Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Meanwhile back at the front

The US is so screwed. Those in power in this country have an enormous interest in putting a good face on efforts in Iraq. And yet things don't seem to be getting any better. It is sounding more and more like Vietnam. According to official reports the enemy was beaten back time and again. While the returning soldiers told a different story. It's hard to tell where the truth lies from here. But to the degree that past experience is a guide I have to give the nod to Juan Cole.
The guerillas have enormous advantages, of knowing the local clans and terrain and urban quarters, of knowing Arabic, and of being local Muslims who are sympathetic figures for other Muslims. American audiences often forget that the US troops in Iraq are mostly clueless about what is going on around them, and do not have the knowledge base or skills to conduct effective counter-insurgency. Moreover, as foreign, largely Christian occupiers of an Arab, Muslim, country, they are widely disliked and mistrusted outside Kurdistan.

US military tactics, of replying to attacks with massive force, have alienated ever more Sunni Arabs as time has gone on. Fallujah was initially quiet, until the US military fired on a local demonstration against the stationing of US troops at a school (parents worried about their children being harmed if there was an attack). Mosul was held up as a model region under Gen. Petraeus, but exploded into long-term instability in reaction to the November Fallujah campaign. The Americans have lost effective control everywhere in the Sunni Arab areas. Even a West Baghdad quarter like Adhamiyah is essentially a Baath republic.
In an ideal world, the United States would relinquish Iraq to a United Nations military command, and the world would pony up the troops needed to establish order in the country in return for Iraqi good will in post-war contract bids. But that is not going to happen for many reasons. George W. Bush is a stubborn man and Iraq is his project, and he is not going to give up on it. And, by now the rest of the world knows what would await its troops in Iraq, and political leaders are not so stupid as to send their troops into a meat grinder.
It's difficult to see how there can be any solution to this that isn't costly in lives and dollars for a long time to come.

We need to remember that our current leadership got us into this mess by playing on our fears of trumped-up dangers. As a people we were too cowardly to take the risk of leaving Saddam alone. But it's too late now. We are on a slide from which there is no escape in the near term and only faint hope for the long term. Too many of our sons, daughters, wives, and husbands are going to be sacrificed on the altar of our cowardice and there is nothing we can do about it.

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