Monday, August 27, 2007

No More Free Food

This past week some very brave military personnel put in print their thoughts on the situation in Iraq, post surge. Their uncompromising appraisal of the situation on the ground was both refreshing, but hardly news to those who understand international history. As they have so aptly stated our position in Iraq has always been a tenuous one, our presence has always been based on our ability to provide what the Iraqis could not provide for themselves. Due to the incompetence of the prosecutors of this war, we have been unable to provide very much of the things needed by the Iraqi people.

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.[1]

Here is why we will never get the report necessary from the military to end this war. Technically, we are superior militarily. There is no General who will want to be the one to say that the war is lost. Anyone that even hints at it is quickly replaced by one more suited to the world view of the current administration. Generals are like quarterbacks in football, no matter how bad the situation they always feel that they have the necessary tools and abilities to right the ship. The problem is that a bad team is a bad team, no matter who is leading it. Sometimes wars are not won by military superiority, in today’s conflicts they are won through ideas and principles. Areas that a military is not equipped to combat and certainly not designed to win. So where does that leave us?

In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: one of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a “time-sensitive target acquisition mission” on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive and is being flown to a military hospital in the United States.) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse — namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.[2]

Well, we can kill them all and let God sort them out or we can allow the Iraqis to determine the future of Iraq. I know this flies in the face of all of our policy wonks, but that is because they are still looking through the prism of past conflicts and outdated concepts. The future of Iraq cannot be dictated by American politics or standards. The more we set up timetables and benchmarks the more we isolate the Iraqis and set ourselves up for failure. While wanting to insure that all Iraqis share in the benefits of democracy is an admirable goal, it is an American goal and may not be a goal shared by the majority of Iraqis. We do not have the manpower or the political will to enforce such a program. How we could invade Iraq and dismantle their infrastructure and not expect those that have been oppressed to seek redress is beyond my comprehension. We cannot be all things to all people. Our efforts to do so will only end up generating animosity from all parties.

It is time to accept that there will be no easy choices or answers in Iraq. There are going to be winners and losers and we as a nation have to come to terms with that reality. We cannot fix this. Instead of having one dictator, the Iraqi people now have a bunch of smaller ones each with their own agenda and scores to settle. We seemed surprise that their government is dysfunctional; we have created it to be so. It is our ace in the hole; it will always allow us the option of blaming the Iraqis for the failure of this policy. In our ignorance of the history of the region we have fashioned a government that has no popular support and therefore no public confidence.

How can we be surprised at the results when here in America we exhibit the same behavior? When the political party that has been out of the majority regains that majority there is politicization and purging of our institutions, the difference is the Iraqis haven’t yet learned the subtleties of say a Karl Rove. Make no mistake about it we opened this Pandora’s Box and once opened it cannot be closed, atleast not by us.

In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, “We need security, not free food.”[3]


[2] Ibid.


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