The Slough of Despond
Bing West, in an subscription-only article in the Atlantic, argues that America has royally messed things up in Iraq, not primarily for lack of committing resources, but by using them poorly. He begins with an absurdist scene he witnessed. An Iraqi police commander has 9 men down -- including his brother -- and wants to get them. But the bureaucracy gets in the way: "we have rules". What the bureaucracy is truly interested in, almost obsessed with, is how one terrorist may have died under the Iraqi police commander's questioning. That's the priority. And to get to the bottom that one mystery, the police station's refrigerator has been commandeered to store the body so it can be preserved for forensic examination. Somebody hands Bing West a warm Coke.
Tracy walked outside and escorted the compact and unsmiling police chief, Colonel Farouq, into his office.
"Every American is asking how one terrorist died," he said angrily. "We questioned him, and he died. That's all I say. He betrayed my police. [My police officers'] heads were tossed in the dirt in Baiji. And all you ask is how a terrorist died."
"We go by the law," Tracy said. "We have rules we follow."
"Rules? What about nine bodies without heads? What about my brother's body?" Farouq raged. "My mother complains I have lost the family because I help Americans." Farouq's younger brother had been killed in the ambush, his body mutilated.
"Baiji's a hundred kilometers from here," the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel James Donnellan, said. "I'll take a force there. You can come with me."
"When?" Farouq demanded to know.
"Higher has to coordinate," Donnellan said. "Two or three days."
"The bodies will be gone by then. You investigate a dead terrorist right away. But my brother has to wait," Farouq said. "Your rules? You won't see strong Iraqi police the American way for a hundred years."
A hundred years would seem a harsh judgment, were it not for our performance in Iraq to date. In the fourth year of war, America teeters on the verge of defeat. By the fourth year of World War II, victory gleamed on the horizon. The Korean War was over inside four years. Even in Vietnam, the Viet Cong had been decimated by the fourth year, and the conflict had morphed from guerrilla warfare into a conventional slugfest against the North.
We are all too familiar with the strategic blunders that have characterized our engagement in Iraq. Still, some 500,000 American and Iraqi military and police personnel are confronting roughly 25,000 Sunni insurgents and Shia militiamen—a twenty-to-one edge that should give us a clear advantage. In terms of spending, the disparity is even greater: $320 billion versus less than $200 million. Yet despite being exponentially outnumbered and outspent, the forces of murder and chaos seem to be winning.
West argues that the US fights American criminals more severely than the head-choppers of Baghdad. "American troops mockingly refer to arrests of insurgents as 'catch and release.' ... Meticulous review procedures introduced after Abu Ghraib have proved favorable to the insurgents. Any Iraqi detained is brought to an American lawyer at the battalion level; two American soldiers have to fill out sworn arrest affidavits; physical evidence is bagged, and pictures of the 'crime' scene are taken." It goes on and on.
Casey, who has been in command for two and a half years, guards his counsel, reflects carefully before issuing orders, and projects composure. He prowls the battlefields to assess for himself what's going on. I first saw him in 2004, inside the shell-pocked city of Ramadi. He was sitting in a corner, listening to a squad leader. He meets often with battalion commanders to discuss the campaign plan.
"I get it from all sides," Casey joked recently. "Washington, the prime minister, the Sunnis, the Shiites. Hell, people even complained to me when the pope said something about Muslims. I never expected the pope to add to my problems!"
This makes sense in some world. Maybe the world of Washington. And maybe in the editorial offices of the great flagships of Western literacy. But in other places it makes no sense. No sense at all. West's own recommendation is simply to do it right. Put more Americans in advisory roles -- that is, with Iraqi units -- and to simply get it done. The Surge, if it is to succeed, must be about something other than numbers. It must be about decisiveness. " Muddling through is not a strategy."