Last night I sat alone on the porch and studied the pieces of a puzzle. It had come in a care package from home, and consisted of six small pieces of wood, of equal dimensions, with differing types of slots cut across them. I have no idea what the puzzle is supposed to look like, but I'm still trying to assemble the wooden bones into some coherent whole. As the parts move in my hands, they occasionally form into larger shapes, only to collapse because I've failed to incorporate all the parts at my disposal. In some ways, I see the puzzle as an analogy to Iraq. Many pieces must grow and fit together, or the nation that grows on them will eventually tumble and fall. I continue to stare at the bones of the puzzle, and begin to associate them with the forces that strive together attempting to form Iraq. The Military, The Media, Government, Religion. Other pieces lie on the table unnamed, representing forces I remain unaware of.
Over the next week or two, I plan on taking a post here and there to explain my opinions on these. I don't have a thesis or much of a rational, convincing argument; just thoughts spewed out on paper. First, I'll tackle The Military.
First, a sidenote:
One of my biggest pet peeves is the attitude that says "Support the troops: Bring them home!". Last time I checked, the troops are all volunteers. Of course, that might change if Rep. Rangel gets his way and reinstates the draft, but for now, we've all chosen this life. If you claim to support the troops, listen to me: we do not want to be used as a political weapon. If we pull military forces out of Iraq before the Iraqis are fully capable of managing their own affairs, if we go home and leave Iraq in a downward spiral, if we fail in this task of nation building that we find ourselves at, then we doom the American military to a long period of even greater risks. It's your choice not to support the war; just don't pretend to support the troops while using them as a political tool.
Back on track:
My area of operations in Eastern Anbar is largely free of the sectarian violence that plagues Baghdad and other areas of Iraq. The large Sunni population trades religious violence for killings directed against coalition forces and fellow Sunnis judged to be too friendly with CF or Shia government officials in Baghdad. Even if the CF were to leave Iraq, violence would continue among the Sunnis, who have been historically marginalized by powerful Shia in the new government.
Various talking heads stateside have been repeating the view that there is no military solution to the conflict in Iraq. In large part I agree: we can't simply kill all the insurgents, because in the process we create more insurgents. Even if we managed to kill them all, there are many factions who do not desire the same ends for Iraq. However, without some sort of partial military solution and a stable, violence-free environment, we cannot expect any lasting political solution. Iraqi forces are not ready to assume sole control of the country- the military is getting better, and in some areas operates outside of US control, but the police are plagued by widespread corruption. Something like 70% of police across the country have militia ties, according to the AP- not something you want if you're trying to enforce justice equally across all factions. Even the professionals in the military have reliability problems: in case you were wondering just how the best soldiers in the Iraqi army feel about the current political climate, The Times is there.
Obviously, "Stay the course" will lead us nowhere. Small wonder. It's a basic principle of counterinsurgency that no operation will succeed without the troops involved getting out among the local population, giving them a chance to associate and identify with their protectors. The current strategy tends more towards limiting "face time" with the locals because of the danger involved, preferring to spend more time behind berms and barb wire. Units that engage the local populace have enjoyed greater success in fighting the insurgency, as the British in the south have shown. If "Stay the course" isn't the answer, neither is "Set your course across the Atlantic". My chief fear now is that the military will not be allowed to pursue a course beneficial to Iraq, and will eventually be brought home with the job undone.
I never figured out how the puzzle went together.