Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Getting out of Iraq. discussion

THE IRAQI ARMY: Jim Fallows has a deservedly great rep right now as someone who saw, before a lot of other people (including me), that the post-invasion situation in Iraq would be far harder than deposing Saddam. He has a new report out on the critical task in Iraq: training the new army. Alas, it's firewalled away at the Atlantic, but the magazine is worth buying for the piece alone. Fallows describes the now-unbelievable insouciance of the Bush administration to the role of the Saddamite army in keeping some semblance of order in post-invasion Iraq, and its reluctance to throw enough resources into the military side of nation-building. By sending too few troops to keep order in 2003, and disbanding the entire previous army shortly thereafter, the Bush administration threw gasoline on simmering flames and created the chaos we are now trying to beat back. Critical time was wasted before this mistake was both recognized and anything like enough attention was paid to rectifying it. In 2003, this is what Fallows reports:

Throughout the occupation, but most of all in these early months, training suffered from a "B Team" problem. Before the fighting there was a huge glamour gap in the Pentagon between people working on so-called Phase III — the "kinetic" stage, the currently fashionable term for what used to be called "combat" — and those consigned to thinking about Phase IV, postwar reconstruction. The gap persisted after Baghdad fell. Nearly every military official I spoke with said that formal and informal incentives within the military made training Iraqi forces seem like second-tier work.

The truth is we embarked on a war that required significant nation-building and we had a defense secretary who didn't believe in it and a president who couldn't or wouldn't over-rule his defense secretary. In 2004, things did not improve:

All indications from the home front were that training Iraqis had become a boring issue. Opponents of the war rarely talked about it. Supporters reeled off encouraging but hollow statistics as part of a checklist of successes the press failed to report. President Bush placed no emphasis on it in his speeches. Donald Rumsfeld, according to those around him, was bored by Iraq in general and this tedious process in particular, neither of which could match the challenge of transforming America's military establishment.

Too bored to win.

THE FRUITS OF CHAOS: None of this should detract from the heroic work of many soldiers on the ground who performed astonishingly in trying to train and retrain neophyte Iraqi troops. (Thanks, General Petraeus - but why has been brought home??) That valuable work is still going on. It is the most critical work now underway. It's hard. The disorder fostered by Rumsfeld made it much harder, because in chaotic situations, the old allegiances - tribe, family, clan, sect - get stronger. Fallows lets soldiers speak to this:

Half a dozen times in my interviews I heard variants on this Arab saying: "Me and my brother against my cousin; me and my cousin against my village; me and my village against a stranger." "The thing that holds a military unit together is trust," T. X. Hammes says. "That's a society not based on trust." A young Marine officer wrote in an e-mail, "Due to the fact that Saddam murdered, tortured, raped, etc. at will, there is a limited pool of 18-35-year-old males for service that are physically or mentally qualified for service. Those that are fit for service, for the most part, have a DEEP hatred for those not of the same ethnic or religious affiliation."

This was always going to be a long, difficult venture. The incompetence of Rumsfeld has made it that much harder.

STILL HOPE: It seems to me, and it does to Fallows, that the new prescription - "We will stand down as the Iraqis stand up" - depends on a new and massive focus not just on the political process (thanks, Zalmay!), but on training the new army. That will take at least a decade and it's time the president told the American people that. It also requires various reforms. Fallows lays out some suggestions:

If the United States is serious about getting out of Iraq, it will need to re-consider its defense spending and operations rather than leaving them to a combination of inertia, Rumsfeld-led plans for "transformation," and emergency stopgaps. It will need to spend money for interpreters. It will need to create large new training facilities for American troops, as happened within a few months of Pearl Harbor, and enroll talented people as trainees. It will need to make majors and colonels sit through language classes. It will need to broaden the Special Forces ethic to much more of the military, and make clear that longer tours will be the norm in Iraq. It will need to commit air, logistics, medical, and intelligence services to Iraq — and understand that this is a commitment for years, not a temporary measure. It will need to decide that there are weapons systems it does not require and commitments it cannot afford if it is to support the ones that are crucial. And it will need to make these decisions in a matter of months, not years — before it is too late.

For all that, it seems to me we need a new SecDef. Urgently.


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