Wednesday, September 13, 2006

What Kind of Dog Is This?

“In Anbar Province, the western region that is home to the Sunni-led insurgency, the American commander of forces in the area said he agreed with a classified intelligence assessment filed last month by a colonel that said Anbar was in a precarious state and could continue to deteriorate.

“But the commander, Maj. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer, said he believed he had enough troops to do his job, which he said was to train Iraqi security forces to fight the insurgency and not to win against the insurgency with his own troops.”

--Edward Wong from Baghdad and Nazila Fathi from Tehran.

NY Times, Tuesday, September 12.

Isn’t there a conundrum here? What kind of army does not want to win with its own troops? Why would we train Iraqis to fight an insurgency rather than train them to control or even make peace with an insurgency? Or perhaps there is an oxymoron buried in all this like a weapon of mass destruction. We have been told repeatedly by the president and other administration figures that we can bring our troops home as soon as the Iraqi soldiers can stand in for them; that our troops are training them as quickly as possible, and with growing success.

The reason that we need to train the Iraqi troops is because we want to keep more of our troops from being killed and wounded. Better to have Iraqi troops killed and wounded than ours. That makes the perfect kind of gruesome sense this government is famous for.

But the violence keeps escalating, and that violence is clearly beyond any capacity of our U.S. troops to reduce or control. They’ve been giving it their best, god knows, and it is not working. Whether they are not trained for this kind of combat -- one reason I’ve heard for their lack of success; or do not have the proper equipment -- a reason I’ve heard for the too high casualty rate; or that quelling insurgencies is not their mission, which I’ve also heard; or that nation building is not our purpose, as the president declared before the war, it seems that no matter what our excuse is, nothing we have tried is working. Street patrols are deadly and terrifying. Demolishing cities like Fallujah, and then going back to demolish further what we had demolished before, does not work. Reclamation and restoration of infrastructure including hospitals and schools is not working; it is lost in a swamp of American corporate corruption. Illegal white phosphorous bombs --napalm’s sisters -- and illegal cluster bombs do not work. High altitude bombing doesn’t work. Road blocks and check points do not seem to work.

This is not our troops’ fault; these are not failures of execution. They are failures of tactics, knowledge, vision, strategy, -- failures that all come from command levels, from the failures of our top commanders and the administration that orders such futile attempts. By now they must know the tactics will fail, but they keep employing them, over and over, and seem to have neither wit nor imagination to change tactics, nor vision to develop a new strategy.

If this administration had any clue about how to stop the mayhem they surely would, for we would all sing their praises and re-elect them forever. But they do not know what to do. So they want to train Iraqi troops to take over this mess and handle it for us so we can bow out and come home.

And who is training those troops? General Zilmer, who has been told that it is not his task to win? Somewhere here is where the oxymoron lurks. What's wrong with this picture? The very army that does not know how to end the violence is training the Iraqi troops so they can end the violence. How can we do that? Those trainers are led by a hapless commander-in-chief, an ephemeral but powerful vice-president, and an unwitting army secretary, not one of whom knows how to deal with the situation. So if our army and our government are helpless to stop the carnage, how can they train Iraqis to stop the carnage? Seems like we have to train them to be like our army. So will we train them to not know what to do? We sure can't train them to do what we do not know how to do ourselves. Are we going to train them to feel helpless and vulnerable? Are we going to train them to shoot randomly at anything that moves?

So why would any Iraqi volunteer, watching what our army has done so far, believe what his U.S. trainers tell him? Every day he can witness the ineffectiveness of our tactics on the street before his home. Some of them have lost relatives to the violence we do not know how to stop, and have sometimes perpetrated. We haven’t had much luck with our training so far, for they desert in droves. U.S. commanders complain because many of those volunteers do not demonstrate the commitment of our own troops. But those Iraqis volunteer not because they are eager for our version of democracy, but because we have failed to rebuild the infrastructure or the economy, and they are desperate for any kind of paycheck, even if they may die before they can cash it. We think them cowardly for deserting, and do not consider that they may just be smart. Maybe they know we can't train them to do better than we do because we don't know how to do better ourselves. Who'd stay with an outfit like that?

We lay expectations on Iraqis that we ourselves, with all our vaunted military power, discipline, training, weapons, planes and ships and smug self-righteousness, cannot meet. We ask them to accomplish what we cannot, and then denigrate them for failing to do what we have failed to do ourselves. And here we've given them all that training, just like the training our troops received!

What kind of dog chasing its tail is this administration-without-imagination? As the man said, “You cain’t no more teach what you don’t know than you can go back to where you ain’t been.” Would that we had never been to Iraq.