Sunday, December 17, 2006
Some Contrary Opinions
The first notion, the surge, would involve about 20,000 additional troops. According to the advocates the additional troops would enable us to pacify Baghdad and enable the Iraq government to control the entire city, not just the Green Zone. Following that accomplishment our military forces in Iraq could be gradually withdrawn while the Iraq government gains control of the whole country. It sounds great. It sounds as great as the notion, five years ago, that invading Iraq and replacing Saddam Hussein would be a cake-walk and that the people of Iraq would welcome us with flowers and other goodies and be eternally grateful to us for getting rid of their vile dictator. In fact, many of the people floating the surge tactic are the same ones who assured us that conquering Iraq would be a "piece of cake."
Twenty thousand is not a realistic number for the additional force needed to pacify Baghdad. Baghdad is one of the large cities of the world. The population is somewhere in the neighborhood of five to seven million. The violence there is not like the violence in some of our own cities due to turf wars between street gangs. The violence there is based on religious fear and hatred. Sunni and Shia Muslims are killing each other. If our "surge" of 20,000 troops were to vanquish the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigade, two Shia gangs responsible for at least half the violence, they would be replaced by other gangs, recruited either from residents of Baghdad or from zealots from the hinterland. I believe that a more realistic number is two hundred thousand additional American troops. We don't have them at present and we can't get them soon enough to have any effect.
The other notion is that the Bush Administration contains some of the most experienced and knowledgeable persons this country has with regard to foreign policy. This Administration of foreign policy experts as led us into an unwinnable war in Iraq and into a situation with only bad options. We can stay (bad) or we can leave (bad). We can try to train an Iraqi Army in the middle of a religious civil war (almost impossible). How did such wise people manage to get us into this mess?
I was thinking about this conundrum for a while when I realized that these were some of the same people who got us involved in the civil war in Nicaragua, who helped overthrow the democratic government of Chile and install the brutal autocrat Augusto Pinochet, and other actions that turned out badly. I am reminded of a comment a friend once made about doctors. A certain doctor had been in business for twenty-five years and claimed to have had "25 years of experience." My friend snorted that the doctor in question had had "one year of experience and 24 years of practice." Our current foreign policy leaders and experts have had many years of practice in the administrations of Reagan and the two Bushes. They seem to have learned little from experience.