“May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.”

"This report is maybe 12-years-old. Parliament buried it, and it stayed buried till River dug it up. This is what they feared she knew. And they were right to fear because there's a whole universe of folk who are gonna know it, too. They're gonna see it. Somebody has to speak for these people. You all got on this boat for different reasons, but you all come to the same place. So now I'm asking more of you than I have before. Maybe all. Sure as I know anything I know this, they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, 10, they'll swing back to the belief that they can make people . . . better. And I do not hold to that. So no more running. I aim to misbehave." ~ Captain Malcom Reynolds

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Whither Iraq?

Before I get to my post, I will preface with a few comments to keep in mind:

-- #1 I spent 22 months of my life in, around, over and under Iraq. I have personal friends who died in Ramadi during the past decade (not to mention other spots in the Babylonian lands). I've taken fire, tasted blood, and everything else you want to imagine in the desert sands alongside 4000+ years of conflict in the region. So if you want to question my "investment" in this topic you can pack sand for a week.

-- #2 I'm not here to criticize the current administration's actions, prior administrations going back 4 decades which got us in this mess, or any of the other stuff. Plenty of other people have killed that horse already. While this president got us to this point, it was a cumulative process involving a failure to understand cultures and plan for the future.

-- #3 Unlike the talking heads on the television, I have a better than passing knowledge of Middle Eastern, Arab, and Persian cultures, Islam, modern warfare and insurgency, and the related issues. And, the biggest failure of government, the media, and the general population is a failure to understand how these elements are shaping events as a whole in the region - how they perfectly explain "why" the Iraqi people didn't rush headlong into democracy given the opportunity, or how so many quickly pulled out old grudges and axes to grind as soon as the adult supervision left the room.

   So, where do we go?

   Because we are at a crossroads (or better yet, an interchange) as a nation on this one.

   This weekend the provincial capital of Ramadi fell under ISIS control, vast numbers of Iraqi government soldiers and officials fleeing the city, and things generally going to hell in the proverbial handbasket. This, of course, follows the debacles at Mosul last year, the gains in Syria and Iraq by the group, the lack of a coordinated, comprehensive, or even cogent plan by the United States and other nations to deal with the issue, and a general display of circling toilet water if there ever was one.

   Depending on which media source you visit the spin is varied, but on all of them the U.S. administration admits this is a significant setback in terms of military operations in the region.

   And to be honest it caused me some difficulty - to see the area we had fought so hard for, turning an insurgency around and proving that it could be done. Leaving a city in relative peace, able to function, determining their own destiny. These are the things that made the losses worth it. To go from a place where people were afraid to go outside to one where children could play in the streets again. To see not just our country, but the world as a whole abandon them because it's not politically expedient to do more than drop a few bombs and do a news clip.

   Originally that had me ready to rant about our national resolve, our will to win, and our failure to back up our promises to the nations and peoples we help around the world.

   But then I had to think. And I'm rather torn.

   Yes, those things are important. There are other factors at play though.

   Keep in mind that this isn't our first rodeo in the Mesopotamian area - and that before us the Brits, the Ottomans and others throughout history had a go of things as well. And, the Iraqi culture remains at heart a loose collection of tribal groups, combined with the millennium old Shia/Sunni conflicts. Also remember we have spent over a decade training, equipping and supposedly preparing the Iraqi military to conduct their own operations and maintain their own nation. All of these factors combine to influence how things are shaping out now, as well as the directions likely in the near future.

   But I see us with three basic options.

   #1 - we step in with an overwhelming military presence, pound ISIS into submission, and establish some form of collaborative protectorate with the Iraqi populace until the region has achieved at least some form of stability where we can withdraw. For an example look at how quickly we were able to leave Europe to it's own defense after World War Two, the self-sufficiency of the South Koreans against aggression in their peninsula, and the continued presence of NATO troops to maintain stability in the Balkans after their "year long" deployment in the 1990s. Not only that, there is doubtless a vast group of potential future jihadis who would leap upon any large scale or long term US presence as an excuse to ramp things up even more in battling the Crusaders.

   #2 - things continue as they are. We don't commit militarily to an unpopular conflict, we keep the troops at home, and we use air power, drones and other remote means in an attempt to keep ISIS from overwhelming the Iraqi forces. Let our advisors and a coalition attempt to limit the conflict as much as possible, and concentrate on more important domestic and international issues.

   or, #3 - write it off. We've been involved in one form or another in Iraq for over two decades, with no appreciable change in stability, no return on our investment of thousands of lives, and if anything a situation potentially worse for the region than it was in 1985. As a whole the Iraqi people seem little interested in moving beyond tribal and sectarian violence as a means to resolve issues and settle old grudges, the security apparatus remains mired in corruption and incompetence, and there is little realistic hope of self-determination fixing things. Be done with it, in terms of money, resources, and most importantly the lives of our men and women. Let them fight it out - if it crosses the borders smack them down, but until then to hell with the whole mess. Sit back, handle our own affairs, and wait until some form of cogent Iraqi government of whatever flavor is ready to interact with the rest of the world.

   As much as it pains me to say it, I vote for number three. We've given it more than a good faith effort. I don't in any way think our interventions to stop Saddam's WMD programs and defiance of UN sanctions was a mistake, and we certainly did everything we could to help the Iraqi people have an opportunity to move forward. But, just like you can't force an addict to quit, you can't make a nation or a region stable and secure simply through external will. Until the desire of the population overwhelms the will of those with the guns and the money, Iraq isn't going to change. And, unless we are deciding as a nation that it's time to get into the empire-building game, it's time to cut our losses. Not because we can't win - if any nation can, we have the capability. It's that we have moved past the point where it is worth the investment to do so.

   I hate saying it, in ways I couldn't even explain. But I can't see a better option.

1 comment:

Old NFO said...

I'm with you. Write it off, but if they pop the first Nuke, turn the whole place into a glass parking lot.