Sunday, September 04, 2005

Observations on Iraq

I wrote this is response to some one who was questioning the Iraqi situation on the basis that more troops were needed.

The first military rule is to not interfere with the commander on the ground. I am not there, neither is Bush or Rumsfeld or even the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Therefore, I have bowed to the CG's in Iraq who have consistently stated they didn't need more troops. I realize that Generals -- especially multi-starred ones are at heart political but I cannot believe that any American General would sacrifice even one trooper for his personal career -- Since I am not there I accept the fact that the number of troops on the ground is sufficient. I note that many of the voices calling for more troops are either political voices (congress people -both sides) or media. In either case (with some exceptions) these are not qualified voices. I have a high regard for Senator McCain but he was a pilot not a command officer so even he has only a limited knowledge of what it takes to fight a ground fight. Kerry was a Naval Officer with limited command experience and to my knowledge no tactical experience.

The war itself is somewhat problematic -- at least from my perspective. The root causes are deep and go back years if not centuries. The British and the French in their last gasp as colonial powers signed the Sykes-Picot (secret) Treaty, which in effect said that they would divide the old Ottoman Empire between them. This created totally fictious countries -- Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Arabia, Kuwait, Palestine, and arguably Iran. Turkey was shrunk to it's current size and the Kurds once again lost Kurdistan. Under the Ottomans the Arabs and Jews lived peaceably. The Jews and Christians paid some nominal tax to be non-muslim. Unfortunately the Colonial Powers failed to take into consideration the people and the property they were so happily dividing up. The Muslim Brotherhood began in the 20"s along with terrorism. The war intervened but the Muslims joined with Hitler and the Nazi's actually had two SS Divisions made up entirely of Muslims (this is true -- I didn't believe it either and looked it up). Following the war the creation of Israel simply brought the battle and terroism to the forefront. Since Harry Truman supported the founding of Israel and the Brits and French essentially stepped aside the US was left holding a very dirty stick.

My point to this is that of all of the middle eastern countries only two were essentially secular -- Lebanon and Iraq. Reagan failed to deal with Lebanon after the bombing of the marine barracks. For Bush to take up that fight would have involved taking on Syria as well as Iraq and possibly igniting a major conflict stretching across the entire middle east. . Strategically attacking Iraq was probably a good thing because if it succeeds in returning the country to a secular one he will have driven a wedge into the heart of the Arab world. The fight here seems to center on Oil, ego, and immediate threat. Oil is really not terribly relevant since Iraqi oil primarily goes to Europe. The ego's are on both sides and to a large extent this is just belly bumping. The issue of immediate threat is much more relevant and not nearly as clear as the media and various politicians would have you think.

I do agree that the administration and the military both thought that the population would rise up against Saddam and when that failed to happen it caught them off guard. I also think they had expected that Iraq was more secular and less religious than it is and that caught them off guard. I don't think the Pentagon realized they were embarking on a religious war and that is what this is.

I think this is a war unlike any war we have ever fought. In Viet Nam we were fighting a nation state with an organized and generally recognizable enemy. Here we are fighting individuals who belong to no nation state but are religious fanatics whose loyalty is not to a country but to a feudal lord whose power lies in a religious foundation. These people are invisible -- even in Iraq. They are like assassins -- they hide and they smile and they attack from the shadows. Would more troops help? Would more troops simply provide more targets? What about the loss of life? These are all very hard questions and I have no glib answers. I know the number of casualties are astonishingly low but then any is too many. For myself I continue to read and research the area and the history in an effort to grasp the strategic significance. At a tactical level I accept that the military commanders are doing their job and that the political leaders are doing theirs since they all have information I don't have. I know from my reading that this issue goes back decades and that this is a war that has been going on for at least 70 years and quite probably will go on for another 50.

In reading the 9/11 report I discovered that the Clinton administration was well aware of what was going on and what needed to be done. President Clinton made several attempts to nip this in the bud but was over ridden by his staff. Many of the things that Bush did immediately after 9/11 were put in place by Clinton. I notice that the Clinton's have been very quiet concerning this issue and I think with reason. I think they are well aware that Bush is simply executing some of their plans, adding some his own, but doing what they recognized needed to be done all along.

I admired General Patton and had a low regard for Eisenhower. I admired General Schwartzkopf but had a low opinion of Powell for the same reasons. There are big differences between command officers and Pentagon Warriors. I take exception to arm chair generals and pundits who sit in Washingotn or elsewhere and critize events and affairs on the basis of limited knowledge, limited experience, and with hidden agendas. While I was still in the active reserve I held a civilian job that brought me into contact with many foreign nationals. During the height of Viet Nam my wife and I had a cocktail party attended by several foreigners. These people were astonished that the Army had not put a stop to the demonstrations, taken over the media, and imprisoned the leaders of the peace movement. I spent the entire evening attempting to explain the Constitution and that as an Army Officer I was sworn to uphold the Constitution -- NOT THE GOVERNMENT -- and that the Constitution guaranteed the right of these people to speak their mind and consequently I was expected to protect them even if they were spitting on me and the things I believed in.. Trying to explain the freedoms that we enjoy and how the military is sworn to protect the exercise of these was difficult. Later I observed how the Chinese, South Africans, and Latin Americans handled dissent. Our way is better. I don't think Iraq is a quagmire. I don't think it is going to end soon. I don't know if more troops are needed. I do think that we need to recognize this is a religious war that is not bounded by national boundaries or recognized governments. I think everyone has the right to their opinion and they are free to criticize the administration. I was recently on a flight from Calif with several uniformed soldiers. All of these young men were moved up to first class and got a round of applause from the passengers. A big change from the Viet Nam era.

No comments: