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Comments by YACCS
Sunday, May 28, 2006


The man who runs Iraq

Iraq: an exit strategy.. A reply to General Odom.
by BlaiseP [Subscribe]
Sat May 27, 2006 at 12:58:20 PM PDT

A Reply to Lt. Gen. William E. Odom: "Why America must get out of Iraq now."

Try not to bash me too hard, people. This isn't standard Democratic policy or received wisdom, and I hope you cut me some slack here. Odom's right, in the main.

Withdraw immediately or stay the present course? This presumes there are no alternate courses, no alternate exit strategies. I believe there are other options, this is a false dilemma. It is an ill wind which blows nobody any good: let us stipulate to the manifestly stupid proposition of staying the current course, and the further damnation of its authors for the present, however satisfying and true it might be. It is enough to say they have failed us. What alternate courses might prove wise? What do the Iraqis themselves want?

In short: we must retrain the Iraqi military and policemen, here in the USA, if need be. The Iraqi soldier gets 24 days of training. The Iraqis want security. Trained Iraqi troops and policemen are the only agents which could ever provide security. Work from there.

I translate Iraqi newspapers from Arabic to English, for DailyKos, and I am a Democrat, a Liberal Democrat. I soldiered, too. In differing with General Odom, I would preface my remarks with what may seem faint praise but it is heartfelt. General Odom is a sensible man, with sterling credentials, and though I differ with his opinions, his arguments are based on sound if different reasoning. His analysis is of the current situation is sound, yet I feel led to present my own thoughts on the matter: a cat may look upon a king, and this old soldier may address his betters.

General Odom correctly observes the American people have always hated war, and this prescriptive war in particular outrages them. It should. Like the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, this current war in Iraq is waged on the false premises of WMDs, and with similarly false expectations of a friendly government arising. The monstrous lies, exaggerations and happy talk surrounding this war provoke the American people as the Bright Shining Lies of Vietnam provoked them then. Yet I do not believe the entire story is being told: the way out of this conflict is also the way through this conflict.

A far better comparison and contrast to the War in Iraq is to the Balkans War, waged by Bill Clinton and Wesley Clark, a war where there were no Good Guys, and where we still have an ongoing occupation. In the Balkans, the European community, indeed the entire world stood by with its fingers in its mouth, while genocide and savage tribalism ensued upon the death of Tito. Wesley Clark cut through the Gordian Knot of a land invasion, and without a single casualty, won the most lopsided victory in the history of European warfare. This strategy was applied with good effect to the No-Fly Zones in Iraq, why the military planners did not duplicate the victory in the Balkans remains a mystery. The Kurds and Shii have used their time in the No-Fly Zone effectively, the rest of Iraq could have done the same, had we made the entire country a No-Fly Zone.

A priori, every sensible person agrees the solution to the Iraq conflict must be an Iraqi solution. This war has been badly micromanaged by Donald Rumsfeld and the Bush administration. The generals on the ground are all in agreement: the current war is untenable. The now-cashiered generals, Shinseki chief among these, had more pragmatic assessments of the war, and they were ignored. Now we are confronted with two pats of butter and forty acres of hot toast.

I have often said, as in the Balkans, the USA opened a jar of Tupperware, left in the refrigerator of history for forty years by Saddam Hussein. With the passing-away of the old regime in Iraq, (led by a brutally effective dictator from an ethnic minority), the world again found a foul anoxic science project of suppressed ethnic rivalries. It is instructive to note one ethnic group adores George Bush and his strategy, the Kurds. Those who would call Iraq a Descent into Civil War forget the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the still-suppurating decubitus of Chechnya on Russia's backside. Suppressing ethnic tensions does not attenuate them.

Of the terrorists, this may be safely said: they hate each other altogether more than they hate the Ameriki. They are essentially gangs, carving up the neighborhoods of the cities as Crips and Bloods do in this country, and the FARC does in Colombia, the Maoists in Nepal, the list continues ad nauseam. Obviously terrorism is not an exclusively Muslim problem. The solution to terrorism in Iraq is no different than the solution to gangs anywhere else: an effective police force and justice system is required. The Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence is driven by the same motivations, fears and allegiances which fill our morgues with drive-by shootings from gang-bangers in this country. Far more American civilians have died of gang violence and the concomitant epidemic of drug abuse in the USA than American soldiers have died in Iraq. We do not wage open war on gangsters in this country with soldiers and Marines: why we try this anywhere else is madness.

Al Qaeda is a hobgoblin, an ignis fatuus, yet another avatar of Qutbist Islamism, fathered by the Egyptian Islamic Brotherhood long ago. After the murder of a prominent Sunni sheikh in January of 2006, Sheikh Naser Abdul Karim al-Miklif of the huge al-Bu Fahad tribe in Anbar province, a price was placed on Zarqawi's head, and he has gone silent. While there is no love lost between the Sunnis and the Ameriki, the ordinary Iraqi is appalled by Al Qaeda's kidnappings and beheadings. The surviving Baathists are really no different than the warlords of the Balkans, gone into hiding: we know who they are, we can't get them, for the same reasons we can't grab Osama bin Ladin. The resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan are merely Pashtun tribesmen doing what they have always done, and do in Pakistan as well, re-establishing the grim Deobandi modus vivendi. In Iraq, where ethnic identity has long been suppressed, the vast majority of the violence is not civil war, but tribal factionalism reestablishing itself with dreary predictability, the natural state of mankind for thousands of years, and while its followers are nominally Islamic, they are a weed which only sprouts in the soil of a lawless state. The national boundaries of the Middle East were drawn up by Sykes and Picot, a pair of scheming liars who betrayed the Arabs, ensuring future internal discord for centuries. Africa, too, labors under onerous procrustean borders, the lasting legacy of colonialism. This is not civil war. This is the curse of tribalism writ large in our day.

General Odom questions the Iraqi military's allegiances: to whom will they be loyal? The Iran/Iraq War showed both Iraqi Sunnis and Shii united against Iran, and from that war was forged a national identity. The Arabic-speaking Shii clerics of Karbala and Najaf have been rivals of the Farsi-speaking clerics of Qom in Iran for centuries. Sistani, whose native language is Farsi, attempts to preach tolerance and forebearance, and in the main, it works where he has influence. To the Arabic-speaking Shii, Iran is a ruinous Mordor: no matter how bad things may become in Iraq, neither the Da'wa nor SCIRI factions would willingly abandon the current model, and devolve into a Hizb'allah (read Iran's Revolutionary Guard, the pasdaran) and Syrian-dominated Lebanon. We have set the stage for another Lebanon in the creation of a confessional democracy, if we cannot empower Iraq's constitutional powers effectively. Of course democracy in Iraq will not look like ours, it will more closely resemble Switzerland, with powerful cantons and a weak central government. The Swiss do not quarrel among themselves, nor does India's vast collection of tribes and languages: democracy has not yet failed in Iraq. It has not yet had time to fail. Our own history produced a Shay's Rebellion or two before we realized the need for an effective central government, and a constitution to that effect.

These things will sort themselves out in time, the American Revolution and the preceding French and Indian Wars featured many atrocities based on shifting political and tribal allegiances. What followed, in our country, was the wholesale slaughter of the Native Indians, let us not shriek too loudly about this sort of thing when cultures clash in the Middle East, it has always been so, where the rule of law fails mankind. Our own failure to address the issue of slavery in the Constitution led to divided loyalties, culminating in the Civil War. It has taken us more than 200 years to achieve our own More Perfect Union, and today the leaderless nation descends into a resentful apathy. The voice of reason is brought low with much shouting and recrimination, the War in Iraq has become a Blame Game. Our own allegiances are in doubt, and we follow witless leaders in both the White House in Congress, who lack vision enough to solve our problems, whose time is wasted on damnation of the other side and the prostitution of the good offices. Satmars and Lubovitschers get along better than our own Congress. It is a national disgrace.

The War on Terror is fundamentally a war on crime, and a soldier is not a policeman. He who washes plates with a hammer must not expect to eat off unbroken crockery. Once, I stood, a gawky trainee, listening to Drill Sergeant McFarlane expound on this topic: "War is what happens when politicians stop doing their goddamn jobs, and wars end when they start doing their jobs again. In the meantime, the in-between time, it's up to us."

The Iraqi soldier gets 24 days of training. This is actually an improvement. They used to only get 14 days of training. A current American recruit gets 9 weeks of Basic training and at least another 9 weeks of AIT, or 16 weeks of combined BASIC/AIT called OSUT, just for infantry. That's often followed up by more training. I was in training for far longer. General Odom says: "The problem in Iraq is not military competency; it is political consolidation." Every officer in TRADOC would disagree with his belief 24 days of training produces competent servicemen.

Moktada Sadr's troops and commanders were appallingly inept, and were crushed in their abortive uprising. While other, more sanguine commanders, such as the Badr Brigade and the rump Fedayeen Saddam maintained an effective Mao-type insurgency, Moktada Sadr and his soldiery duplicated the disastrous techniques of the Vietcong in the Tet Offensive, and Sadr's troops were crushed by the same Marines who beat them to a pulp at Hue and Khe Sanh.

Giap's stupid gamble at Tet, (for which Giap was relieved of command) is now well-understood. General Odom and Jack Murtha seem quite willing to repeat America's parallel idiocy of unilateral withdrawal from Vietnam in Iraq. Walter Cronkite stood atop the Caravelle Hotel, with the smoke of Cho Lon rising over his shoulder, and told America the war was not winnable, leading LBJ to say, "If we've lost Cronkite, we've lost America".

Reality Check: the smoke rising from Cho Lon was a city block on fire, set by the ethnic Chinese, burning out the Vietcong who had murdered hundreds of Chinese during the Tet Offensive. The Vietcong at Tet learned the ordinary Vietnamese had no interest in supporting the cause of Communism. The Tet Offensive, we now know from the historical record, nearly drove the North Vietnamese to surrender. Only the antiwar movement in the USA saved them from defeat. Nixon went to the Communists, and cynically sold the Vietnamese and Lao people into abjectest slavery. How could this be? We had achieved a stunning victory over an entrenched guerilla movement, heroic victories at Hue and Khe Sanh, the obliteration of the Vietcong. But by then, so many Bright Shining Lies had been told, the truth was not believed.

What, then, should we do to extricate our soldiers from Saigon-upon-Tigris? I would embark upon a massive retraining of Iraq's military and policemen, bringing them up to proper readiness levels, preferably in the United States. I repeat, the current Iraqi soldier has 24 days of training, and the policemen are worthless. We should send as many Likely Lads as possible to Officer Candidate School, here in the United States as will come. I believe the same should be done with Iraqi police officers.

A bit of Devil's Advocacy here: we've trained officers before. A great many tinhorn dictators and generalissimos have passed through the doors of the School of the Americas, and Norman Schwartzkopf's father, the celebrated policeman associated with the Lindbergh Baby would later train the Shah of Iran's dreaded SAVAK. My solution has serious shortcomings, I acknowledge them, but I cannot see a better solution for Iraq, which lets us withdraw in good order and provides some bulwark against the terrorists.

General Odom's assertion of a large officer corps with plenty of experience from the Iran-Iraq War is baffling: Iraq's prosecution of the war against Iran featured a horrible campaign strategy for every battle: Saddam's campaigns may be used as textbook examples of stupidity. The entire Iraqi Army, pushing towards Tehran, with every prospect of success, halted and dug in. Iran took appalling casualties, sending children forward to their deaths. The Iraqi soldiers were sickened to shoot them. Saddam Hussein's military commanders were Yes Men and Zampolit. Saddam's chief complaint, whilst he still had power, was that everyone would lie to him. He once asked one of his subordinates, after Gulf War One, what he thought of the war. The subordinate, in a moment of inspired bravery, replied "It was the most disastrous war in the history of the world." Saddam grumbled and replied, "That's your opinion." Find that subordinate, and install him as SecDef in the new Iraq.

A rapid reversal of our present course in Iraq would produce the same results as our rapid reversal in Vietnam. The lasting legacy of Vietnam was not the loss of external credibility, as General Odom asserts, it would be our belief in ourselves which was lost. The Cold War would continue well into the time of Ronald Reagan, and our cynical proxy war against the Russians in Afghanistan, and our subsequent cynical abandonment of Afghanistan to the Taliban, would sow the seeds which blossomed on 9/11. If the price of idealistic engagement is high, the price of cynical unilateral withdrawal will be higher, in the long run, for if Iraq is abandoned, I predict with absolute certainty we will find ourselves engaged in Egypt, where a largely unknown war on Islamism is going hugely awry, Algeria-style, one atrocity after another, in an escalating tit for tat between an undemocratic regime and a hardened insurgency. Cynicism has its price, and that price is the soul.

Of course we must leave Iraq, and the current course of action is hugely counterproductive. There is another way, we must leave a well-trained corps of policemen and soldiers behind to enforce the rule of law against the gangsters arising in its midst. It answers Iraq's own heart-wringing cry for security, it is all they ask, and they can do it themselves thereafter. And they will do it.

We have two problems here and this is a well-thought out essay.

1) The Mahdi Army was crushed and came back smarter and better trained. Sadr has more bodies than we do, three thousand dead is a small loss. The NVA wasn't just beat at Khe Sahn, they were defeated in a four month campaign which started there, continued through tet and ended at Dong Ha. Then the CIA went after the Viet Cong Infrastructure with the Phoenix Program. The Madhi Army is stronger now than in 2004 and controls Basra and East Baghdad.

2) Any Iraqi who comes to the US will have his family killed.

See,when you have shitty intelligence, bad things happen. Once that list is drawn up, you have a death list. They can't leave their families behind, and if they leave, they can't come back.

A lot of people forget the all-penetrating intelligence of the resistance. They can murder the french fry guy.Families kill those who inform to the US. Even delivering aid can get you killed. Imagine 1000 Iraqis leaving for the US. Their families would be instant targets.

The police are totally penetrated now. Training them in the US is just training Sadr's new police force as well as exposing their families to murder.

I'm sorry, but to say India's vast tribes don't fight each other is to be woefully ignorant of Indian history. Look, two Indian prime ministers were assasinated in the last 20 years.

But the core problem is that Iraq has no real government,just squabbling factions. All of the main players exist outside the government, but can control it. No one is loyal to it. Train the army, you get more effective militia fighters.

Haditha is what you get when you send people back to war over and over. The Army is about to lose NCO's and officers who like their wives enough to quit the Army and save their marriage. Most people want nothing to do with enlistment. So the clock is running before the Army falls apart.

All we can do is leave Iraq .We cannot save it and they aren't interested in doing so.

posted by Steve @ 1:42:00 AM

1:42:00 AM

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