is essential in winning a counterinsurgency, it requires that the proxies are loyal to the center that we claim to support. Armed Sunni tribes have indeed become effective surrogates, but the enduring question is where their loyalties would lie in our absence. The Iraqi government finds itself working at cross purposes with us on this issue because it is justifiably fearful that Sunni militias will turn on it should the Americans leave."

The over all conclusion I draw after reading this is these soldiers confirm from a first hand perspective the failings of this occupation as many who have been critical of it have laid out, by both those who support, and those who opposed.
Assessments of the current situation by all seem to agree, lack of consensus to a resolution seems to be the quagmire, and from this article it seems that one voice absent from the discourse seems to be the Iraqi people, neglect of their needs seem to be contagious as the US abandoned them to an Iraqi government with far too few resources and an ill equipped will to meet the demands of an inadequate infra structure, a displaced populace, and an ambivalent national identity.

could Dick Cheney known this would happen?

8/19/2007 09:23:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Ed, I think the Intuitive Artists just went into shock. We're not cut out for contemplating the minutiae of military strategies.

I once naively propounded the notion that we should just allow the damn Iraqis to split up into three nations--Kurds, Shiites, Sunnis--but a military expert of my acquaintance informed me that this was politically unacceptable for a reason which I cannot now recall.

It seems to me rather like telling a child, "You can have anything you want, EXCEPT what you want," and expecting them to behave.

8/20/2007 09:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Karl Zipser said...


I follow William Pfaff's columns. He has had great insight about Iraq from the beginning. What surprised me recently is his opinion that the Democrats may not do much better in Iraq.

8/21/2007 12:58:00 PM  

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