Slow Motion Saigon, Part II

First, Happy Easter. And to those of you who happen to be Shi’a and Jewish, a belated Happy Arba’ain and Happy Passover, respectively. Here in Colorado, it’s a bright, sunny, yet cold day, with snow crowning Pike’s Peak. And this is yet another long post.
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I read the August 6 PDB last night. I have to agree with Josh Marshall; it’s not a thermonuclear document–that is, it doesn’t say, “al-Qaeda is going to hijack 4 planes, and fly them into buildings in New York and Washington, DC at 8:46 AM on September 11, 2001.”

But the dots are there. The title is alarming enough–“Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”; this from a guy whose group had already staged several successful attacks (Khobar Towers, 1995; African Embassies, 1998; USS Cole, 2000, not to mention the first WTC attack, back in 1993).

So how much more of a warning do you want?

But it gets worse. From the PDB:

Nevertheless, FBI information since that time [1998] indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.

The FBI is conducting approximately 70 investigations throughout the U.S. that it considers Bin Laden-related. CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group of Bin Laden supporters was in the U.S. planning attacks with explosives.

If that doesn’t set off alarm bells in your head, what does?

But the President insists that there wasn’t “actionable” intelligence.

“Well, we were waiting for Osama to drop by with Bandar, tell us what he was up to.”

Look, the Bush response to this memo–indeed, to the whole threat of terrorism, and the prospect of hundreds, if not thousands of American deaths–was put best by Atrios:

August 6, 2001: Bush receives brief entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.
August 7, 2001: Bush begins longest Presidential vacation in history at Crawford, TX
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Meanwhile, in Iraq, more American deaths (the total is now 656 dead, with 3,510 wounded), more mayhem, and while all this is going on, the President is doing what he does best: taking time off, giving tours to outdoor sports reporters of his sprawling ranch. The contrast is vivid:

The picture of the President traipsing around with his pals was taken on Thursday. Today, he attended Easter Sunday services at Ft. Hood, and awarded 10 Purple Hearts to soldiers there who were wounded in action, before flying back to the shelter of the Western White House.
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Some of you have emailed me, saying that I sound, well, defeatist, and asking me why I don’t sound more like, say, the esteemed Lt. Smash.

Let me dispel that now, quick, fast, and in a hurry.

Militarily, we won’t just win; we’ll triumph. Our firepower is greater than theirs, our organization is better than theirs, and our weaponry is better than theirs. We’ve won every skirmish we’ve fought with the insurgents, including these last few with the Army of the Mehdi (al-Sadr’s gang).

But wars aren’t just fought in the military sphere, they’re fought in the political sphere as well, and that’s something that we keep on forgetting.

Simple numbers tell the tale. There are about 130,000 American troops there; there are about 23 million Iraqis. Of that number, only a precious few are actively involved in the insurgency. At most, it’s probably 50,000 to 60,000, across the whole breadth of Iraq.

And of that number, I happen to think, based on some good circumstantial evidence, that only 5% to 10% of that number is actively involved all of the time. So we’re really only fighting between 2,500 and 6,000 insurgents, with more on occassion, but that’s the hard core.

The problem is, they can melt in and out of Iraqi society–and we are none the wiser when they do so. In order for us to defeat them, we have to turn Iraqis against their own. And that’s an incredibly hard thing thing to do anywhere.

It all comes down to hearts and minds, really. And our tactics in subduing places like Najaf, Kut, Baqubah, and, most importantly, Fallujah are losing us Iraqi hearts and minds, not winning them. I emphasize Fallujah because that benighted city has now become a symbol to the entire Arab world, nearly on the level of Gaza or the West Bank.

But, at any rate, if we’re going to quell the Iraqi insurgency, then we have three options, based on Mao’s definition of the guerrilla being a fish in the sea of the people:

1. Remove the fish from the sea: Hard to do, especially if you can’t tell one fish from the other. And we can’t; we don’t speak the language, we don’t practice the religion, and we don’t share the culture. And our ostensible allies aren’t cooperating–the ICDC and the Iraqi Police are cooperating with the insurgents.

2. Drain the sea: Um, yeah, right. We’re not going to do that, despite what Andy Sullivan’s Marine correspondent may say. The collateral damage is far, far too great, and it’s not what our military does. We don’t turn urban areas teeming with civilians, like Fallujah, into free-fire areas, even if the civilians aren’t friendly, so to speak. We just don’t do it–the Law of War, which we adhere to, forbids it.

3. Make the sea inhospitable: I think that’s our best–really, our only option. Flood the Iraqi zone, especially Fallujah, with money instead of troops. Take the billions that we’re funneling to outfits like Bechtel and Halliburton, and instead give it to Iraqis. Remove the troops from Fallujah and send in Iraqis with money, to fund any and all projects that the residents might have in mind. Our soft power is far stronger than our hard power.

But I don’t think that last option will be considered, for a variety of reasons, mostly dealing with our domestic politics. So more of our troops will die, more Iraqis will die, and the prospects of a stable Iraqi society will grow ever dimmer.

And while we will win the war militarily, we’ll lose it politically. And, in time, our will to continue will be sapped, and we will withdraw in ignominy.

A slow-motion Saigon–that’s all this is.

UPDATE: Well, the British seem to agree with me. The whole article, by Sean Rayment of the London Telegraph is good, but the last two lines stick out:

“The US will have to abandon the sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut approach – it has failed,” he said.

“They need to stop viewing every Iraqi, every Arab as the enemy and attempt to win the hearts and minds of the people.”

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One response to “Slow Motion Saigon, Part II

  1. I would like to posit a counter point: Superior technology, equipment, and training, a war does not win. Without resorting to Clauswitz, or Sun Tzu, the common sense thing to realize is that the US’s Will to win and reshape Iraq into something other than it was never existed in the first place.
    Our only political objective was to uncover WMDs and prove to the world that Saddam was part and parcel of the terrorist connection, and his removal was an addendum added on to the primary goal. The fact that no WMD’s were found made the removal of Saddam and the forgoing, “he’s a bad, bad man” only a moral evolution of the war, not the purpose of the war.
    We never had inplace a political objective, we just borrowed Chalabai’s and the AEI’s political agenda, but we didn’t develope one of our own for us to follow. Bush wanted play it by ear is my guess.
    Now we’re faced with a political and military quagmire that will require more boots on the ground (give credit where credit is due, our Generals there are probably teeth grindingly mad that Bush and his team aren’t taking this mess seriously), and it’s not because the insurgents are kicking our butt. No, rather it’s because the insurgents have revealed how empty our political commitment is to Iraq, and thats why Sistani, or any other incountry leader isn’t ponying up and telling Sadr to back his a$$ down. These guys want to see George W. and his jolly gang show they are willing to put a lot of political and economic weight behind all the political stumping that Bush is pushing here in the US.
    In short, the guys who count want Bush to put up or shut-up. If Bush puts up, I can guarantee we would see Sadr having an accident somewhere, and a lot of the Feedayeen suddenly being turned in.
    If Bush doesn’t well…I forsee problems for a long time to come.