Monday, October 02, 2006

Fools and Fanatics and Iraq

More "good news" from the "central front."

Remember that "stand up, stand down" thing young Mister Bush told us was going to be our way out of Iraq? Well, it isn't working. In fact, training Iraqi security forces may be making things worse.

As Thomas E. Ricks noted in Sunday's Washington Post:
…the Iraqi side of [the stand up, stand down] equation is almost complete. Training programs have developed more than 300,000 members of the Iraqi army and national police, close to the desired number of homegrown forces. Yet as that number has grown, so, too, has violence in Iraq. The summer was worse than ever, with July the deadliest month in three years, according to U.S. military data.

With Iraqi forces unable to quell the insurgency, sectarian violence, civil unrest, Hobbesian quagmire and whatever else you care to call it, U.S. troop levels will need to stay at roughly 140,000 until at least next spring, Ricks reports.

Play Us Again, Uncle Sam

Just because the strategy isn't working doesn't mean the administration plans to change it. After all, why start abandoning failed strategies at this stage of the game? The only thing that's going to change is the spin (and that's not really a change either, is it?).
Military officers and other experts interviewed in recent days said that the Iraqi training program has worked but that its success is undercut by the lack of strong Iraqi political leadership. "You fix the government, you fix the problem," said an Army battalion commander who has seen hard fighting near Baghdad this summer.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld landed squarely in this camp recently. Referring to numbers of trained Iraqi forces, he told a reporter: "If we look at it one-dimensionally like that, there's no answer to the question, because the problem is not a military problem. In fact, the reality is that it's a political governance problem, and it's a governmental problem, and it's a problem of reconciliation."

Rumsfeld better be careful with that kind of talk, or he's going to get a whole lot more people asking why we're applying military power to a problem that isn't a military problem.

General John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, told PBS's Jim Lehrer last week that, "we're making good progress" in the training of Iraqi troops.

And yet, according to Ricks, some "experts" believe that "standing up" a Shia-dominated security force is adding to the violence in Iraq, and driving a greater reliance on local militias to provide security.

Two U.S. officers who have served in Iraq told Ricks they fear that all the U.S. military is doing is (Ricks's words) "training and arming Iraqis to fight a looming civil war."

End of the Innocents

This certainly isn't the first time America has tried to contain violence by arming thugs to achieve a desired political solution. Backing Stalin to fight Hitler blew up in our faces, as did backing Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran, as did backing bin Laden against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, history doesn't repeat itself, but it sure rhymes a lot. Our "stand up, stand down" strategy in Iraq sounds a heck of a lot like our mistakes of the past, and once again, we're conforming to Benjamin Franklin's definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

And by continuing to accept the nonsensical propaganda exhorting it to "stay the course," America's behavior brings to mind a quote of the great satirist Voltaire: "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

Of course, Mister Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their echo chambermaids have never tried to sell their absurd talking points on the basis of logic. Their ability to sway public opinion in favor of their policies and strategies has always been their steadfast "belief" that they're doing the right thing and it's producing "success." Never mind that "believing" the moon is made of green cheese doesn't make it so, and that calling bull manure "chocolate ice cream" doesn't make it cold.

The 20th century logician Bertrand Russell said, "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts."

Amen, Brother Bertrand. Let us pray that come November, we the people of the most powerful nation in human history have the wisdom to reject the fools and fanatics who have led us down the primrose path of neoconservative militarism.

What's the best way to get out of a quagmire?

Get out of it.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.


  1. Hold on a second... Think about this: we've trained and equipped 300,000 Iraqis (at least) and the violence has increased. Is that a mere conjunction or is it causal? Maybe a mix?

  2. 300,000 armed Iraqis. Go figure.

  3. Yes. And a recruiting drive just looking for bodies instead of quality. Not enough people to scan for quality (this is just my hunch). So, now we've created little militia wings of the Iraqi military.

    A quick "standing up" of thousands in a tribal/sectarian culture.

    More strategic brilliance.

  4. I am surprised at the 300,000 figure - w/o respect to quality of the recruits - as recruiting and police barracks seem to be perennial targets for the suicide bombers. Maybe these guys are: a) just that desperate for work, or b) know it's the quick way to get weapons & training for their sect's militia. All courtesy of the American taxpayer, natch.

  5. "Alright, boys, line up for weapons! One for you, one for you...! wait, go to the barracks next...! Don't you run away from me!"

    Oh yeah. I thought it would come to this when they disbanded the army.

  6. 300,000 is widely reported to be the present figure. It's been cited by both Centcom and the president. However, what is not often cited is the frequency of absentee soldiers. The rules, from what I have read, are very lax. Moreover, there are numerous reports of Iraqi soldiers refusing to deploy to other parts of the country -- something that has plagues Operation Together Forward or Operation Forward Together (OFT?) often.

  7. Anonymous7:42 AM

    Perhaps an optimist could note that Kissinger's theory about the Iran-Iraq slaughter of the 80s was that it was unfortunate that both sides couldn't lose.

    Perhaps seeing Sunnis and Shi'ites at each other's throats is not quite as bad as some may believe. The Kurds, who got the best oil fields out of Iraqi Freedom, are at peace.

    The potential downside, of course, is that things may get so bad that the Iranans may move in to protect its Shi'a co-relgionists.

    Of course, if you're Iraqi, this optimism may be somewhat over your head.

  8. We (at least I) can't really predict what Iran might or might not do, but I really don't think they would move into Iraq militarily, and I'm not so sure the Shia majority needs any help to, if it chooses, take out its Sunni opposition.