Monday, August 20, 2007

The War as We Saw It

A New York Times op-ed, courtesy of AlterNet, written by seven soldiers currently serving in Iraq as part of the 82nd Airborne:

VIEWED from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)


Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.


In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: one of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a “time-sensitive target acquisition mission” on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive and is being flown to a military hospital in the United States.) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse — namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.


Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.

At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably.

Click here for more.

So the reason I think this essay is so great is not because it's written by soldiers on the ground over there, although such a fact lends their analysis a strong level of emotional credibility, but because it so well articulates my own take on the situation. That is, the occupation isn't really facing a military problem: it's facing a supremely fucked up political problem, so fucked up in fact, that it has manifested itself in terms of mass violence. There is no military solution in Iraq, at least, none short of genocide that can be implemented by the United States. While we waste time, money, and American life pretending that we can somehow make it work against all odds, we're artificially preventing the political scenario from playing itself out. Yeah, the violence will most likely intensify in the short run after we pull out, but it's really doing that anyway. Soon there will be very little difference, in terms of violence, between US forces being there and not being there.

There's a good argument out there that says something along the lines of "whether the invasion was right or wrong, we owe it to Iraq now to make things better." Well that's persuasive to an extent, but you can't pay what you don't have. That is, the only way we can make things better over there is to get the hell out.