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August 18, 2005

The Foe We Face
Posted by Stanton Denman

Hello, my name is Stanton, one of the people Lorelei asked  to post while she's gone-- I'm still scratching my head over that, as I don’t have the impressive credentials of the other folks here. As for me, I've been an actor, musician, landscaper, journalist, and now a contractor for the government (be a musician, if you get the choice), but I won't bore you with my ADD resume any more.

I was reading this about the car bombings in Baghdad yesterday. Couple things:

1) there is seething anger at what was done, stoked by non-stop coverage of the event, a first in Iraq; anger at those behind the bombings, but also and especially at occupation forces and the Iraqi government for lack of protection.  Why the extra rage for what seems a weekly occurrence?  IMO, there was something exceptionally remorseless about the bombings yesterday-- something especially vicious that stabbed at the hearts of Baghdadis. Perhaps because, asassination-tag between Sunni and Shia militias aside, insurgents had lately been targeting US or Iraqi forces and not civilians, and there was an unspoken hope that despite looming violence, the rest of Iraqi society would be more or less left alone. Perhaps because there seems progress, even if it turns out illusory, towards a constitution, and a real government could actually be envisioned in the distance like an oasis.  For whatever reason, it seems many Iraqis had let themselves hope-- just a bit--  and this return to savagery was a numbing blow.  This was a methodical, triple hit, with especially cruel intentions-- on a police station, then two civilian targets, the second a hospital. The bombers could have easily hit the police station with each -- but they didn’t: one bomb to intimidate police, one bomb to kill Shias travelling south at the bus terminal, and a finale down the street at the hospital entrance, as the injured streamed through its doors .  As COL Kurtz says to Willard towards the end of Apocalypse Now:

And then I realized...like I was  shot...Like I was shot with a diamond...a diamond bullet right  through my forehead...And I thought: My God...the genius of that. The  genius. The will to do that.

The will to do that.

Posturing aside, do we as nation-- truly-- have the stomach for this fight?  We know the answer-- we don't, which is why even the old faithfuls on the right on are starting to get happy feet.  If anyone thinks a quick exit isn't already being planned at the highest levels, I invite them to read this front page story from Sunday's Washington Post.  So we will be getting out, sooner than later. But we can't leave overnight, and the Iraqis (except the educated urbanites we desperately need to stay there) can't leave at all.

Well, then, what does the future hold?

2) Some of the witness statements are chilling predictors, with or without US troops there. From a taxi driver at the terminal:

"I was waiting to get two more passengers to go to Kut when this explosion occurred," he said. "I found myself bleeding and my car damaged. Why would anyone detonate his car here? Are they trying to kill passengers, but for what purpose? Only because most of the ones traveling south are Shiites?"

A reminder, from the bombers and their support network to the rest of the country -- especially Shias-- that, a) the sectarian fight ain't over, it's a multi-pronged war, and they are capable of fighting both simultaneously, and; b) their abilities to execute these types of sophisticated operations have, if anything, become enhanced.  An ominous calling card for when the inevitable US withdrawal occurs, and they can focus their murderous attention on other, much less challenging targets.

This, though, disturbed me most:

"But how can we stop these attacks?" asked a woman who identified herself as Um Karim, a passenger in a bus that had just turned out of the terminal onto a main street when the third bomb exploded. "We have a saying in Arabic: 'It's hard to catch the thief if he is a member of the family.' That's our predicament."

It's now fairly obvious, at least to me, that US forces will never "get inside the decision-making loop" of the insurgency. But now it appears that the native Iraqis doing intel work with the best of intentions may fare no better; her quote is a haunting look at just how buried the insurgency is, and how vicious and anonymous this fight will continue to be, even after US forces begin to leave. Imagine our own Civil War, fought without uniforms.

As we make our plans for the future, we need to look down the road, at the evolution of the foe both the US and the Iraqi governments will be facing.  The picture I see is bleak.  To paraphrase Paul Rieckhoff (sp?) of Operation Truth: you can't plan unless you establish a baseline.  And part of the baseline is finding out the capability of the opponent. It seems, as we start to truly  gauge the opponent's capabilities, that our government is now tripping over itself to get out of Dodge, while Iraqis, who have borne witness to the inabilities of our war machine against this wraith, are now coming to terms with both the monumental cruelty of the war to come, and the increasing likelihood that it will be theirs to fight alone.

I'm not smart enough to have or even suggest a solution. But I do know it's past time we take a long hard look at where we are, and what we have wrought.

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Comments

Welcome Stanton. Can't disagree with most of what you wrote.

However, I do wish people would overcome their obsession with our "will" and our "stomach." The stomach is an important organ, I don't deny it, but not as important as brains. A strategy based mostly on will is a stupid strategy. Verdun was a battle of wills.

Much more important than our lack of stomach is our divided aims. We wanted an Iraq that was democratic, but also secular, with a completely privatized economy, friendly to Israel, and with a gov't that allowed us to base our military forces there. Maybe all of these are good things, but you have to choose, and Bush didn't until he was forced.

Other things higher on our list of deficiences are the inadequate # of troops, troops untrained for peacekeeping, and total ignorance of the country. Only if we had all or at least most of these would will have been a real factor.

But even that would probably not be enough, since many of the problems we are facing are internal to Iraq, and have little or nothing to do with Bush's post-war performance. The State Dep't warned us about this before the war, but was mocked by the administration. Now they agree, but too late.

We'll see. Bush is not Clinton, nor, for that matter, Reagan. He does not cut his losses. He's more like Grant - willing to take big losses for overall gain, & taking the long view over the short. I expect we'll be in Iraq for as long as it takes, as long as Bush is in office. Which, of course, could turn out to be the same thing.

“(Bush’s) more like Grant - willing to take big losses for overall gain, & taking the long view over the short.

…mmm, grant was an acknowledged tactical genius – he routinely anticipated his enemies’ moves and responded swiftly in an appropriately brutal fashion, costing his opponents far more than they could afford - even while accepting losses himself. he did this well enough that, if effect, he kept the original Union together.

bush, however, is not truly a military man – he dropped in for a cup of coffee and (so it seems) left early.

what the two men do have in common is poker: bush is said to also have been an avid poker player(while in college).

supposedly the secret of a successful poker player is to encourage to your opponent to bet as many chips as possible on a losing hand. if that is true, it appears to me that bush is playing the losing hand on iraq.

“I'm not smart enough to have or even suggest a solution. But I do know it's past time we take a long hard look at where we are, and what we have wrought.”

…i am also not smart enough to solve the quandary that is iraq. i have posited and ending here.

doc said: "…i am also not smart enough to solve the quandary that is iraq. i have posited and ending here."

So I went over & read that ending, & you know what, I've seen it before. It's just a cleaned up version of the ending to the Vietnam War. Basically, the idea is that the Congress withdraws its support & we abandon the locals to their miserable fate at the hands of barbarians.

The assumption seems to be that the Islamofacists are the North Vietnamese.

They aren't.

doc also said: "supposedly the secret of a successful poker player is to encourage to your opponent to bet as many chips as possible on a losing hand. if that is true, it *appears* to me that bush is playing the losing hand on iraq."

The italics on "appears" renders what doc said nicely ambiguous. One implication seems to be that Bush is suckering his opponents in. Could be.

harmon -

“So I went over & read that ending, & you know what, I've seen it before. It's just a cleaned up version of the ending to the Vietnam War.“

…a valid point. one of that war’s worthies recently said:

“Kissinger, who served as national security adviser and secretary of state in the Nixon and Ford administrations, said the United States should remove any troops that are not necessary to the American goal of stabilizing Iraq -- "But we cannot begin with an exit without having first defined what the objective is."”

i am not a kissinger fan but I also recognize that he is a) far from stupid and b) rather experienced at how to not end an ill conceived military campaign. thus my post about staying in iraq long enough to ensure a stable, working government that can handle its own security seems to be in line with what kissinger and others are saying. (please, save your breath: i am not comparing myself to kissinger or others: similarities in ideas are easily attributable to zeitgeist and media saturation)

i find it sad that anyone would complain about “a cleaned up version of the ending to the Vietnam War” as means of exiting iraq: i doubt you are truly saying the US should stay until we waste another 60,000 american lives, without achieving the nebulously defined objectives of our political leaders, but it sure can be read that way.

so i assume what you really mean is that we have to stay in iraq until…what? that is the crux of the biscuit: i call it a project plan, kissinger says ‘objective’, either way what it means is that a well defined, objective and obtainable goal has to be set for our forces, accompanied by a firm timeline for accomplishing that goal.

unless – and here i can’t tell since you offered nothing in the way of specifics – you mean something along the lines of…:

"The day that I can land at the airport in Baghdad and ride in an unarmed car down the highway to the Green Zone is the day that I'll start considering withdrawals from Iraq," said McCain, R-Arizona…” (same link as kissinger quote)

soooo…do you mean that we need to add more troops to those currently in iraq? if so, where do they come from? how long to you plan to keep the up-tick in forces on line and what is your plan to pay for them? how long do you propose to keep them in iraq? do you have a goal that you believe the US can achieve in iraq? what is it? what is the definition of completion of your goal and by what metrics will you be able to measure that? as a gentleman named Grant put it in a pervious post: “What does staying the course really mean?”

the above is not sarcasm: i have not heard an intelligent, cogent definition of our armed forces mission in iraq, much less a means of achieving said mission, since before they were commanded to invade the country, and i look forward to reading your proposals.

“The italics on "appears" renders what doc said nicely ambiguous. One implication seems to be that Bush is suckering his opponents in. Could be.”

…rove has pulled bush’s bacon from the fire since before 2000: there is the possibility that he may yet conceive a winning gambit in iraq.

"do we as nation-- truly-- have the stomach for this fight?"

Absolutely- do you remember Beslan? 9/11? 7/7? I do and I would much rather see the terrorists engaged by American troops in Iraq than on the streets of my hometown.

I hear compaints all the time by those opposed to the war that we've created a "training ground" or "battle hardened terrorists". The solution to *that* problem is not to pull out troops- what do you expect the terrorists to do then? Iraq isn't the only "legitimate grievance" they have. What about Afghanistan? Israel? Or simply the fact that we're dirty infidels standing in the way of the caliphate?

A quick exit in Iraq will be disastrous for the Western world. The simple fact of the matter is that the terrorists are engaged in a conflict with Iraqi and American troops over there- take away the American troops and Iraq will fall. There's a debate over what will replace it but whatever it is, hundreds of terrorists will be able to look further afield to continue their campaign. Islamic terrorism existed before Iraq and it will carry on after it.

That's an important point that many don't seem to consider. What happens next?

According to the MSM in Britain and America, Iraq is nothing more than a series of car bombs and IEDS. According to the troops out there, the battle against the terrorists is being won, day by day. Think on that for a moment- the terrorists are losing, American troops kill them wholesale if they try to stand, Iraqi police and military are taking over areas where previously the terrorists operated with impunity (when was the last time the terrorists took over a police station?), and now we're hearing that the Sunni terrorists are battling the foreign ones. We're winning. So why walk away now when the terrorists are being defeated?

Do you have the stomach to face what might happen if hundreds of terrorists suddenly *win* in Iraq? Can you imagine how they will feel if they *defeat* America there? Do you honestly think that it will not urge them on to attempt bigger things? And that is exactly how an American withdrawal will be perceived, no matter what we might call it- a victory by the terrorists. Once Iraq falls, will they step up the campaign in Afghanistan? Could they turn their attention to taking Saudi Arabia? We can't say for sure but I do know that a terrorist victory is not going to be good for America or the world.

Consider that for a moment- what will terrorists uplifted by beating the USA in Iraq do next? Will they attempt to use the tactics and techniques they now use in Iraq in the United States? Northern Ireland has survived 30 odd years of terrorism, but I can tell you it's not pleasant- and as much as I despise the IRA, the jihadis are worse- they have no qualms about killing *anyone*. Remember Beslan? No, really- take a moment and think about that- go and look at some pictures, read the story again. Do you want that for America? Think of the car bombers who drive their loads into crowds of children- when they could just as easily wait a few moments. That's the enemy we face and that's why we have the stomach to fight on in Iraq- because the possibilities of them being free to do that anywhere in the world are utterly terrifying.

Consider too the Iraqi people- what will happen to them if we pull out? Will they face a Baathist regime or a "taliban" regime? Either way, I don't want to think that we left them to that fate. Not when we're winning, not because some just don't have the "stomach" for it.

doc said: " so i assume what you really mean is that we have to stay in iraq until…what? that is the crux of the biscuit: i call it a project plan, kissinger says ‘objective’, either way what it means is that a well defined, objective and obtainable goal has to be set for our forces, accompanied by a firm timeline for accomplishing that goal."

I think that we have to stay in Iraq for a long long time. I was a military dependant in West Germany back in the 60s, and my high school (rather, its descendant) is still there. So I tend to take the long view of things. Real long. Pause for a moment & think in terms of the Cold War - would you ask for a timeline to end that war? To stop our occupation of Korea? To stop, for that matter, our occupation (that's what is was) of Germany?

This war will not end in our lifetime, & maybe not in that of our children. Goals and timelines are an illusion, and a dangerous one, in terms of this war, or for that matter, any war.

Doc also said: "soooo…do you mean that we need to add more troops to those currently in iraq? if so, where do they come from? how long to you plan to keep the up-tick in forces on line and what is your plan to pay for them? how long do you propose to keep them in iraq? do you have a goal that you believe the US can achieve in iraq? what is it? what is the definition of completion of your goal and by what metrics will you be able to measure that? as a gentleman named Grant put it in a pervious post: “What does staying the course really mean?”

Damned if I know. I personally have no proposal. I figure that's up to the Bush Administration, followed by whomever follows him, followed by whomever follows...her? As for the cost, well, I would be willing to pay a War Tax, if that's what it takes. OTOH, if you've been paying attention, the Bush tax cuts have not only revitalized the economy, they've increased the real tax revenues dramatically. But you are right to question the cost - Johnson's error - aside from withdrawing from the election - was to think we could have guns & butter. He should have adhered to Kennedy - "pay any price, bear any burden." I think that Bush will do exactly that. I hope the rest of us have the courage to do the same.

doc said: "the above is not sarcasm: i have not heard an intelligent, cogent definition of our armed forces mission in iraq, much less a means of achieving said mission, since before they were commanded to invade the country, and i look forward to reading your proposals."

Well, I think you are making a category error here. The "war" in Iraq is not really a "war." It's a battle in the real war. Battles take as long as they take. You don't say, "well, the Battle of the Marne must be over in six months." Actually, as Orwell pointed out, you don't even realize that it's the Battle of the Marne until later on. My proposal is the same as Grant's: fight it out on this line if it takes all summer. Or a decade. Which is to say, "as long as it takes."

One "strategy" I've heard suggested, though, is the "flypaper strategy." Attract the flies to Iraq, where we can kill them. My own take on the Battle of Iraq is that Sadaam was the biggest meanest dog on the block, and we took him out. The point is intimidation. It seems to have had some effect.

BTW, I've thought about your point about Grant being a tactical genius. I agree, as far as it goes. But it implies that he was not a strategic general. And, of course, the overall stragegy of the North in the Civil War was in fact the Anaconda strategy, which was not Grant's originally. But if you reflect on the Vicksburg campaign, perhaps you will conceed Grant's strategic intelligence as well. Not that I think that Bush is Grant's military equal. I'm not sure that Grant has one in America - the design of his tomb is instructive, don't you think? I do think that Bush is Grant's moral equal, though, using the term in a rather antiquated way. Basically, I see the same sort of bulldog in Bush as I see in Grant. In short, "whatever it takes."

Jay.Mac (mine's a G4!) said: "According to the MSM in Britain and America, Iraq is nothing more than a series of car bombs and IEDS."

We have the alarm clock here in Chicago tuned to WFMT (classical!) for 7 am. We lie in bed & wait for the weather report. But we have to endure the "news." The "news" consists of a recitation of the latest bombing in Iraq, or in Israel, &c. &c. Every day, without fail. This isn't news: it's enemy propaganda. Osama bin Laden would pay for the sponsorship of this "news" - he'd be delighted that it costs him nothing.

This is nothing new, of course. What was unusual was that the press was actually fairly responsible from the 40s to the early 60s. The normal condition of the press is irrational hysteria. Same as today.

I'm sick & tired of it, though, & would reduce my pledge but...AFAICS, there's no better classical station in the country.

Anyway, all I can say is that I hope none of my kids marries into a journalist's family. Unless it's Lilek's...

Harmon – thanks for the response.

“I think that we have to stay in Iraq for a long long time…Pause for a moment & think in terms of the Cold War - would you ask for a timeline to end that war?”

…i see what you’re reaching for, however there is a difference - the cold war arose specifically out practical disagreements between the US and russia after WWII, mostly over soviet annexation of eastern europe. the GWOT, such as it is, is only being actively pursued by one individual as his final justification for invading iraq.

saying that we have to stay in iraq “a long, long time” sounds rather like what comes out the WH these days, not a cogent plan.

“Damned if I know. I personally have no proposal.”

…many of us are worried that’s exactly the WH’s problem, too.

“Well, I think you are making a category error here. The "war" in Iraq is not really a "war." It's a battle in the real war. “

…i suppose that’s a possibility, but if that’s the case then the assumption must be that – like the cold war – this is a proxy war. and that means there is a puppet master somewhere, pulling the strings: is it russia, again? china? who is it?

“BTW, I've thought about your point about Grant…”

conceded: just wanted to point out the previous simplification without going into a small bio of grant.

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