A Rocky Road Ahead

James Taranto, in today’s Best of the Web newsletter, has published a letter he received from a U.S. army sergeant stationed northwest of Baghdad as part of an intelligence-gathering team. This sergeant, whose daily job is to interact with Iraqis and his fellow soldiers in order to “help put together the intel picture”, is in a better position than most people, including President Bush and his inner circle, to have a clear idea of what’s really going on over there, and what approach we ought to be taking in order to mitigate this worsening disaster.

From his letter:

There have been distinct failures of policy in Iraq. The vast majority of them fall under the category “failure to adapt.” Basically U.S. policies have been several steps behind the changing conditions ever since we came into the country. I believe this is (in part) due to our plainly obvious desire to extricate ourselves from Iraq. I know President Bush is preaching “stay the course,” but we came over here with a goal of handing over our battlespace to the Iraqis by the end of our tour here.

This breakneck pace with which we’re trying to push the responsibility for governing and securing Iraq is irresponsible and suicidal. It’s like throwing a brick on a house of cards and hoping it holds up. The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF)–a joint term referring to Iraqi army and Iraqi police–are so rife with corruption, insurgent sympathies and Shia militia members that they have zero effectiveness. Two Iraqi police brigades in Baghdad have been disbanded recently, and the general sentiment in our field is “Why stop there?” I can’t tell you how many roadside bombs have been detonated against American forces within sight of ISF checkpoints. Faith in the Iraqi army is only slightly more justified than faith in the police–but even there, the problems of tribal loyalties, desertion, insufficient training, low morale and a failure to properly indoctrinate their soldiers results in a substandard, ineffective military. A lot of the problems are directly related to Arab culture, which traditionally doesn’t see nepotism and graft as serious sins. Changing that is going to require a lot more than “benchmarks. …

… If we continue on as is in Iraq, we will leave here (sooner or later) with a fractured state, a Rwanda-waiting-to-happen. “Stay the course” and refusing to admit that we’re screwing things up is already killing a lot of people needlessly. Following through with such inane nonstrategy is going to be the death knell for hundreds of thousands of Sunnis.

We need to backtrack. We need to publicly admit we’re backtracking. This is the opening battle of the ideological struggle of the 21st century. We cannot afford to lose it because of political inconveniences. Reassert direct administration, put 400,000 to 500,000 American troops on the ground, disband most of the current Iraqi police and retrain and reindoctrinate the Iraqi army until it becomes a military that’s fighting for a nation, not simply some sect or faction. Reassure the Iraqi people that we’re going to provide them security and then follow through. Disarm the nation: Sunnis, Shias, militia groups, everyone. Issue national ID cards to everyone and control the movement of the population.

If these three things are done, you can actually start the Iraqi economy again. Once people have a sense of security, they’ll be able to leave their houses to go to work. Tell your American commanders that it’s OK to pass up bad news–because part of the problem is that these issues are not reaching above the battalion or brigade level due to the can-do, make-it-happen culture indoctrinated into our U.S. officers. While the attitude is admirable, it also creates barriers to recognizing and dealing with on-the-ground realities.

Read the rest of the letter, and more, here.

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