"Hopefully this Buck won't stop
… one of the best damn MilBloggers to ever knock sand from his boots." -- The Mudville Gazette
Searching curfew violators with the "assistance" of Iraqi police in Baghdad.
All parties would have rather been sleeping.
photo by Buck Sargent
Our strategy can be summed up this way: As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.
-George W. Bush, June 2005
What does it really mean to "win in Iraq?"
Am I the only one who's lost all patience for this jaded question? Especially when posed time and time again by people who've never even set boot there yet seem almost perturbed their views were snubbed by the Blue Ribbon panoply of the Iraq For Dummies study guide? (Granted, barely a dime's worth of difference between the two, but still...)
Perhaps the underlying concerns they're really trying to express with such offhanded effrontery are as follows: Are the Iraqi security forces honestly making any progress at all, or are they (and thus, we) right back where we started? Are they truly standing up or are we merely propping them up a la Weekend at Bernies 2? What happens after we finally remove the training wheels; will they fall flat on their faces? Or can we expect I.A. Joe to still be riding a Big Wheel when he's 30? The answer to all this is a resounding... kinda/sorta/maybe/not really.
The fact is none of this can be answered in an easily quotable one-sentence affirmation of optimism because it's completely dependent on which area of the country you're spotlighting. In the Kurdish north or Shiite-dominated south: Signs point to heck yeah. In the center-west of the country (i.e., Baghdad, Ramadi, Fallujah, et al.): Reply hazy, ask again later, I know nothing, please go away before someone sees us talking.
The Iraqi army as a whole is probably never going to be mistaken for The Unit, but they are for the most part capable and willing to carry out what is asked of them. It's encouraging to see them finally transition to uparmored Humvees from underarmoured Toyotas; (less so when you factor in that the enemy has since mastered converting our H1s into CO2).
But like all professional soldiers it has in recent years become a hard won point of pride for them to never again be seen as having run from a fight, especially one in which their personal honor is on the line. It cannot be understated that honor -- or what is perceived as honor -- is extremely important in Iraqi culture. The trouble has been in convincing them that allowing a tiny percentage of their society to hold the remainder in a semi-permanent state of mortal fear is (and should be considered) a fully permanent affront to their concept of manhood. Older generations of Iraqis are more used to serving as tools of a power-wielding minority than as instruments of, for, and by the people. Firing the Old Guard and starting from scratch didn't help matters. But keeping them on only would have made things worse. ("Ladies and gentlemen, this is Junta No. 5!")
That being said, what has cost us precious time and lives in the last two wasted years of the war has been the state of near total disarray that is the Iraqi police force -- where the rubber meets the road and trouble meets the rubble in this sectarian banana split.
Admittedly, there have always been some good Iraqi flatfoots on the job -- Mosul's Major Fallah (whose exploits I last recounted here) could have given Chuck Norris a run for his money. But to Ali Baba's good fortune and our continued bad fortunes, men like him on the force have to this point been few and far between. Many have no concept whatsoever of their duty to society as officers of the law. Many in positions of authority are politically or tribally appointed hacks that are so incompetent they require assistance even to read their own wall-mounted maps of their precinct checkpoints. And the number of Iraqi National Police who are not also still moonlighting as death-dealing militia members in their off time is completely up to speculation (although in the capital it often felt as if among blue-shirted Shiites it was nearly all of them).
As is now stands, many IPs haven't been out there on the streets catching bad guys because they've been too busy being the bad guys. Frankly, with all the bad juju embedded within the Iraqi po-po I don't see how they could find the energy to do much of anything else. Even with all the cars that choke the streets of Baghdad, no one's likely to get a parking ticket there any time soon. But it's still Driving While Iraqi that tends to ruin one's day.
This broken piece of the puzzle is the master key to solving this media-painted "hubristic state of fiasco" that everyone seems to agree we're now in but no one seems to agree how to solve. In Baghdad at least, the majority of the sectarian violence is tied directly to the fact that the Iraqi police forces have not been held accountable for their actions or lack thereof. They haven't been patrolling the streets or investigating crimes; they haven't been visiting neighborhoods on foot and talking with the people; they haven't even been responsive to routine emergencies much less the far-from-routine insurgency. 1-8-7? B & E? Fuggettaboutit. Dialing 9-1-1 in Baghdad only gets you Ali's Shia Kabobs: "We Deliver For Allah (NO SUNNIS, NO DOGS, NO ROUTE IRISH)".
From my vantage point during our year-plus tour, I couldn't help but notice that sans our poking, prodding, cajoling and extreme sport handholding, the bulk of the Iraqi five-o really hadn't been doing much of anything except guard their own police stations, man a few token checkpoints, and occasionally kidnap, torture, and dump the bodies of the average civilians they’re supposed to be protecting in trash piles that litter nearly every road.
You see, our dilemma from day one has been with quality control: the coalition fixation with increasing the quantity of the indigenous Iraqi forces without much regard to their quality. They have been rushed into production since 2004 in a nod to our own domestic politics to an extent that fast forwarded to 2007 we now find ourselves faced with a devastatingly huge and potential Dell-like power supply recall of a shamefully defective detective force. This was never as evident in the northern provinces, but in the capital city (the linchpin on which all our efforts hinge) it was as painfully explicit as amateur porn on HDTV.
Note to Gen. Petraeus: Completely restructure the police from the ground up and the top down -- one Baghdadi in Blue at a time if need be -- and you will see a dramatic shift in the overall balance of Iraqi society. The police are the first and last line of defense for any society. The only people they are currently defending, however, are themselves. (And if you read the papers, you'll see they're not even doing a great job of that.) Purge the ranks of the Iraqi police so they cannot simultaneously undermine our efforts, and then wield the hammer of the Iraqi army bolstered with our own forces to not just dismantle but smash the Shia militias and what remains of the Sunni gangs. The U.S. Army already has a Braveheart. What we've been hurting for is a Maximus. Unleashed? Hell!
This all may sound très simplisme, but only because the Army so often insists on taking the scenic route. But there are more options at our disposal than the either/or of "my way or the chai way." Building rapport with Iraqis is important; building hundreds of precincts by instilling a framework of lasting institutional values, however, is crucial. It is the difference between the NYPD of 2001 and the NOPD of 2005. (Or to be slightly more ecumenical, the difference between the Army's 172nd of 2006 and 372nd of 2003).
Begin the hard work of fixing this one problem above all else, and you'll see immediate results. I say this because Iraq's elected leaders will finally have the monopoly on force that defines any civil government, the Iraqi people will have won their freedom of movement back, and the imperial grunts in the American military can stop spending 21st birthdays in a dry country 7,000 miles from the closest Outback Steakhouse. I'm betting the man who said "war is heck" never sampled an MRE beef patty marinated in near beer. And believe me, it's not pretty.
President Bush is our first Harvard MBA Chief Exec. He should understand the pitfalls of placing quantity over quality. But with his Decider House Rules, we're not only getting what we pay for, we're getting what we've been failing to pay for as well.
General Ingenuity Joe strikes again:
A working prototype of Iraq Study Group Recommendation #79.
photo by Buck Sargent
It’s important to remember that “stability” is Arabic for “the mess we’re in.”
-Mark Steyn, America Alone
December 6, 2006: a date which will live in irrelevancy.
Now that four out of five critics have agreed to agree that the President's latest elective surgery is poised to kill the patient on the operating table, I finally made time to digest that redundant monstrosity of pomposity known as the Iraq Study Group Report of the Hamilton-Baker Commission. (Also referred to by anyone who's spent more than four days on the ground as The Complete Idiot's Guide to Iraq). Less people have white-lied about finishing Moby Dick than this myopia-inducing dirge, but then I don't believe even Sir James reads what he signs his name to these days, other than his own royalty checks of course.
By now it's no secret that the ISG's half-baked Ham-Bake is little more than a neverending litany of duh on arrival recommendations that are not only far from novel ideas, but have already been implemented for quite some time now. For starters:
The United States should significantly increase the number of U.S. military personnel, including combat troops, embedded in and supporting Iraqi Army units.Well, duh. Embedding military transition teams (MiTTs) throughout Iraqi units has been a staple of U.S. policy for at least the past two years, at least in deed if not word. It has been in essence the reverse of our mission creep in Vietnam, in which our early years of involvement consisted predominantly of advisory elements followed up with an escalation of combat ground forces. In Iraq's case, the opposite has been tried. A large invasion and occupation force has slowly been phased out in return for an increased training and advisory role.
This is not uniformly true throughout the theater, and is not necessarily reflected in the number of U.S. forces forward deployed -- the supply and support tail percentages have swelled in recent years to obscure this result. But of the 150,000 some-odd U.S. troops soon to be the official total in Iraq, fully half of them are in de facto non-combat duties. What this means is that they live and work on the large concentrated FOBs in a daily environment and threat level barely distinguishable from a stateside posting. The number of soldiers who venture outside the wire on a routine basis are in facto shockingly few in number.
The very eponymy of the rear-area pejoratives du jour should be enough to give lie to the journalistic trope that there are neither front lines nor safe zones in this war. It is an exaggeration that serves all the Force-Pro Fobbits, Big League CHUers, Green Zone Goblins, and Green Bean Gobblers equally, measured directly by how many times deskbound TOC-roaches, embed-wetting reporters, or KBR commandos breathlessly describe on their MySpace pages their own heroic braving of enemy rocket or mortar attacks that even the cherriest line soldier would sleep through.
Intraservice rivalries aside, what this all translates to is that the Iraqis have been on their own out there for quite some time now, helping explain both the relative success in the northern areas as well as the abject failure in the Sunni Triangle and Baghdad in particular. Bottom line: many of them simply weren't ready to fly solo and we've been remiss in pushing them into it too fast and too furiously, especially as a matter of domestic political necessity rather than military logistical imperative. After we stood them up, they fell down.
While the Pentagon publicists were busy talking up the handover of the initiative to Iraqi forces last fall, our own Stryker unit was spending a depressingly large segment of our time in Baghdad as heavily armed census takers with only a smattering of token Iraqi troops to serve as our Arabic secretaries:
"Alright, sayyid, now how many AK's do you own? Just one? Got it. And this is your car? And you live here with your wife and brother? No children? Wait, your brother has two children? Oh, they were both kidnapped. Very sorry to hear that. Okay, well... you get all that down, M'hammed? Alright, let’s move on to the next one..."Even the residents understood the fundamental absurdity of our game plan:
"Mistah, why you search the people's houses today when Ali Baba [the bad guys] leave one week before you come? He come back next week after you leave and will attack the people again. Why you not go after Ali Baba where he live? [Meaning Sadr City]. Why, mistah?"What could you say to that except throw your hands up and shrug your shoulders? An ordinary middle-aged and underemployed Iraqi engineer who can encapsulate the folly of our mission within a paragraph of broken English. Meanwhile, the the ten-member cast of The Realist World and its crew of extras was apparently busy putting the finishing touches on their million dollars-per-page words of wonder-wisdom:
The situation in Baghdad and several provinces is dire... The level of violence is high and growing. There is great suffering, and the daily lives of many Iraqis show little or no improvement. Pessimism is pervasive.Indeed. Especially in this report!
Yet the biggest disappointments in the progress of the war remain the biggest disappointments within Arab societies in general. Stuff happens, but this stuff ain't new. Name a single Arab country to date that can boast of a flawlessly managed self-government, a volunteer army created from scratch complete with a somewhat functional NCO corps, simultaneously holding an ex-dictator to account while resisting the appeal of a new one to take his place in the interim, and all while surrounded by decidedly unfriendly next-door neighbors who'd like nothing more than for them to fail spectacularly and aren't shy about helping it along.
That's what I thought.
But what say you, Messrs. O'tamia?
Iraq’s neighbors and key states in and outside the region should form a support group to reinforce security and national reconciliation within Iraq… Given the ability of Iran and Syria to influence events within Iraq and their interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq, the United States should try to engage them constructively.Dr. Phil, call your office. Form a support group! Surely they can't be serious. (They are serious, and don't call them Shirley). But Iran's already been lavishly donating to their support group of choice -- it's called Jaish al-Mahdi. But on second thought, the ISG is absolutely correct. We should be trying to engage them constructively. Which approach do you prefer: bad cop or worse cop?
In spite of their occasional head-scratching assertions that Iraq's busy-bodycount-producing neighbors arent' seeking chaos within their own 'hood, the Pap Blue Ribbon panel does eventually go on to concede that both Iran and Syria are delighting in helping bog us down there. Of course they are. And why shouldn't they? OIF Deuce effectively became Operation Swept Under The Persian Rug the second some guy with four names that probably included Hussein figured out that if you buried an artillery shell under some roadside trash and blew it up when an American column drove by that some other guy with aftermarket body armor and blow-dried hair would jump out of his Nomex socks to broadcast its aftermath across the globe before the shrapnel finished cooling.
If there's anything a group should be formed to study, it's how a nation with a cast iron stomach that could down Krouts for breakfast, Japs for dinner, and Commies for a midday snack could suddenly develop into such a bellyaching diaperpower with a blistering case of war rash.
While a case can be made that we've overplayed our hand in the War on Terror by fixating on fixing our broken pottery, at this point I still believe misunderestimating our enemies to be quite malapropriate. And one shouldn't have to TiVo the History Channel in perpetuity to recognize this.
Just as we delighted in bleeding the Soviets dry through a proxy fight in mid-eighties Afghanistan, the Iranian mullahs and the Baby Baathist regime are providing us a taste of our own medicine in mid-oughts Iraq. Like it or not, it's one for all or all for naught. Quitting the fight now doesn't just mean conceding victory there. It's conceding victory everywhere.
But why stop there? While we're at it, let's finally get with le programme and mothball our military, open up Infidel Reparation Accounts, preemptively apologize to the Muslim grievance lobby, and petition the EU for retroactive membership. Because what jizya think the other side is fighting for? I can tell you one thing: if you've ever kicked around little green footballs, you'd know it isn't free minds and free markets.
Which is precisely the point, ¿n'est-ce pas?
Mark Steyn's latest must-read volume makes the case that Muslim demographics will in our lifetimes begin to overwhelm much of the Western world, to include the entirety of Europe -- conquering via birthrates on a scale incomparable to Islamist murder rates. And in his grim estimation, "America alone" will be the last man standing. "To see off the new Dark Ages will be tough and demanding," he closes. "The alternative will be worse."
He's wrong. To those of us who've been privy to such an alternative in its purest and most wicked forms -- other than a Countdown w/Keith Olberman podcast stuck on repeat...
...little else could be worse.
Staring contest: go! SFC Pickerel meets his match.
photo by Buck Sargent
War is not the best way of settling differences; it is the only way of preventing their being settled for you.
To the apparent chagrin of the new Congressional majority, President Bush has announced that we're moving forward with a renewed commitment in Iraq. So what does this mean precisely?
Some units already in country will have their tours extended, others will have their deployment schedule ramped up... been there, done that, got the ironically premature t-shirt. Okay, so it's not exactly pleasant for those affected, but in the end what it really constitutes is more of a Pentagon paper shuffle than an "escalation." Very few troops not already in Iraq or not already slated to go have been activated.
But haven't we been down this road before? (And I don't mean the editorial "we"). Whatever happened to Operation Together Forward? I'll tell you what happened: it should have been called “Operation Ass Backwards” in that it was a meaningless photo-op assignment from the get-go that lacked the political will necessary to put our additional forces to any good use. I had predicted as much from the start. We were never allowed to do what it is we do best: take the gloves off, seek out the enemy, and destroy him.
Whenever you hear someone state that there is "no military solution in Iraq, only a diplomatic or political one," consider that code for "I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about." There is indeed still a military solution, it simply has never been tried. "Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons," admitted the individual the MSM has dubbed the Man Who Blew Too Much. "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."
In other words, making like a tree and getting out of there didn't quite work out as well as it must have looked on paper, much less in the papers. It was an exit in search of a strategy rather than the other way around. A quagmire is only a quagmire in so much as you're stuck in the suck and SOL. But Iraq is no hopeless basket case, it simply has a few difficult and seemingly intractable problems that only seem intractable because the country's most notable failures are directly linked to it's most notable successes. Democracy is as democracy does.
Sadr's Mahd Squads are producing Muslim body counts in Baghdad at a rate that would impress Jack Bauer circa Season Four. They stage so many fake checkpoints throughout the capital that residents call driving to work "Iraqi Roulette." But these guys also control a significant voting block in parliament. They're not fighting the government, they are the government. Don't vote or we'll kill you. (But if you do vote, you better vote for us or you're really gonna get it!)
One thing you've got to understand about lower class Iraqis: they love their strongmen. You've heard of Sadr City? Lovely place. Well, it used to be called Saddam City, at least until it's prime benefactor relocated to a deluxe apartment in the ground. Out with the old, in with the bold. Only in this case, the new landlord is reported to be just like the previous one, minus the compassion. You know how it is with a copy of a copy.
Would taking out Sadr himself do any good at this point? Probably not. Like any mafia don, he'd only be replaced with another lieutenant waiting in the wings. The Iraqis government needs to dismantle his organization themselves, not only to prove they have the military might but that they possess the political will to clean their own house.
Where does that leave our own forces? Much has been made about the ever-shifting sands that dictate our ROEs, but it's our own ROPE (Rules of Previous Engagements) that have us really tied down in the desert. We've become so dominant militarily -- so far ahead of the competition technically, tactically, and technologically -- that we now routinely get booed for running up the score. Unfortunately, Islamists don't recognize fair play. But they do recognize cultural squeamishness for what it is: a fundamental weakness to be exploited.
This is practically a ready-made recipe for how to blow a counterinsurgency war at the buzzer. But it need not continue down that path. Mistakes have been made, as they have been made in all wars. Yet so long as course-corrections are forthcoming, they must be given time to take hold.
- Insurgent revolving door justice
- Mosque armory sanctuaries
- Politically connected untouchables
- Failure to identify, protect, and fully develop civilian sources
- Over-reliance on local sources with their own agendas
"This will not be a campaign of half measures," stated President Bush at the outset of the invasion, "and we will accept no outcome except victory."
Nearly four hard years later that initial assertion has been proven wrong. But the veracity of the latter is up to all of us now. To fight on is no guarantee of success, but to quit prematurely is a guarantee of failure. The Commander-in-Chief has chosen to press on; whether the new Congress decides to help or hinder depends ultimately on which option you choose.
It's your call. Choose wisely.
If a writer goes to war for a year, he will have enough to write about for the rest of his lifetime.
New colors, new fonts, new pictures! What's not to love?!
This is the brand-new release of AMERICAN CITIZEN SOLDIER version 2.0!
In an attempt to make the site more user friendly I've included a ton more to look at, point at, and click on. If it's overkill, then I apologize, but you'll just have to get used to it for the time being. Though of course any critiques or suggestions are always welcome.
You'll notice that the new URL has been simplified also, though the previous domain name will still work just fine. No link updates are necessary. I hope to eventually add a more extensive blogroll to include everyone who has been generous enough to link to my site, but if I mistakenly leave you out, please email me.
This will be my final year in the military, with any luck to be spent entirely stateside. I will do my best to use my previous experience to help illuminate as best I can what lies ahead for our country in what President Bush once called "The Struggle Against Ideological Extremists Who Do Not Believe in Free Societies Who Happen to Use Terror as a Weapon to Try to Shake the Conscience of the Free World."
And people say he's not eloquent.
- BUCK SARGENT
- United States
- Buck Sargent is the alter ego of a three-tour Iraq and Afghanistan veteran. He now enjoys sleeping late, not shaving, and being on the same continent as his wife and kids.