Saturday, October 08, 2005

Your assignment: compare and contrast

Let's start from the proposition that the American venture in Iraq will be unsuccessful unless we manage to train Iraqis to take over their own self-defense and military, as well as, of course, their own political institutions. We want out of there as soon as we can leave things in good hands. But how long will that be? -- if it's even possible at all? ...continue reading...

I have to say I was livid when, at the beginning of the war, Bush talked about being out in a couple or three years; I considered him an arrant liar given the history of the reconstructions of Japan and Germany. I had to admit I had underestimated him to a certain degree when those millions of Iraqis voted; but I still have some deep concerns, and am very interested in anything I can find that would shed light on whether we're making any progress. (Cable or network news does not count as "anything that would shed light." Keith Olbermann? Bill O'Reilly? Please tell me you're kidding.)

Now look at the conclusions of Norville B. De Atkine, drawn from his years trying to help American administrations past train the armies of our Arab allies, as presented in his essay "Why Arabs Lose Wars." (You gotta love his mastery of understatement: his piece opens with the words, "Arabic-speaking armies have been generally ineffective in the modern era.") In particular, note: (a) The radical deficiency in lower-level decision-making ability. (b) The way in which training never seems to make it into practice, overwhelmed by the caste culture. (c) The fact that Soviet weaponry (designed to be maintained by the stupid, or at least by the uneducated and lacking in initiative) has traditionally worked better in Arab military environments than has American (which expects even enlisted men to be sharp, well-educated by world standards, and on the ball).

You should also, in this connection, read about Capt. Harry "Zan" Hornbuckle, whose adventure at Intersection "Curly" demonstrates precisely the sort of lower-level, individually-driven-yet-effectively-team-oriented decision-making that makes the U.S. armed forces so stunningly effective.

Now, you begin understand the challenge. With this background, turn to Michael Yon's "The Battle for Mosul IV" to read about the struggle of our soldiers in Iraq to succeed where all previous trainers have failed.

On an optimistic note, we mustn't forget De Atkine's warning against assuming history is fate: "It is particularly dangerous to make facile assumptions about abilities in warfare based on past performance, for societies evolve and so does the military subculture with it." Is Iraqi society and military subculture evolving out of dysfunction? If so, is it evolving fast enough? It seems to me that it there are positive signs, and rather more than I would have expected a year ago. But that's just me, and I'm no expert.

I might add that there are three blogs that you have to read if you want to speak intelligently about what is happening in Iraq. If your source for information is the same bunch of morons and incompetents who told you breathlessly about cannibalism, mass rapes, slitting of children's throats, bodies piling up in Superdomes, and 10,000 to 20,000 dead -- and that includes you, Fox News -- then what in God's name would make you think you know anything at all about what's happening in Iraq?

At any rate, those three blogs are Michael's Pulitzer-quality in-depth, extended coverage from Mosul (remember when there was lots of news from Mosul about the insurgency?); Baghdad Burning, the bitterly and eloquently anti-American Sunni lady of nom de plume "Riverbend;" and passionately pro-American Iraq the Model. If you're only going to read one of them, then it should be Michael's; and you should go back to the beginning of his archives and read all the way through in succession. I mean it. It will take you a couple of hours. But this is just unbelievable reporting, uncompromising, insightful, frequently tear-jerking. This is the war in the Sunni Triangle of Iraq.


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