The war post…….

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MONTCALM

But so many suns have set since Le Renard
struck the war post. Is he not tired? 

MAGUA
 Where is that sun?! It has gone behind the hill.
It is dark and cold. It has set on his people,
they are fooled and kill all the animals and sell
all of their lands to enrich the European masters
who are always greedy for more than they need………..

Magua was taken as a slave by the Mohawks
who fought for the Grey Hair. Magua’s wife
believed he was dead and became the wife of
another. The Grey Hair was the father of all
this.

I’ve been  struggling with whether to do a post about the 5 year anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq. By John McCain’s counter we are only 5% into this adventure. We still have 95 years to go.

Now its important to note up front-that I believed then and I still believe now that invading Iraq was a mistake, not in the long term interests of the United States, and would do nothing to further the safety and or long term influence of the United States within the Middle East. If anything, the United States adventure in Iraq has convinced me of the wisdom of my belief that when it comes to the Middle East, less would be more as far as military presence is concerned. I also come down in agreement with Fox Fallon that any military action against Iran would be the stupidest thing that this president, or any other president for that matter could do. I will not allow myself to be sucked into the ranks of the easily deluded who choose simply to focus on the tactical successes of the US military and ignore the longer term implications that the involvement in Iraq poses for the United States and for the rest of the world.

Even if you decide that my position is wrong, let me ask you this one question. When does the United States get to hold the Iraqis responsible for the success of their own country?

Based on the answers of the war’s leading supporters the answer would seem to be never.  Which probably leads to the real problem that exists as the different sides of the aisle view the war’s 5 year point, neither side wants to look deeply and examine the facts, the statistics and the trends because if they do the situation is not clear cut in any sort of conclusion for either side. Which means that in the long run, the United States is in a problem because of decisions that were made 4 years ago and drive the problem now. I will explain by looking at some of the common statements about where we are now.

1)The surge is working and it is driving down casualties. True. But it is not driving down US casualties in a linear fashion. If one looks at the entire war’s casualty figures in detail, the way a statistician would what the numbers will tell you is that the casualty figures are simply returning to a baseline figure-which in the case of the US side means an average of about 30 KIA per month. Don’t believe me? Check the numbers. What that may mean is that the US has adopted a “lower your standards” philosophy such that if the numbers can stay below a news worthy threshold, the public will pay less attention to the war and so it can go on ad infinitum betting that the Iraqis may actually get there stuff together and produce a government. As for Iraqi casualties since the surge? Down yes-but reduced to a level that says there is real security across the country? I don’t think so-again look at the numbers.

2)It does not matter what mistakes were made in the past, we need to perservere now. Ok fine. However what that statement really means is that the government of the United States and the people who serve in it, are given a free pass to really misread the data in front of them, make flawed assumptions about the tenor of the Iraqi people and the number of forces required to execute a presidentially directed invasion-and they get a free pass for doing something that caused death and injury to over 27,000 Americans and over 500,000 Iraqis. There are personal injury lawyers making money every day putting a lie to that theory. Furthermore, if you give the administration a pass on Iraq in terms of accountability, it gives a future administration the ability make the same mistake again. For that one reason alone the Wolfwitz’s, Bremer’s, Rumsfeld’s and others need to be held to the bar. In particular Rumsfeld because he was the one who was charged with resourcing the armed forces and he failed to follow or recognize the validity of the Powell doctrine. I still feel strongly, that if the US had gone in large up front-including a massive air campaign targeted at reducing Iraqi cities to rubble-the overall progress would actually be better than what is present now.

3) The Iraqi government is starting to make real political progress.  Oh really? Then someone please explain just a few of these developments: Gen Petreaus himself stated that  “no one” in the U.S. and Iraqi governments “feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation,” or in the provision of basic public services. ; The Shorja market that John McCain visited in spring of 2007 to prove that Iraq is safe was not very safe then, since he had to have a lot of protection. But it is even less safe today, being policed by the Mahdi Army militia, according to CNN.; Al-Hayat writing in Arabic says that it is especially the Awakening Council members in Baghad who say they will strike; and finally, on any given day there are on average 12 significant acts of violence across the entire country.  There are a host of other examples of things like this-they don’t meet the definition of progress by any standard I am aware of.

There are other bad indicators as well.  As Fareed Zakaria points out:

A Pentagon report to Congress last week admitted that “all four components of the hydrocarbon law are stalled.” The law on provincial elections passed but was then vetoed by the presidency council, specifically by Shiite Vice President Adel Abdel Mehdi, whose party now runs most of southern Iraq and does not wish to take its chances in new elections. And it’s worth noting that the laws that passed did so only after months of intense wrangling, which produced an 82-82 tie that was broken by the Sunni speaker of Parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani. Finally, all these measures I’ve mentioned add up to only three or four of the 18 benchmarks set out by the Maliki government and the Bush administration to judge their own progress.

The other “reforms” that every one crows about are not in any better shape. It is reported that:

some of the 80,000 members of the Awakening Councils or Concerned Local Citizens in Diyala Province and elsewhere are going to go on strike. Many of them say that they haven’t been paid for a while. Others complain about their continued subjection to the Shiite government (this complaint is common in Diyala Province). Still others resent the refusal of the al-Maliki government to integrate them into the formal state security services.

4) The Iraqi army is growing in terms of numbers and in terms of its professionalism. Ok fine. I’ll buy the numbers piece-with 426,000 soldiers under arms, the nation of Iraq has 2% of its population in armed service. Now mind you this is balanced against a population of only 25 million. Furthermore that’s only 100,000 less than the entire size of the US Army-and it is deployed in more than one country. Perhaps the statistic would have more meaning if it were not always accompanied by the following statement: “early withdrawal of US troops from Iraq would lead to “chaos and genocide across the region”. In other words-AFTER 5 YEARS the Iraqi Armed forces are still not capable of shouldering the load for their own security. That’s not much of a vote of confidence in our training program or theirs if you ask me. Or perhaps it means that there has not been as much progress as we have been led to believe.

 Summary- To say that Iraq is making progress requires the person saying it to ignore the following things: 1) The overall level of violence in the country which is still high-it is just not as high as it was at the same time last year.  Right now many Americans are rejoicing because the death toll in Iraq is back down to the levels of three years ago, but those numbers horrified us back then and they remain hard for the Iraqis to live with now. 2) The notion of progress means that one has to accept that the US has turned its back on its original goals for Iraq.  As  Christopher Dickey points out:

To put the best face on the new Middle East, you’d have to use a magic mirror that would hide the oceans of blood spilled and the vast mountains of money spent by this administration. You’d have to ignore that old talk about making Iraq a beacon of hope and democracy for the region. You would need to forget the false premises presented to the public as justification for the invasion: that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that he was in league with Al Qaeda. But that’s not so hard. Selective amnesia often presents itself as the judgment of history. If Russian revisionists can rehabilitate Stalin, as they have, then Republican revisionists will no doubt work wonders with the legacy of George W. Bush

And finally, it requires one to accept that the benefit to the US is worth the net cost. And that given the fact that Iraq is weak and unable to accept responsibility for itself-whether that is by accident or design, ( See here for an argument that the reason the Iraqis don’t take responsibility is because that is exactly what the US wants.) it means that the US has to be able to continue to commit indefinite resources to the war. Recent history suggests there is a point where that becomes unsustainable-especially as the economy retrenches and the bill comes due for all the procurement decisions that have been pushed down the pike. Furthermore-the US cannot continue to ignore the other areas where it has large scale military commitments. Anyone remember that little nation called China? Go ask the Dalai Lama.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again-the US has to take a narrow minded and hard nosed view of doing what is in its self interest. The 100 year war in Iraq is not one of them- unless you enjoy seeing the rest of the region get dragged down a rat hole.

So after 5 years, the US is really a lot worse off than it was on March 15 2003. And it has no one to blame but itself.

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It's not easy being me-but the adventures I get to have- make it totally worth it. "One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny."- Bertrand Russell

0 thoughts on “The war post…….

  1. Skippy,

    I don’t believe that anybody is optimistic about what will come from the mess that is the middle east. On the other hand, in the entire history of the world nobody has ever tried to instill a little democracy in the region and it’s an interesting experiment worth trying in my opinion. It probably won’t work the first time but there’s room for branch paths that could lead to some interesting variation.

    For instance, the Kurds have had a sufficient respite from Saddam that they may have been able to pull together and start to learn the benefits of solidarity against external threats. The last time they fought Saddam they put pleasure before business and continued to shoot at each other rather than at the Iraqis that were invading. We could support a seperatist Kurdish state and wouldn’t that be popular! We could go to the UN and make noises about believing in the truth of universal self-determination and demand that the UN allow the Kurdish regions of Turkey and Iran be allowed to vote to join the new Kurdish state. With the universal acceptance of Kossovo’s declaration of independence and statehood we have an excellent case of action.

    On the other hand, we definitely don’t want to stay in Iraq for more time than it takes to get them up and running and then we need to pull out completely. Iraq, like Saudi Arabia, is home to some of the most sacred sites of Islam. In Arabia it was the 2 holy mosques. In Iraq it is the Shiite centers at Karbala, Najaf, etc. If you recall, bin Laden’s terrorists made repeated mention that they acted at 9/11 because America was polluting the 2 holy mosques because the Saud’s let us retain military bases there after the Gulf War. bin Laden or his minions started their efforts to get rid of the US Military presence long before 9/11 when the blew up the Khobar Towers and attacked the SANG HQ where so many Americans worked. We definitely don’t need Iranian fueled shiite terrorists attacking our interests or country because they believe that we pollute their holy sites.

    On the ice cold calculating plane of thought one of the undiscussed benefits of a long war such as the current one is the experience that it leaves in its wake. America has a whole new generation of warriors intimately familiar with war and its arts as practiced on the battlefield and not as learned solely from a book. War is an art and to stay any good at it requires practice.

    I find it interesting and frustrating that people debate the origins of the war as if that matters anymore. Those that state the Saddam never had WMD should ask the gassed and dead Iranians in the Al Faw and further north or ask the gassed and dead Kurds from the Anfal if Saddam ever had WMD. Why, if he had them twice and used them twice, should anyone give benefit to the doubt that he would have them and use them again?

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