. . . Comes this report from Bryan and Michelle of Hot Air who have spent about a week there trying to gain a better perspective on the truth from personal experience, soldier interviews and the Iraqi’s themselves.
Michelle and I spent four days patrolling the environs around Forward Operating Base Justice in north and west Baghdad last week.
Most people in the states don’t realize that most of Baghdad’s violence is confined to areas where Shia and Sunni mix. No one so much as threw a rock at us, and the troops were greeted in a friendly manner nearly everywhere they went.
This post is mostly about mistakes. The troops didn’t sit down with us and tick off all the mistakes that they think we have made in Iraq to date, so what follows isn’t their gripe list being published under my name.
1. No plan for the post war period. Iraq spent 35 years under a level of brutality and police state paranoia that can’t be wished away or even driven away by any military force, no matter how powerful. Iraq also is a mix of Shia and Sunni, Arab and Kurd, Baathist and victim, tribe and family, and that make it an inherently complicated place to do anything. The defeat of Saddam’s regime did far more damage to the country’s basic civil order than anyone could have anticipated, and that collapse can only be remedied through time with an intense effort not to rebuild the country along any of its old lines of operation, but as an effort to build it as an essentially new country.
2. Leaving Iran alone. An intelligence officer in Iraq (not at Camp Justice), used the phrase “uninterrupted flow of weapons and ammunition” when I asked him how much Iran was influencing the violence in Iraq. The fact is, Iran has been sending more and more weaponry into Iraq in the past year to 18 months, and it has been assisting the insurgents and the militias (Shia and Sunni alike) in supplying what the Army calls “explosive force projectile” IEDs. The Iranians want Iraq to remain unstable and they want us to have to keep a large force there dealing with the insurgents, terrorists and militias, which is why the ISG’s belief that chaos in Iraq is against Iran’s interests was met with such derision by the troops in Iraq. And believe me, it was.
3. Pullbacks and soft failures. Leaving Moqtada al-Sadr alive was a mistake, when we had him surrounded in 2004. The reason he was allowed to live remains a mystery to the troops in the field, and feeds the notion that they’re not being told all that they need to know to win this war. The pullback from Fallujah likewise taught the insurgents and militia that we’re reluctant to settle scores and battle against direct challenges to our authority. Abu Ghraib continues to be a major public relations disaster, and is continually used to smear our good troops in the field every day by the left in the West and by the terrorist propagandists around the world. Abu Ghraib is one of many points upon which many on the left have made alliance with the terrorists, as they both use it to run a PR pincer attack against the US military. The fact that the military cleaned up the Abu Ghraib mess, and the fact that the terrorists themselves do worse things every day as part of their mainline strategy, doesn’t deter the left/terrorists in their continual Abu Ghraib-based attacks. Continuing to use Abu Ghraib by pundits in the west is unserious and reflects a basic ignorance of the fight; either that, or an alliance with the enemy.
4. Iraqi elections held too early. The triumph of the purple fingers was actually a failure, according to more than one Iraqi we spoke with. Iraq wasn’t yet ready for self rule and still isn’t.
5. Misunderstanding the fundamentals. War is about killing people and breaking things in order to achieve a political or existential/security objective. The Iraq war was about removing Saddam as a threat, and that mission was accomplished in 2003.
Calling Iraq a “civil war” misunderstands the nature of Iraq and the term “civil war.” Most of Iraq’s warring parties don’t have any chance at taking over the entire country and don’t seem interested in doing so. Most of them are reacting to the vaccuum of power since the iron grip of Saddam slipped off the country.
6. Assuming Iraq will conform only to unreasonable expectations which are based on ignorance of counterinsurgency warfare. The troops in Iraq will tell you about three successful American occupations if you ask them–the Philippines, Japan and Germany. The latter two took five years to go from defeated enemy to ally, and decades after that before they really stood on their own feet. The Philippine insurgency took 8 years to quell and that country still has myriad problems that keep it from enjoying true First World status a century after the US put down its insurgency. Iraq is a far more complex place than either Japan, Germany or the Philippines and should therefore be expected to take longer to make the full transition to standalone state. But not knowing the history of America’s counterinsurgency operations has led us to want quick, clean victory where it just isn’t possible and never was.
7. Media misconduct and malpractice leading to flagging homefront morale. The media is incurious, generally unethical in its approach to reporting Iraq and far more skeptical of the US military than it is of the insurgents, the militias and even the Iranians. The media hardly ever reports on victories in Iraq because the kinds of things that demonstrate real success just aren’t sexy, and perhaps because at their core they don’t believe in victory.
Re-opening a school in Iraq means civil society itself has returned to that school’s community. It’s a big deal. But the media doesn’t understand that and doesn’t care to, preferring to focus on combat operations and sectarian killings while it farms its daily reporting duties out to very dubious agents and stringers. The MSM’s methods in Iraq feed the insurgency’s propaganda needs and damage our efforts to win.
Iraq is still very winnable. There are mistakes in every war. Most Iraqis want our troops there now, just not forever. Our troop morale is very high and they are focused on goals that they believe are attainable and will make Iraq stable. Most of the troops we spoke with support the surge; a minority don’t but it doesn’t seem to be a contentious issue. Democracy in Iraq probably won’t look like democracy here when the fight is over (and presuming that we here at home see it through), but if we correct our mistakes and change the media and political dynamics here, we can and should win. The price of failure is that Iraq would become a true hub for an al Qaeda that would see its “victory” in Iraq as Somalia times 100. Iraqi oil dollars would fuel this new terrorist power as long as Iraq’s oil infrastructure holds out. From secure bases in Iraq, the terrorists’ aims and capabilities would be practically limitless. Faith in America as a war ally would be shaken from Europe to Asian and everywhere else.
So whether we win u
gly or pretty, we have to win. And we can.