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October 25, 2006

The View From a Sergeant

James Taranto's "Best of the Web Today" today has an e-mail from a soldier in Iraq. With his experience with what's going on with the Army, the culture and the changing circumstances, his suggestion is that the correct policy needs to be something between "stay the course" and "cut and run". It seems to me to be a very insightful look at reality there. Some of his suggestions are, I'll admit, tough to swallow if indeed they'd be necessary. Definitely worth the read (and as always, getting the daily e-mail of this column is recommended). He concludes:

James, there's a lot more to this than I've written here. The short of it is, the situation is salvageable, but not with "stay the course" and certainly not with cut and run. However, the commitment required to save it is something I doubt the American public is willing to swallow. I just don't see the current administration with the political capital remaining in order to properly motivate and convince the American public (or the West in general) of the necessity of these actions.

At the same time, failure in Iraq would be worse than a dozen Somalias, and would render us as impotent and emasculated as we were in the days after Vietnam. There is a global cultural-ideological struggle being waged, and abdication from Iraq is tantamount to concession.

Later, Taranto quotes Nancy Pelosi, who'd most likely be Speaker of the House after a majority Democrat win.
"But you don't think that the terrorists have moved into Iraq now?" Stahl continues.

"They have," Pelosi agrees. "The jihadists in Iraq. But that doesn't mean we stay there. They'll stay there as long as we're there."

She seems to think (or is trying to sell us on the idea) that the moment we leave, all will be well with the world and the jihadists will become model citizens or at least stop attacking American interests. As the sergeant tells us (gotta read the whole thing), there's more going on than just terrorism, and it's not easily dealt with, and especially not dealt with by running away.

Posted by Doug at October 25, 2006 01:54 PM

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"The short of it is, the situation is salvageable, but not with "stay the course" and certainly not with cut and run."

I'd be interested in knowing if neither stay the course nor cut and run will work (in his opinion), what will?

It is my opinion that sometimes, when things get broke, they're hard to fix. And sometimes, impossible, by our hands, anyway.

Posted by: Dan Trabue at October 25, 2006 05:39 PM

Read his letter. He thinks that taking a few steps back in order to solidify things will allow moving forward faster. Increase American presence, disarm the populace and issue national ID cards to track movements. Not sure if that's feasible, and it's a difficult precedent.

His observations of the cultural norms are worth noting as well. As I've said before, a fully-formed democracy will not spring forth overnight. It took us at least 3 years to get the Constitution right, and we had national identity and a common purpose working for us. When you have such infighting among the citizens, and a culture that considers graft and nepotism as normal, it'll take longer. But I don't think we should just take our hands off and let them go at it, especially since much of the violence is from outside in an attempt to ensure democracy does not take hold.

Posted by: Doug Payton at October 25, 2006 09:44 PM

When we take two steps back we should revisit the question of the number of troops needed to be "on the ground". When the war was being debated many people thought that we needed to committ more soldiers. As the administrations position hardened years in to the war the "troops on the ground" issue became a yearly charade. The issue would float up like a balloon and be smacked down by the president saying "I give the generals what they ask for." We now know that our military leaders buckeled under the grip of the Secretary of defense. They were afraid to ask. We stayed the course until the reality of how bad it was going started to look like loosing. And thats where we are at now. How we got here is not a "mistake". that term is too light. Its a catastrophic military blunder! Its a series of thoughtful miscalculations by people who have failed because they can't do the math. they can't do the math. Its some kind of empire dislexia. The secretary of defense has to go.
The situation we are in is not just troublesome or problematic. Its suffocating, draining, and potentialy fatal.
I think increasing the amount of troops on the ground is absolutely necessary but can only be acheived if we implement some kind of mandatory military service. We can't do it with the troops we have and thats been proven. The presence of the insurgency is increasing. the number of our people being killed or maimed is increasing. the control we have over the physical enviroment is decreasing. It can't go on. A time table however, is not an option. Its nothing but a procrustean bed that shortens or lengthens the time we admit defeat. We have to disarm Iraq. Its going to take double or triple the people we have there now.

Posted by: Mike at October 26, 2006 03:29 AM

Disarming the populace? This from (I presume) 2nd amendment advocates?

Posted by: Dan Trabue at October 26, 2006 07:20 AM

Mike, those "catastrophic military blunders" and "miscalculations" somehow managed to roll over the Iraqi army, depose and capture Saddam Hussein, kill or capture most of the "deck of cards" who were responsible for the misery in Iraq, allowed 2 elections to happen in a place where a real election hadn't happened for at least a generation, and installed a constitutional government. What an odd definition of "defeat".

The Left keeps moving the goalposts, and each time they do, they call into question all the victories that came before. Of the 17 provinces in Iraq, 2 or 3 are having serious sectarian violence, mostly Muslim-on-Muslim. You may be forgiven for thinking that the whole country in in flames if you watch CNN.

The regime of Hussein kept the lid on this simmering issue as long as they had a common fear of him. I will grant you that we probably underestimated how much of that would surface after Hussein was gone. I think we could have probably had more boots on the ground when it was necessary if the domestic political climate would have allowed it, but politics doesn't stop at the water's edge anymore. People who are now saying we should have had more troops would've been vehemently opposed to it then.

What you've offered are talking points, nothing more.

Dan, yeah, that is a little odd, and why I consider it a difficult precedent. Again, this may be a cultural or political thing. We in the US aren't used to political parties having their own militia, be it Hamas' or al Sadr's. Perhaps in that climate it would be necessary to try, though, there as here, if you outlaw guns, only the outlaws will have guns, which could be considered a worse situation.

Posted by: Doug Payton at October 26, 2006 09:25 AM

Want to flip roles and have me come out in support of them keeping the guns and you in support of taking them away?

(Actually, I'm not an pro-gun-ban kind of "liberal", but still...)

Posted by: Dan Trabue at October 26, 2006 05:21 PM

Wouldn't that cause some sort of blog implosion? :)

Posted by: Doug Payton at October 26, 2006 05:26 PM

Doug, we beat the snot out of Saddam in 91 then we disarmed him and basically kept him from rebuilding his military. His military was as much a facade as the WMD issue. Everybody knew we were going to have a relatively easy time with him in 03. The debate about post war problems was prevented by the administration. the debate then and my point now is that we would need more people than the administration was willing to commit. Its not just a talking point Doug. its the core of the problem. We are not going to change minds, but we could lessen their ability to act out their hatred if we disarmed them and we can only do that with more people. If this is a talking point then talk to me. Put your solution on the table.

Posted by: Mike at October 26, 2006 11:32 PM

"wouldn't that cause some sort of blog implosion?"

Yes. If I remember my quantum physics correctly, when matter from this universe even brushes up against anti-matter from the nega-verse, the result would be an implosion. I fear an actual reversal of matter with antimatter (or point with counter-point) could have nasty repercussions beyond just the blogosphere.

Posted by: Dan Trabue at October 26, 2006 11:36 PM

As I said, Mike, it's those moving goalposts. The term "quagmire" was being used by the Left and the press even before we got to Baghdad. Remember the sandstorm they hit on the way in? Apparently you don't remember all the talk of how it wasn't going to be an easy go. Remember all the hand wringing over potential street fighting once we got into the city? It was not at all generally accepted by the Left that we'd make quick work of them, and indeed the President wasn't going around saying it would be quick, either. You're rewriting the history, Mike, so you can use your definition of "defeat".

And you're really not going to change minds by going house-to-house and removing their guns (and you are guaranteed not to get them all, of course), especially when the major problems are concentrated in a geographically small area. So your "solution" is complete fantasy, and then you ask me for a serious one. I think the answer is beyond the knowledge of either of us. I'm just willing to admit it.

Posted by: Doug Payton at October 27, 2006 06:23 AM

I gather that you think things are going ok in Iraq. And that my problem or "fantasy" as you called it, is based fact that I get my information from CNN or worse, from someplace called the "left". Maybe we're talking apples and oranges. I made three statements about Iraq: the insurgency is increasing, the casualties are increasing, and the area we control is decreasing. Yes or no?

Posted by: Mike at October 28, 2006 03:49 AM

Assuming all your statements are true (I'm not going to debate them, but for the sake of argument), how is disarming the populace going to affect things? Again, when you go house to house removing all weapons, the only guarantees are that you won't get them all, and the ones you don't get will belong to the bad guys (and many of those arms could be coming in from out of town...Iraq isn't just watching, y'know). Thus the insurgency would still be armed and you really haven't solved anything except add more targets for them (you did mention that you don't want casualties to increase, right?), and increase suspicion among those we're working to win over.

This, as I said, is a fantasy, regardless of where you get your news.

And please don't place the blame for not enough troops on the ground solely at the feet of the President. Honestly, Democrats would've made political hay of this--played politics (even more) with the war--rather than allow any attempt to bring more force to bear on the problem. The numbers there now are too much for them, and committing more troops needs political backing. The enemy sees it when we have people suggesting an immediate pull-out, and it give them hope that if they bide their time, they'll have no resistance in the near future. Bush couldn't have increased our presence without Democrats whipping their base into a (further) uproar and quite possibly making the call for retreat stronger.

So does Bush stick with what he has and give them more time to get the job done, or does he push for more and risk losing all political capital, a huge sweep in the mid-term elections, and getting harder pressure from Democrats to pull out? You're suggesting what he should have done without considering how that would have changed the political landscape. Given how Democrats have acted without the increase, please don't try to sell me on the idea that it would have been no big deal. A defunding of the effort in Iraq would cut your solution off at the knees.

Posted by: Doug Payton at October 29, 2006 09:24 PM

Certainly there are political considerations. But I'm not trying to come to a politically correct decision. I'm saying that we cannot afford to lose in Iraq. I'm talking about military considerations. The President has said many times that he does what is right not what is politically popular. You act like your enemy is the very large % of all americans that are registered democrats. What comes first to you Doug, America or the republican party?
Disarming the population will lessen their ability to kill each other and our troops. If we cut down on the killing we have a better chance of building and repairing their society.
If there are negative political consequences to taking us in to war then I suppose thats the beauty and saving grace of our system.

Posted by: Mike at October 30, 2006 02:32 AM

Well Mike, I just wish that the leaders of the Democrat party would have the same attitude of not being able to afford to lose Iraq that you do. I'm an American first, but I wish those suggesting we bail out in Iraq ASAP would ask themselves that question. We have a responsibility to the people there. I really don't think a classic democracy is going to spring up in the near term in Iraq. Part of that is cultural and part of that is due to the handling of new-found freedom after a generation of dictatorship.

I just don't think your solution is feasible. I don't have a pat answer, but disarming the law-abiding public doesn't deal with the underlying problem.

Posted by: Doug Payton at October 30, 2006 10:14 AM

I agree 100% with Doug Paytons' statement on October 29th of disarming Iraq.
If we increase the size of the troops and remove ALL WEAPONS from Iraq society, the killing would eventually come to a halt. IF EVERYONE caught with a weapon, outside of military and law enforcement personnel, were arrested and charged with stiff penalties we would not have all this killing. Those choosing to fight, rather than turn over their arms, should expect injury or death. Anyone found supplying arms to the insurgency should be put to death, with absolutely NO EXCEPTIONS.
I mean no disrespect but I completely disagree with the gentleman whom considers this to be fantasy. This is fully accomplishable and with-in our scope.
It is my opinion that the old ideaology of removing the weapons will only result in the weapons being in the hands of the criminals is total nonsense. The main focus would be to disarm the insurgents. Since several of the insurgents are regular citizens by day but terrorist at night, removing weapons from everyday citizens would also result in removing them from the insurgents. It simply makes good common sense.

Posted by: Randy McHenry at January 5, 2007 05:35 AM