Friday, January 12, 2007

Guardedly Skeptical

I've been a nay-sayer here about the war recently. I have found it increasingly difficult to have much faith in the president's competence in prosecuting the war. I still believe we are on the threshold of taking a side in an ancient religious feud. Let's hope not.

I would at least like to upgrade my negative position to 'guardedly skeptical'. I was reminded this morning that my armchair viewpoint is spun from a digital tower. There are people whose experience on the ground in Iraq trumps the prognostications I dream up on the Blogosphere.

Here's the views from some soldiers on the ground in Iraq. In this article at least, they're more optimistic that the fresh troops being deployed will be a positive development.

I hope they're right. And I hope they can do their work well and come home, in spite of the politics at home. And in spite of my skepticism. Read on:

U.S. troops: Fresh faces must be used correctly

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A few hours after President Bush announced more than 20,000 additional troops would deploy to Iraq, U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Casper was doing inventory with his soldiers.

Like most soldiers here, Casper did not catch Bush's speech, but he knew the basics: More troops are on the way.

"It's trying something new, and if it works, it works; and if not, we will have to find something else," he said.

Staff Sgt. Roy Starbeck also didn't hear Bush's remarks, but he did hear some of the dissenting reaction from politicians and others -- and it irked him to no end.

"It's just ... really just aggravating," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "People saying that they don't support the war because they don't like the president or saying they don't support the war because they are Democrats or saying they support the war because they are Republicans.

"None of them are taking the time or energy to find out what is actually going on over here."

Most of the soldiers who spoke with CNN said they believe that if the fresh troops are used in the right way, the increase could be a significant help. But these men have no say in policy.

In the words of one soldier, "I am just a little fish."

Starbeck said he believes that Bush "did a pretty good job of owning up to what is going on over here."

That sentiment -- that Americans don't fully understand what's going on in Iraq -- is one that resonates among troops.

A lot of them said they feel that those who make the decisions and the American people don't have a clue what they --- the soldiers, Marines and other forces --- are going through. And dealing with that is not easy...

Based on their experiences fighting in Baghdad, troops who talked with CNN said they feel that more troops would be best used alongside Iraqi security forces. Even in areas that already have been handed over to Iraqi control, the Americans still find themselves coaching and mentoring the Iraqis down to the last detail.

The Iraqi troops also have told CNN they want the American firepower on their side because it bolsters their confidence.

In addition, U.S. soldiers have said they have noticed that when they are present in force, the sectarian violence tends to decrease.

"We would drive right down the Sunni-Shia fault line when we heard the gunfight going on and that would calm things down," Staff Sgt. Daniel Beard told us out on patrol.

His platoon commander, Charles Moffit, said he thinks the increased troops will help.

"We can only be in so many places at one time. ... If we have more soldiers here, we can be more places at one time."

Many of the soldiers here are on their second -- if not third or fourth -- deployments and have a solid grasp on the countless challenges they face.

They know that military power alone is not going to win the fight. And they also know that while, as many of them said, the plans often sound great on paper, it translates differently on the streets of Baghdad.

"I think it's a double-edged sword," Army Sgt. Jason Dooley said, peering over the shoulder of an American sniper about halfway into Tuesday's 10-hour gunbattle for Haifa Street.

"Increasing troops could show more force, could incite the insurgents or get them to back off. You never really know. They do what they want to do -- that's what makes it so hard."

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Lose, Lose, Lose

Here's some snippets from President Bush's speech on a new Iraq strategy this evening:

The consequence of failure:
The consequences of failure are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region, and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions. Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people...
The cause of failure:
There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents. And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have.
The new security arrangement:
The Iraqi government will deploy Iraqi Army and National Police brigades across Baghdad’s nine districts. When these forces are fully deployed, there will be 18 Iraqi Army and National Police brigades committed to this effort – along with local police. These Iraqi forces will operate from local police stations – conducting patrols, setting up checkpoints, and going door-to-door to gain the trust of Baghdad residents.

...this will require increasing American force levels.
The intended result:
...over time, we can expect to see Iraqi troops chasing down murderers, fewer brazen acts of terror, and growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad’s residents. When this happens, daily life will improve, Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders, and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas. Most of Iraq’s Sunni and Shia want to live together in peace – and reducing the violence in Baghdad will help make reconciliation possible.

- - -

The President's Iraq plan assumes that there is a cogent, non-sectarian, uncorrupted Iraqi national government to partner with. I propose that this is an illusion, laid bare by Saddam's mob-like execution at the hands of revenging Shi'a. There is no real national government in Iraq that represents all the factions. I don't believe it is possible at this hour.

We're pouring 20,000 more of our forces to go "door-to-door to gain the trust of Baghdad residents". Translation: We're going to unwittingly assist one side of this sectarian conflict suppress the other. We will be taking sides in a conflict that goes back more than a millennium.

It has become inordinately difficult to see how our token force of 20,000 additional troops embedded in Iraq's sectarian war will turn the tide in the Global War on Terror.

I supported this war because I felt it was a gamble worth taking, given the data we had at the time regarding Saddam's WMD programs. But through deception from many sides, error, misjudgment, incompetence, stupidity, naiveté, over-exuberance and bad luck, the gamble failed. 20,000 troops in 2007 is 20,000 troops too late.

Perhaps some will think this is an overarching strategy to beef-up forces in the region pending engaging the Iranians. If we need to do that, we need to consider how taking sides in a pointless sectarian war in Iraq now is going to strengthen our resolve in dealing with Iran later. Here's a hint: It won't. It will sap us. The pointlessness of the exercise will be self-fulfilling.

Hell, I'm no military strategist. I don't have a specific strategy in mind to secure even a limited defeat, short of withdrawal. But I think the President's calling for 20,000 troops at this stage of the conflict is not serious. You and I -- private citizens not in uniform -- are asked to do nothing but fret. The sacrifice expected of us is, once again, minimal.

Enjoy your iPhones.