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March 02, 2006

Promises of Hope, Omens of Disaster

How do we judge, rightly, the promise that is Iraq? Out of the broken shards of the Golden Dome at Samarra, what will rise?

For three years now we have witnessed the anguished hand-wringing of countless pundits. At any moment civil war, that ne plus ultra of all bad, scary monsters hiding under the liberal bed at night, was said to be breaking out, all due to the reckless unilateralism of that awful cowboy Bush. Of course in all the delicious outrage, who would dare to suggest civil war was the inevitable and desired result (if not the only logical consequence) of this little bill, signed into law with bipartisan support by William Jefferson Clinton:

Today I am signing into law H.R. 4655, the "Iraq Liberation Act of 1998." This Act makes clear that it is the sense of the Congress that the United States should support those elements of the Iraqi opposition that advocate a very different future for Iraq than the bitter reality of internal repression and external aggression that the current regime in Baghdad now offers.

Let me be clear on what the U.S. objectives are: The United States wants Iraq to rejoin the family of nations as a freedom-loving and law-abiding member. This is in our interest and that of our allies within the region.

The United States favors an Iraq that offers its people freedom at home. I categorically reject arguments that this is unattainable due to Iraq's history or its ethnic or sectarian make-up. Iraqis deserve and desire freedom like everyone else. The United States looks forward to a democratically supported regime that would permit us to enter into a dialogue leading to the reintegration of Iraq into normal international life.

How soon we forget. Yet today the party who sternly denounce so-called racial profiling at our airports see no discontinuity in pronouncing the Iraqis "not quite ready for prime time" (aka, democracy). How very special: apparently freedom only works for the kind of irony-impaired, elite, overfed Western academic who wants to bar its defenders from Ivy League campuses in the name of inclusion.

Almost as if to spite the doubters, the Iraqis continue to rise to the occasion. Past doubt, past fear, through every setback fortune has set in their path they doggedly put their heads down and persevere. And still, we doubt them.

At times, they begin to doubt themselves. Last week Zeyad of Healing Iraq wrote:

What kind of nation are we? What kind of nation kills its intellectuals and academics, its doctors and healers, its women and children, its clerics and preachers? What kind of nation blows up churches and mosques, hotels and schools, funerals and weddings? We have left nothing sacred. Yet we have the insolence to accuse others of offending us, of vilifying us. I announce today that we have proved ourselves worthy of that vilification. Ten years ago, I denounced religion and disavowed Islam. I do not want to be forced to disavow my country and nation today, but with every new day, Iā€™m afraid I am getting closer to it.

022206golden_dome.jpg As Max Boot writes in the LA Times, seen up close, Iraq gets blurry:

ARE WE WINNING or losing in Iraq? Liberals and conservatives safe at home have no trouble formulating glib answers to that fundamental question. The former can always point to setbacks, the latter to successes. The picture becomes blurrier, the future murkier when you spend time in Iraq, as I did last week.

Boot spent time talking to US commanders. He learned, as people often do when they take the time to grope past the iron curtain erected by the American media, that we are making considerable headway; that we have our little successes, even if they aren't considered fit reading for the American public. He leaves, days later, more uncertain than when he arrived:

A few days later, while visiting the Green Zone in Baghdad, I was briefed on the progress being made in standing up Iraqi forces. A year ago, only three Iraqi battalions controlled their own "battle- space." Today, the total is up to 40 battalions and counting. Those units have achieved impressive results in some rough neighborhoods. As I discovered firsthand, it is now safe to travel down Route Irish between the Green Zone and Baghdad airport ā€” once the most dangerous road in the world. Yet there are well-justified concerns about sectarian divisions and human rights abuses within the security forces.

Worst of all, just when the situation seems to be improving, a spectacular act of violence such as the mosque bombing will bring the country to the edge of the abyss. As Jones noted ruefully during a 30-minute ride between his base and the giant U.S. logistics hub near Balad, "You can go days without anything bad happening, and then you find 47 dead bodies." Which is more important ā€” the signs of progress that mostly pass unheralded, or the continuing woes splashed across newspaper front pages? I left Iraq more uncertain than when I arrived.

It's a good question: how do we measure success in Iraq? When will it be safe to declare "mission accomplished"?

It occurs to me that it's all a question of standards. If the standard is going to be no violence, then we'll never be "done". But this isn't Peoria, Illinois. It's the Middle East. Israel has been a democracy since 1945 and it is still experiencing terrorist attacks. By that metric, Israel isn't "ready for democracy": it has an insurgent problem that just won't go away, doesn't it? But on the other hand, the vast majority of its people go about their business in peace most of the time.

join.bmp As Robert Kaplan points out, we can't force democracy on the Iraqis. But I think he's wrong in one vital respect. I'm not sure we're forcing it on them. They've had a number of opportunities to elect against it, and they seem to be choosing it every chance they get, even with all its manifest drawbacks. And from all indications they are more optimistic about their future, even with all the insecurity they are experiencing now, than they were before. People are not meant to be sheep. They want to be free, even when freedom brings insecurity, worry, electricity that doesn't work and shortages of certain commodities.

Kaplan seems to pose something of a false dichotomy between benevolent despotism and democracy, but this choice was never afforded to Iraq. Hussein may have made some of the trains run on time, but he was anything but benevolent. His theoretical choice seems attractive, but I'd wager most of us would rather take our chances with a fairly disorganized set of brigands who subject us to random acts of horrific violence than live under a regimented state where ruthless repression, torture, and imprisonment are not only institutionalized but brutally efficient. No wonder the Iraqis feel that things are looking up.

Pundits on both the left and right agree on one thing: the long term fate of Iraq does not lie in our hands. To think otherwise is both hubristic and foolish. Only the Iraqis can determine their future. But that is a good thing, I think, because unlike their many critics, I have faith in them.

What we must be wary of is defining success by myopic yardsticks that lead us to despair over things we cannot control, or the kind of cock-eyed optimism that leads us to overlook the real dangers that still lie in wait for us in an increasingly dangerous world. Critics of our present course lament the undeniable fact that we cannot completely control events in Iraq. Yet we do have some influence. That is more than we had when Saddam Hussein was in power. If our goals are now deemed over-ambitious (if failing to impose a perfectly mature democracy in three years on a dysfunctional state can be termed a 'failure') perhaps it is yardsticks for success which are at fault rather than the goals themselves.

It is an old adage of war that no plan long survives contact with the enemy. There are worse things than failing to achieve a worthy goal within the originally allotted time. One of them is allowing the plan to become more important than the final objective, a lesson which Congressional critics like John Murtha could stand to consider. Another is choosing yardsticks for success that assure you can never win the game. That is what I very much fear we have done in Iraq.

Posted by Cassandra at March 2, 2006 07:35 AM

Comments

> People are not meant to be sheep.

Are lefties "people"? 'Cause I'm not certain this would apply to them. If anyone in the world is meant to be sheep, it's them.

Posted by: OBloodyHell [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 2, 2006 11:09 AM

Is a civil war all that bad a thing if it happens in Iraq? Of course the death and destruction would be ugly but I seem to recall a certain nation having one of the bloodiest civil wars in history somewhere back around the mid 1800s. Growing pains?

Ignorance is the biggest threat in that entire theater. The big debate over radical Islam is a by-product of that ignorance. We have made massive inroads into getting their schools open to combat that very thing. To me the answer is education. The rest will take care of itself.

Probably the biggest question remains, "Do we have the will to support an ongoing occupation long enough to make the difference?" Tough call. We've buried too many young heroes not to finish the mission IMHO. I hate it when we lose them. To the core I hate it. The propaganda snuff films produced by the muj where we see young folks we know and love have life extinguished draws the exact opposite reaction they are looking for (in me anyhoo). They do nothing but strengthen resolve and draw an anger the likes of which the muj cannot deal with. While they think they have the market cornered on the war in the media because of the DoD's ineptitude and our MSM's seditious bias they are sorely mistaken. Hell hath no fury like an American that is truly and honestly pissed off with righteous anger. Here endth the rant and I'll speak no more about those snuff videos.

If it were left to those that do the sacrificing yes, we would stay the course and finish the mission. But it is up to the moderate Muslims to get off their collective asses and put down the rebellion within their own religion. Or face the consequences of their lack of action!

Sorry to go off on a tangent Cass. My humble apologies!

Posted by: JarheadDad [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 2, 2006 07:13 PM

You rate it, darlin'. If anyone rates it, you do.

We've buried too many young heroes not to finish the mission IMHO. I hate it when we lose them. To the core I hate it.

I've been heartened, several places, to read in the Iraqi blogs that they seem to have confidence in the IA guys. That's some good work we've done - you make sure and pass that along to Kris.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 2, 2006 07:35 PM

Da Grunt just read your post Cass and says, "Thanks. 1-4 are heartbreakers and lifetakers. They are really good to go and will handle their AO no problem." And now he's off in the shop working on a hotrod (how unusual!).

He won't say it but I will! Those boys are proud of IA 1-4. They were the first stand alone IA BN in-country and that was a job. The hours and hours of four and five-a-days with these Iraqis were tough. The sacrifices they made to stand this BN up were severe. But By God THEY GOT THE JOB DONE! And yeah, I'm shouting and proud as a peacock for these young heroes of 2/2. Can you tell? ;-)

Now, all the problems they had to deal with like the constant IA personnel rotations, lack of governemnt on time paychecks, etc. were enough to pull their hair out. The constant fear of turncoat IP was a problem as well plus the IP inability to stand up and fight drew massive ridicule from the Grunts. But at the end of the day the job was done. The hurdles were overcome. The tributes were paid to fallen comrades and they will forever be in our hearts.

We just simply cannot allow these sacrifices to go for naught! - Semper Fi!

Posted by: JarheadDad [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 3, 2006 10:26 AM

We are all proud - prouder than we can ever hope to express - of the 2/2, JHD. There have been a lot of tears shed, and rightly so.

But what a magnificent legacy they will leave behind them if we can pull this off.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 3, 2006 10:41 AM

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