Friday, December 31, 2004

What Went Wrong?

Heres a good question I get from time to time- "What went wrong with the plan for Iraq?"

It's a fair question, but I do think that people today lack a true understanding of the nature of war. There seems to be very little historical perspective these days. Everybody wants a "quick and dirty" smackdown followed by immediate withdrawal. "War is fine as long as nobody gets hurt." It just doesn't work like that- in fact, it's never worked like that. As a people, I think we Americans have become a little bit spoiled in that sense. Having said that, I do think there were some "miscalculations" made in this war- here's my take on it...

When I was home between tours, I saw a Bill O' Reilly segment where he boasted that he had the "real scoop" on what went wrong with the pre-war planning. His premise- "Chalabi said the Iraqis would welcome us as liberators and immediately take charge of their country and yadda yadda." But the Iraqis didn't do this- and disaster followed. Well, Bill was close- but he way oversimplified it, and he made no effort to talk about what we were doing to fix it- which was a little disappointing coming from Bill. And I'm not sure why he continues to call the current situation a "disaster" (compared to what, Bill?), but I digress...

It is true that we were mislead by the "uberintellectual" Iraqis (Chalabi is the most often cited), but my experience tells me that these people (even Chalabi) were not lying. They actually believed that the Iraqi people would rise up, thank us, take charge, and live happily ever after. This was an elitist view. Most of these "elites" were exiles who could speak freely and give us their honest assessment- some were Iraqi citizens who were using the Internet and communicating their thoughts at great risk to their own lives. In any case, they were all well-educated, but they proved to be pretty out of touch with the less-educated masses.

Saddam never took many polls during his reign, and I'd be pretty skeptical about any that he did take since he won every "election" by a 100% margin (uncontested of course- they were all "Saddam- yes or no"). He certainly never took a poll that asked "OK, Mr. Joe Iraqi- the US invades and chases me out of power. What will you do?" The fact is nobody really knew what they would do, and so the only thing we (or anybody else) had to go on was the assessment given to us by the Iraqi elites.

As I mentioned, the elites were convinced that Iraqis would stand up for "love of country" and unite against evil. They were wrong. Sure, there were some brave souls who did exactly what was expected- but for the most part, "Joe Iraqi" wanted food for his family and he'd prefer not to be killed. That was pretty much it. He'd grown used to the idea that if he keeps his mouth shut and does nothing, then he's got a better chance of living. The insurgents reinforce this idea several times every day (just watch the news).

In retrospect, I'd say it's pretty silly to think that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis would have had this great "love of country," since the overwhelming majority were brutally oppressed by this country's government for the better part of 30 years. Nobody's going to love such a country. We would have done well to understand that these Iraqis needed a whole new country to love- and it takes a great deal of time to build a whole new country. But I won't fault those who didn't realize this initially- I sure didn't see it. I read books and all that- and I believed Chalabi and the gang. Hindsight is indeed 20/20.

Many Iraqi "intellectuals" were still in denial, even after the invasion. I remember in the first months of the occupation- whenever a car bomb went off or insurgents slaughtered civilians in a school yard, the Iraqi professors that I worked with would say, "They're not Iraqis. Iraqi people simply wouldn't do that"- they just couldn't fathom that Iraqi people would do such things. Well, now we know better.

Sure, there are terrorists from foreign lands in the mix. But there are many Iraqis who are fighting in this insurgency as well- and most of these insurgents (re: terrorists) are serving former regime officials and terrorist thugs like Zarqawi for the very reasons that Dr. Harari spelled out for us- "they promise them the delights, mostly sexual, of the next world, and pay their families handsomely after the supreme act is performed and enough innocent people are dead." But there is also another element here- intimidation. Many Iraqis are forced to make a choice for which they are ill-informed to make- side with the Coalition/IIG, and the insurgents might kill me- side with the insurgency, and the Americans might kill me. Unfortunately, many Iraqis believe that their odds are better if they side with the insurgency. Watch Al Jazeera or (even worse) read any news article from the Associated Press, and you'll understand why they believe this. It's not just the propaganda coming from radical clerics and former Saddamites- it's propaganda (under the pretense of "news") that comes to them from our very own United States of America. Furthermore, Americans won't threaten a man's family if he doesn't join the Iraqi National Guard or agree to "sell out" a terrorist financier. Insurgent leaders, however, will execute a man's entire family just for making a financial transaction with Americans. This is pure intimidation, and it works better than we'd like to think.

Iraq's long term success will be defined by improvement in education, the economy, infrastructure, etc. These are super-long term projects, and they won't have any real impact on whether or not we can get out of Iraq in the next 5-10 years. The only thing that's going to get us out of Iraq sooner than later is improved security. What the Iraqis need right now are courageous leaders to step up and lead these people out of this "beaten-down in the dark ages" mentality. These leaders exist in Iraq- they step up every day at great peril to their own lives. Assassinations are rampant. It's bloody and it's ugly. Sort of like a revolution. This is what's happening. Good people like Ali and the guys at Iraq the Model are shining examples of why there is indeed hope.

I will tell you that our greatest hope for improved security in Iraq is a little-known operation based in Baghdad- LTG Petraeus and his Multinational Security Transition Command- Iraq (MSTC-I). Petraeus isn't just churning out thousands of Iraqi troops- his focus is on creating Iraqi versions of George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower, and George S. Patton. He's producing leaders- people that Iraqi soldiers (and Iraqi people) can look up to, admire, respect, and believe in. This hasn't even come into play yet, but it will- sooner than you think. It's the most important project that we have going on there- Colin Powell said it yesterday on Fox News- did anyone catch it? Didn't think so. It's like a big secret that everyone's telling, but nobody's hearing. Stay tooned, because I think this is about to change. I used to work for LTG Petraeus, and I believe he will succeed in this mission- he has never failed at anything. Just watch...

Your Support is Killing Us!

Thanks to Sparkle for directing my attention to one Jeff McMahon of Rutgers:

Vehicles in New Jersey are covered with decals representing little ribbons inscribed with the legend: "Support Our Troops." I have done a lot of driving recently and have noticed geographical disparities in the distribution of these symbols. There are fewer in the Midwest and very few at all in the LA area. They are also disproportionately displayed on SUVs and vans, which isn't surprising given that the owners are disproportionately reliant on the oil supplies that our soldiers are in Iraq to protect (among their other purposes).

What is it exactly that these decals exhort us to do? How can I, or anyone, support the troops themselves? What can we possibly do for them? It seems that the message is really an exhortation to support the war. Why then don't we ever see bumper stickers urging us more straightforwardly to support the war? It seems dishonest, manipulative, and coercive to assert an equivalence between support for a war and support for the participants in the war. The aim of such an effort is to make it seem that to criticize the war is to criticize our young soldiers and perhaps to increase their peril by weakening the war effort.

I'll say nothing. Please feel free to visit him and sound off with your comments. Many people already have...

Update: Jeff shut off the comments on that post. Couldn't take the heat? Hey, you can still email Rutgers!

Let's Hear It For the Youngsters!

In 2008, these young kids will be old enough to vote. Be afraid, Hillary. Be very afraid!


1 comment:

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