Wednesday, January 10, 2007

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."


Blogger wretchard said...

Among the many fatal moments in the Iraqi campaign, someone may find the time to number Abu Ghraib as one of them. The IDF bitterly remembers Qana as the day the Israeli Airforce got grounded after the Hezbollah accused it of killing innocent women and children. Qana was certainly not the only reason the IDF performed so poorly in the war with Hezbollah. Yet it was, as Don Maclean put it, the Day the Music Died. Like Qana, Abu Ghraib remains a milestone marking when one side was beaten by the other in the mind. "When did you stop beating your wife". There was no getting away from the accusing question, even if the question made no sense.

Maybe the reason it is easier to talk about troops numbers and weapons is that at all events, they are obtainable from somewhere. But where does one obtain "decisiveness"? Where does one get the "will to win"? In the White House, at the NYT editorial offices, at Nancy Pelosi's inauguration? It's ineffable. You can't find it in any stockroom or store shelf. And maybe in the end, it is easier to send men instead.

1/10/2007 06:47:00 PM  
Blogger Meme chose said...

A society only comes together to fight when the belief spreads that we may lose.

Much of American society, including the 'human rights' claque responsible for the nonsense you describe, don't really believe we are even under attack, let alone that we risk losing. Consequently they believe that just about anything else that attracts their fleeting interest is more important.

The war will have to come to us before they believe (and don't expect any apologies from them when it does). If a million mostly 'little brown people' are killed in foreign countries between now and then, as seems likely, the consciences of our secular priesthood will not be ruffled, any more than they were by the slaughter following our exit from and subsequent abandonment of South Vietnam, for which they had clamored so enthusiastically.

1/10/2007 07:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Harriet Miers was tasked with oversight of JAG these last two years.
If anyone is aware of how Rules of Endangerment should be applied, it would be her.
Harriet vs an Army of ACLU tutored Patriot/Lawyers should not be a problem.

1/10/2007 10:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you want to BASH MS Meirs, you should explain why her judgement is unworthy of public trust!

If Americans think they can pee in the drain of the collective shower world, while everyone else, especially China and India, are beginning to suds up, then it will find itself isolated and ill-reputed!!

Likewise, if the public wishes to thank Meirs for her inspired service to this country, it should not tolerate meanspirited GASBAGGERY that spins the ACLU as the institutional oven roasting our national will baby, instead of a Liberty-Service Provider. I can understand people having issues with COMCAST but I do not understand why people love to hate the ACLU. They regularly defend autistics and tourettes against empoloyers that wish to keep them away from telephones, sales positions and employee training. Without the ACLU, some businesses would never have been forced to learn how to harness Tourettes Power and Autistic Power and Diabetic Power so as to improve their efficiency, their virtue and their dignity.

Meirs, like the ACLU, values dignity and has plenty sloshing about inside them. Maybe if they spilt some out, we could benefit.

1/10/2007 11:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They have yet to figure out how to keep those of us w/Tourettes Power off Wretchard's Blog.

1/11/2007 12:42:00 AM  
Blogger Ron said...

Of course the thing has been poorly managed from start to finish: It was a bad idea poorly executed. Run by arrogance and fed a diet of b.s., optimistic reports, purple fingers, and pretend. The government treated Iraq like a photo-op. Shame on our elected officials and even more shame on the military leaders for going along with this charade.

Yet, were this project to have had a chance (and only at the start), the borders would have had to be secured? And how could our government have permitted our troops to occupy a country without guarding the borders and without ensuring there were no other sources of arms? This was like Reagen sending our troops into Lebanon, another bad idea poorly executed, only much larger and much more disastrous.

1/11/2007 07:47:00 AM  
Blogger Karensky said...

In a Pee See world the West will forever be doubted and hamstrung. Since the start of this "small world view" it has been to the detriment of the West by the West that only the West can do wrong. Have you ever heard of a hate crime by a Japanese, a Senegalese or an inner city Ute? Me neither. But to fight a real live war in a Pee See environment is to fail before you start. Perhaps the majority party in Congress can wrap their minds around this conundrum, then again it is their creation.

1/11/2007 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

It is not as if any of this is routine government work, is it? Maybe we ought to be better at this sort of thing, and at counter-terror, but certainly everyone is struggling to learn this as they go along and there are bound to be mistakes. It is a pity, and we would rather all had gone smoothly without waste of time, material and effort, but that does not happen in the real world with real people. Viewing the thing in light of historical military ventures, even with our Abu Ghraibs and other vile or stupid nonsense, all the will in the world cannot overcome logistical problems and the fact that all involved blunder along, learning as they go, because they are human. You cannot script success in real life.

1/07/2008 07:44:00 AM  

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