Mission Accomplished… Again
I read the news today, oh boy. The Yankee army has just won the war.
Imagine my surprise when I clicked on this article entitled “Analysis: US now winning Iraq war that seemed lost” that began with this breathtakingly ballsy sentence: “The United States is now winning the war that two years ago seemed lost.” Well, gee, there are very few people who would like to believe that more than yours truly. Still, I wanted to see who’d drawn up this analysis but after several paragraphs it was obvious that this “analysis” was cooked up by the same two guys who wrote this article, Robert Reid and Robert Burns.
Indeed, the breezily optimistic opening line was immediately deflated with the next sentence: “Limited, sometimes sharp fighting and periodic terrorist bombings in Iraq are likely to continue, possibly for years.” Considering that our involvement in World War II lasted just under four years against two awesome war machines across two continents, it would seem to me that this 5½ year-old war isn’t close to being over if we have several more years of terrorist and insurgent activity to look forward to.
Yet, to Burns and Reid, the insurgency is (let’s all say it together, people, with feeling and harmony) in its last throes. So how have we beaten or won over the insurgency that we’d created by disbanding the Iraqi Army?
They launched the insurgency five years ago. They now are either sidelined or have switched sides to cooperate with the Americans in return for money and political support.
So we’re buying their loyalty with cold hard American taxpayer dollars and political favoritism. Yeah, that’s certainly a firm foundation for a lasting, peaceful alliance. It’s not as if government power shifts from one faction to another or that someone wouldn’t come along with even bigger wads of cash.
Of course, a more workable solution, one never even alluded to by either Burns or Reid, the ultimate preemptive strategy, was to not invade Iraq in the first place, smashing the Iraqi Army and instead keeping them employed, solvent and somewhat not so pissed off so we wouldn’t have to use taxpayer dollars to buy their temporary loyalty. But, of course, that wasn’t even worth mentioning.
It seemed just a few months ago, we were hearing stories of Iraqi security forces shedding their uniforms but keeping their weapons while literally crossing battle zones to join Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Because to some of the anti-government Shi’ite hardliners that are still very faithful to a still-powerful Moqtada al Sadr (who’s been downgraded to a hasbeen in Burns’ and Reid’s “analysis”), there are some factors that are worth a lot more than money. Like religious ideology.
Also not mentioned was the fact that Sadr’s two ceasefires absolutely contributed to whatever few security gains we’d made in a post-surge Iraq. The problem with analyzing low American death tolls in this war (Burns and Reid just tonight claimed that number in July was as low as four but Icasualties.org tells us we’ve lost 11) is that it’s always tempting to see trends, ones that evaporate when violence starts to climb again. We saw that in Afghanistan, were lulled into a sense of false security through a near-blackout of media coverage then suddenly nine Americans were dead in a suicide bombing. Suddenly, we woke up from a pleasant dream into a waking nightmare to hear the Taliban is taking back key cities and provinces. We had them beat, too, remember?
331 American troops were killed between April and June, 2007 with 126 slain in May alone, in the first months of George W. Bush’s surge. By December of 2007, the monthly death toll had sunk to 23 then gradually began climbing back up again, resulting in 52 deaths in April. The security crackdown in Baghdad only succeeded in creating a koosh ball effect: As our forces squeezed, the insurgents simply took the fight out of Baghdad and popped up elsewhere.
The ground commanders in Iraq don’t seem to be nearly as optimistic as Burns and Reid: Even without mentioning David Petraeus’ astonishing pronouncement that Iraq’s problems can't be solved militarily, the generals are practically coming out and saying that not only is security fragile, it could also be short-lived. Let’s examine this sentence:
U.S. commanders say a substantial American military presence will be needed beyond 2009. But judging from the security gains that have been sustained over the first half of this year — as the Pentagon withdrew five Army brigades sent as reinforcements in 2007 — the remaining troops could be used as peacekeepers more than combatants.
It’s perhaps been lost on these journalists that perhaps the reason why violence is down and American deaths at alltime lows is because we’d withdrawn those five Army brigades. Or it could also be al Maliki’s endorsement of Obama’s plan to get our forces out of Iraq in 16 months, which is more or less the troop presence into 2010 that these ground commanders are talking about. But the light at the end of the tunnel that gives one an extra burst of hope and energy could very well turn out to be from an oncoming train.
Because security gains can be transitory. Casualty tolls ebb and flow. Witness what happened in Vietnam between March 8, 1965, when we sent 3500 Marines into South Vietnam, a surge that later ballooned into a nightmarish 200,000, and January 1968 when the failed Tet Offensive started.
The Tet Offensive, an urban uprising that briefly put US and South Vietnamese forces on their heels, was an ultimately failed strategy that nonetheless embarrassed the Johnson administration and was perhaps, more than anything else, was the reason why Johnson decided not to run for re-election. Whatever security gains we’d made with Johnson’s own surge were swept away by the public perception of the Tet Offensive and the Johnson administration lying to the American people about troop levels.
As Santayana tells us, history’s unheeded lessons, including the lessons of war, are cyclical in nature and, while I’m glad that fewer American troops and fewer Iraqi civilians are being slaughtered, I’ll believe the war to be over when the troops come home for good. As it is, the children who will be going to their first day of school in early September will never have known a United States that wasn’t at war and they will not know one until they’re at least in second grade.
Burns and Reid have apparently learned nothing about warfare in their 5+ years covering this war, particularly the folly of starting wars that never should’ve been started in the first place. Perhaps Robert Burns should recall a poem by his 18th century Scottish namesake who’d once overturned a mouse’s nest with his plow in much the same fashion as we’d displaced millions of Iraqis from their own homes and killed countless others:
“The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry.”