Sunday, August 19, 2007

Non-Coms on "The War as We Saw It"

This piece in the NYTimes, by a group of non-commissioned soldiers (generally sergeants) is one of the better windows into what is actually going on in Iraq today.

VIEWED from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.
There's lots more, but it comes down to that old problem of counterinsurgency: that barring the ability to win over the populace--which is practically impossible now--the only form of counterinsurgency that would work is the sort of savagery that went out with the Roman Empire. That, and the idea that you simply cannot pretend that an American observer being able to walk around translates to anything like Iraqi security. It doesn't.

Digby's concerned that these guys will be ignored or looked down upon because they aren't officers. There's something to that, definitely. Thing is, it actually makes it MORE likely that they should be believed, because the officer corps tend to be a whole lot more likely to drink the Kool-Aid than the enlisted soldiers. There's going to be less spin, and more real-world situational awareness.

And yes, I know I've been making noises about diving into this "serious foreign policy professionals" thing. I'm still not quite sure how I want to approach it. More later or tomorrow, I suppose.

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