Condi Can’t Count
Condi Rice seems extremely confused about military affairs and the nature of guerrilla wars:
Interviewed on CNN during her visit to the Middle East, Dr Rice was asked about the recent claim by the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, that the insurgency in Iraq was “in its last throes”. She did not comment directly on the claim but said Americans needed to understand Iraq does not need an army of hundreds of thousands, “because it isn’t facing an enemy like that. What they face is an insurgency and they need to be able to run counter-insurgency operations. Once they can do that, we can begin to start a withdrawal process.”
Let’s do some figuring. The US-led Coalition has 160,000 well-trained, well-equipped, often experienced troops in Iraq. It is losing the guerrilla war. So contrary to her assertion that Iraq “does not need an army of hundreds of thousands,” every indication is that it does, too. Condi is just channeling Rummy, who was wrong on this from day one.
The Iraqi military needs to be bigger than the current Coalition force, since that isn’t big enough. So, if Iraq did need a trained military of say, 300,000, how long would that take to stand up? (You can’t count the traffic cops in this total, as SecDef Rumsfeld has been wont to do; I mean soldiers.) The new recruits to the Iraqi military are mostly green and apparently in large part Shiite Arab. The experienced military men are mostly on the side of the guerrillas. So the new Iraqi military really needs training, maybe 5 years worth or more.
Moreover, there is a real question as to whether you will ever get the troops of the new Iraqi government to fight in a thoroughgoing way on behalf of what they mostly think of as an imperial power (the US). It turns out that a lot of the officers in the South Vietnamese Army were actually working for the North Vietnamese even while they were hanging around with their US military counterparts. Newsweek reports that Iraqi officials admit that the new security services are infiltrated by the guerrillas. Numbers won’t solve this problem of legitimacy, and nor will time.
Dr. Rice’s comments imply that she thinks a counter-insurgency effort can be handled with a small force that can be stood up relatively soon. That is not true. And if her comments were intended to make the US public confident that US troops could be withdrawn from Iraq any time soon, then she was actively misleading them.
Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor examines the debate over whether the US military is making progress in Iraq or not. I am quoted saying that every indication is that the guerrillas have gained in popularity in the Sunni Arab areas over the past 2 years. Other quotes:
‘ “We’ve won every fight they’ve given us, but there always seem to be just as many people fighting us as when we got here,” says one career Marine officer, who recently finished a tour in Iraq.
Anthony Cordesman, a former director of intelligence for the Office of the Secretary of Defense who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and has produced a series of detailed studies on the war in Iraq, quotes a Marine counterinsurgency expert in Iraq in a recent paper as saying “seizing the components of suicide bombs [is] like making drug seizures: comforting, but ultimately pointless…. Both sides are still escalating to nowhere.” . .
In the city of Tal Afar in the north, violence still rages, despite three major US offensives there in the past two years; and while the once notorious Haifa Street in central Baghdad was pacified by joint US and Iraqi military efforts this spring, suicide attacks continue in other parts of the city.
“The Iraqi Government and US can scarcely claim that they are clearly moving towards victory,” Mr. Cordesman wrote at the end of May in “Iraq’s Evolving Insurgency,” [pdf] a 70-page analysis of the situation . . . While Cordesman acknowledges large weapons seizures made by “tireless” US operations in the country, he doubts the supply of weapons and bombmaking materials is going to dry up soon. ‘
The Boston Globe recently wrote:
‘ Meanwhile, a recent internal poll conducted for the US-led coalition found that nearly 45 percent of the population supported the insurgent attacks, making accurate intelligence difficult to obtain. Only 15 percent of those polled said they strongly supported the US-led coalition. ‘
[Reader Alex Eaton says he called the Globe and confirmed that the 45 percent figure referred only to Sunni Arabs. 7/4/05]
The Daily Star is alleging that some of the attacks on Kirkuk pipelines have been carried out by tribal groups as a sort of protection racket. The charge is that they are hoping to be paid handsomely to guard the pipelines from further attack.
As for the political process, , it is moving with the speed of molasses in winter. Sunni Arab groups who were given the opportunity to appoint 15 members to a committee for the drafting of a permanent constitution have been wrangling over how exactly to appoint them.
Billmon over at the Whiskey Bar suggests that my call for turning Iraq over to the United Nations is unrealistic.
Oh, I agree entirely. It is highly unlikely that Bush, who is trying to destroy the UN by sending John Bolton there, would even consider such a thing. And UN member states may well decline to send their boys into the Anbar meat grinder, especially if they think of it as cleaning up Bush’s mess.
On the other hand, the Right is always coming up with unlikely plans and managing to get them implemented, and we on the Left may have to simply learn to be more tenacious. After all, it was highly unlikely that Bush would get the opportunity he had long yearned for, of invading Iraq and deposing Saddam. Moreover, you have to set up issues in such a way as to make your opponent take the fall. If centrists and progressives go to the American public next year and say, “We want to hand Iraq over to the United Nations, but the War Party insists on keeping our young men and women there in harm’s way for the sake of their corporate sponsors,” I think that may resonate pretty powerfully. As a line, it would have the virtue of associating the UN with problem-solving and the War Party with greed and stupidity.
As for getting anyone over at the UN to take on Iraq, I fear I think there are few third world armies that couldn’t be enticed by a couple of billion dollars– the kind of money they would probably be rewarded with if they really could help Iraq. Progressives are usually people of principle, and they often can’t imagine the cupidity of the world, or how to play on it. Dwight Eisenhower was a past master of that sort of thing; he got DeGaulle out of Algeria before the latter could go Communist by threatening to call in US loans to France. If the US and Iraq both wanted blue helmets on the Tigris, I think it could be made to happen. Whether it would be successful I don’t know. But the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq are demonstrably unsuccessful, so it is worth a try. If it succeeded, it would enormously bolster the prestige of the UN and help make the world a safer place.
My main point was to try to find a progressive/centrist approach to Iraq that avoided the two extremes of a) agreeing with the Bushies that we should stay ‘until the mission is accomplished’ or b) simple-mindedly chanting ‘bring the troops home’ with no thought for the world-class disaster that might befall us from the resulting power vacuum.