Daydream Believer

What a day. I’ve spent the vast majority of it helping my dad set up his home wireless network, and most of yesterday was taken up with travelling here to Washington, DC, so I haven’t had much chance to write or even catch up on the news.

Jim Henley and Rich Puchalsky do a good job of demolishing my proposed plan, as does Matt Yglesias. Rich’s the most forceful about it, saying that it’s a tissue of fantasies.

My response? Yeah, it is. For one, we’re not going to implement a draft anytime soon, or anytime in the long term, for that matter. A draft is a political killer, because, for better or worse, it brings back way too many memories of (shhhhh!) Vietnam. Plus, as Jim mentioned, the mechanics of training all those personnel will take months, if not in fact, years.

There’s lots of reasons why military commanders are loath to suffer casualties, but one of the bigger ones is that it takes a lot of time and money to train soldiers to do anything. And even after they complete basic training and AIT, they still have to be trained to do a vast number of tasks on the job. So, everytime you lose a soldier, you have to find a trained replacement. And if you have to train him, then that takes away from other tasks that you have to complete.

The cultural training? Yeah, you can snicker at the 5 days, but, frankly, that’s five days more than what we’re getting now. 99% of everything I learned about Iraq and the Middle East, I learned on my own, through reading books and asking my fiancee (a Middle Eastern Studies major), among others, about the region. Hate to break it to you, but I’m the vast exception to most soldiers in that area. Most of my guys still think that Arabs and Kurds are the same–and anyone who’s been around either will quickly be disabused of the notion. So, we can wish for more, but it will not happen. That’s about as good as it will get–and people will still think that it’s a waste of time.

Mixing with the locals? Sure, it will provide targets. So what? The only way wars like this can be won is by getting dirty, by engaging with the locals day in and out. It’s the only way you’re going to become familiar with the lay of the land, and with who can be trusted and who cannot. It becomes a lot harder to shoot that man down if you know him, if he’s your neighbor, if you buy food from him everyday. It’s why neighborhood block watches are so effective–if you live in the village, you notice anyone that suddenly shows up.

Right now, we don’t know who the foreign instigators are, and we surely cannot tell them apart from the locals. We’d have a better idea if we resided inside the cities themselves.

Proper training? Yeah, the Iraqis need it. They don’t have a working knowledge of anything we’d recognize as the “rule of law” over there. Search and seizure? No clue. Evidentiary procedure? Sure. Rights of the accused? Riiiiiight. That’s the kind of training I’m talking about. Right now, all we’re doing is marching them around for a week or two, giving them weapons and uniforms, and sending them out into the streets. We don’t know who’s a bad apple, or who would be a good cop, and longer training periods would help with that. And let’s not forget unit cohesion, either.

What kind of proper training helps them support the occupation? Well, I don’t know about the occupation, but in about 75 or so days, we’re going to attempt to turn over the administration of Iraq over to some kind of government (however unwise that move is). It would help if there was a security system in place to help support that government and secure the streets, for starters.

What kind of training helps them shoot their own people? The same kind that helps our cops shoot Americans, I guess. That’s where unit cohesion comes in, because if you have that sense of eliteness, of being part of an “other”, then it makes doing those kinds of things easier.

[Sidebar: Let’s not kid ourselves here. I’ll give many Iraqis credit: a lot of the insurgents do seem motivated by wanting to free Iraq from our occupation. But as many, or more, seem bent on violence for the sake of violence. It’s worth noting that we know exactly squat about what the insurgents want to do with Iraq should they take over. If anything, this insurgency has one motivation: get the U.S. out. It would help knowing what they want after that, because I think that’s more important, and harder to achieve.

Yes, I know what al-Sadr wants: an Iranian-style theocracy. But what do the Sunnis want? Anyone? I’m not heartened by the lack of knowledge on that score.]

Reconstruction? Sure, it keeps on getting blown up. But a year on, it’s shocking just how much of it hasn’t been rebuilt. Roads, buildings, power plants, you name it. There’s a lot of stuff that hasn’t been blown up, but rather, has been cannibalized. If we were to invest in that stuff, the rebuilding of Iraq would be further along. Which brings me to my next point.

Dismantling, not disarming. I’m not asking for people to communally disarm–never have. It would never work. But as I’ve mentioned before, one of the biggest inducements to join these militias isn’t any kind of patriotic fervor–it’s the steady paychecks. If we were to offer a massive jobs program, with decent, steady paychecks for those who are working, it’s safe to say that a lot of the militia membership would at least dwindle, and hopefully wither away to a sufficient number that it would be manageable for us to take on.

Stakeholding? Well, yes, one way to do that is pull up and leave. But if we do that, what is the guarantee that the majority of Iraqis will have a stake in what happens? For better or worse, I adhere to what’s been dubbed the “Pottery Barn” school of foreign policy–you break it, you own it. We decided, through our actions, to destroy Iraq. We now owe it to Iraqis to put the country back on its feet. I think that anything else is irresponsible.

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7 responses to “Daydream Believer

  1. Your recommendations simply sound to me like a better intentioned “stay the course.”

    If the course was wrong to begin with, it’s wrong to “stay it.”

    You have to identify what the problem is and solve it. If the problem is OUR PRESENCE, then the solution is fairly clear. Hand it over to the Iraqis and leave. The problem is not them, but us, and our insistence on forcing them into cultural models that are inappropriate for them, which they do not want, and are violently resisting.

    The rest is commentary, but I’ll comment anyway.

    About that heightened presence business, Kevin Drum has an email that argues directly against it. I’ll quote the relevant section:

    The Army is just making things worse for the coalition. The Army is intent on having its presence seen and felt in Iraq because they think that will make everyone think they are in charge. What they don’t seem to realize is that a large military presence is the one thing, pretty much the only thing, the Iraqis can’t tolerate. Despite reports by the news media to the contrary, Iraqis don’t resent the humanitarian projects, or the rebuilding effort, or even the U.S. being in control of the government until the transition. Sure the Iraqis want to be in charge, but the majority can tolerate the situation until a transition happens, even if it’s months down the road. But what they can NOT tolerate is waking up every day and seeing army tanks and Bradleys rolling through their towns and villages. And they can’t tolerate being stopped by endless Army checkpoints on the highways, which were set up by commanding officers who think terrorists and insurgents haven’t figured out a way yet to avoid those checkpoints. That’s what the Iraqis resent and can’t tolerate, along with a thousand other ways the Army makes its presence felt (and I didn’t even mention having your door kicked in at 2 am because of some “hot Army intel”).

    Do you think this would stop with a little cultural training and better block patrols? In fact, your recommendations would probably lead to a total breakdown of soldier’s morale and create the potential of atrocities. Soldiers and civilians don’t mix. For good reason.

    This is a war, the soldiers are not there to police the place and play b-ball with the kids. They are soldiers: killers and pawns. Soldiers function best when their objective is clear and they accomplish the mission under strict supervision by a hierarchy that knows how to deploy them and stop them when they have finished the job.

    Every one of your recommendations would only muddy their objectives further and lead to a disintegration of morale. I cannot think of a worse combination of factors: young men who hate the locals, want to go home, and have to pretend to be social workers.

    “The only way wars like this can be won is by getting dirty…”

    Wars like this cannot be won. It’s that simple.

  2. Rich Puchalsky

    Thanks for following up on your previous post. I’m going to respond to just part of your follow-up, because of limited time:

    With regard to training Iraqi forces: you write that we should train them in rule of law: “Search and seizure? No clue. Evidentiary procedure? Sure. Rights of the accused? Riiiiiight.” Need I point out that all of these describe the actions of our own troops in keeping order? How are we supposed to train Iraqi troops to follow rules that we ourselves aren’t following, and that probably can’t be followed when you’re trying to put down an insurgency?

    And yes, if Iraqi troops felt a sense of eliteness, of being an other, that would help them shoot other Iraqis. I beleive that this is exactly how you would train a death squad. Do we really want to do this?

    “[Sidebar: Let’s not kid ourselves here. I’ll give many Iraqis credit: a lot of the insurgents do seem motivated by wanting to free Iraq from our occupation. But as many, or more, seem bent on violence for the sake of violence. It’s worth noting that we know exactly squat about what the insurgents want to do with Iraq should they take over. If anything, this insurgency has one motivation: get the U.S. out.”

    Imagine that the U.S. became a more or less failed country and was invaded and occupied by Islamic forces who wanted to set up an Islamic state. Who would the resisters be? I can easily imagine the occupiers looking at media reports of the resistance and saying the same kind of thing you’ve written above. Like, those resisters in the middle of the country seem to be motivated by religion, those on the west coast keep talking about the rights of women, the center of resistance around the old capital seems to want a restoration of the old order, etc. The point is that divisions in a country don’t go away just because a country has been invaded; naturally the resisters will want different things, even if they all come together to drive out the invaders.

    As for many resisters being “bent on violence for the sake of violence”? Please. People who want violence for the sake of violence beat their wives or kids, they don’t go out to confront heavily armed troops. It’s a rare violence-lover who is willing to get killed, and I would guess that those few do get killed in short order. By their own resistance cell members, probably, before they get the rest of their cell killed.

    Finally, the Pottery Barn. Do the people who use this expression have any idea how condescending it is? Imagine that you raped a woman, causing severe emotional trauma. Does that mean that you now should forceably control that woman’s actions for the rest of her life, because otherwise she might hurt herself? Whenever she tries to escape from you, you say, “Sorry. I broke you, I bought you.”?

  3. Right now, we don’t know who the foreign instigators are, and we surely cannot tell them apart from the locals. We’d have a better idea if we resided inside the cities themselves.

    I bet if you surveyed the Iraqis they’d tell you the foreign instigators are the Americans.

    I find it rather bitterly amusing that the Americans, foreigners in Iraq, so frequently carry on about “foreign infiltration.”

  4. Diana, any war can be won. The question is does the US have the will to win?
    I think not.

  5. No, not every war can be won. If you don’t know what you wanted when you started it, if you don’t know who the enemy is, if the enemy and the war goals keep changing, then the war will never be won. Just as no project can be completed on time, on budget and to the customer’s satisfaction if the scope, budget and project plan are not in place. Even a civilian ought to know that.

  6. What catches my eye is the jobs program strategy.

    This was a socialist country, and suddenly nearly everyone was unemployed.

    No wonder men picked up RPGs.

    If half that 87 billion was poured into WPA-style makework, for just a couple of years, how different Iraq would be today.

    You work an eight-hour day in a hot climate, you don’t have the energy to set up ambushes.

    And the reconstruction would’ve gone much further than Halliburton’s gold-plated projects.

    Too late? I dunno. Worth a try, though.

  7. “Wars like this cannot be won. It’s that simple.”

    Truer words were never spoken, Diana!

    Lili