Monday, August 20, 2007

Truth Telling on Iraq--from Soldiers

This is one of the best op-eds/pieces on Iraq I've read yet. Written by American soldiers. Maybe the best. Certainly coming from soldiers, it carries a greater weight of legitimacy.

They begin (all emphasis mine):
VIEWED from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day.
The authors then detail a recent attack on US forces that clearly had some involvement with the Iraqi Army and/or Police. The Army/Police gave their position to the attackers it would appear.

Their conclusion on the matter:
As many grunts will tell you, this is a near-routine event. Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.
Followed by the point echoed by others than while arming the so-called Sunni tribesman works against al-Qaeda in Iraq, it is entirely unclear whether they are in any fashion loyal to the central government (seen as an Iranian proxy).

The counterinsurgency model Petraeus employs is based largely on the British in Malaysia and Kenya (Mau Mau Revolt). In both those instances, the British were brutal beyond the current allowed climate---given YouTube and the climate of the American not to mention Western world attitude.

In other words:
While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse —namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.

Never heard described in pro-surge contexts. Speaking of criticizing propaganda, this nice jab at certain Senators who will remain nameless:
Given the situation, it 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.
And an equally nice jab at Democrats (and some Senate Republicans):
Coupling our military strategy to an insistence that the Iraqis meet political benchmarks for reconciliation is also unhelpful. The morass in the government has fueled impatience and confusion while providing no semblance of security to average Iraqis. Leaders are far from arriving at a lasting political settlement. This should not be surprising, since a lasting political solution will not be possible while the military situation remains in constant flux.
On the Shia and the political situation:
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. Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.
Their conclusion:
In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. 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....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.
Wow. See if this gets the play it deserves in the press and blogosphere.

Update I: Joe Klein seconds. And says its puts to shame "all the Kristol, McCain, Lieberman, Pollack and O'Hanlon etc etc cheerleading of the past two months."

Update II: While it will certainly get play on the left for its corrective to the pro-surgers, the article is very clear that the Democratic line of timetables/benchmarks for withdrawal is also failed. The article if anything points to Baker-Hamilton, pull back to Kurdistan, and prevent the civil war and bloodshed from within crossing the borders. Or being stoked by others crossing in.

As Barnett says, we have to get out of the mindset of winning the war (or being a defeatist) that is perpetuated from the right and the how fast can we get out attitude from the left. The peace was lost not the war. That is what these soldiers tell. No surge will restore the peace. That opportunity was a one shot deal--we missed it. It's gone, it's never coming back. Time to move on. This is different than defeat. This is simply accepting reality as opposed to assuming one can simply by military might & rhetoric make reality (that Bush is such a conservative postmodernist---very Foucaultian).


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