Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Why 20,000 Troops is not the Answer

I listened tonight to our President announce his new plan for Iraq.

The current situation in Iraq is unacceptable to me, and so on that he and I agree. But, I am not convinced that 20,000 troops is the answer. Here's why:

1) President Bush referred to "the Iraqi people" several times in his address. This is problematic. Those who live within the borders established during British Imperialism do not see themselves as "Iraqis". They see themselves as ethnic and religious clans and groups: Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Kurds. There is no "Iraqi people" and there never has been. It is a mistake to think that we can get Shiites and Sunnis to reconcile, as the President has suggested. Sending in 20,000 more troops to Baghdad won't force a reconciliation.

2) President Bush proposed that "Iraqi military and police" would serve in Baghdad to help secure the 9 regions in the city backed by American troops. Sunnis already deeply mistrust the Iraqi military and Iraqi police. Shiite extremists hell bent on exterminating Sunnis have infiltrated the Iraqi police (Side note: The Iraqi police have been run through the Interior department, which is headed by a "radical" Shiite, and has been heavily infiltrated by Muqtada al Sadr's army as well as other militant Shiite factions that want nothing more than to terrorize Sunnis). As such, Sunnis will see this new move as a further effort to destroy them, which will only further radicalize them, and push them even further from the negotiation table.

It's also worth noting that as there is no "Iraqi people" there is no "Iraqi army." Only a few units have integrated Kurd, Sunni, and Shiite. Nearly all units are homogenous. Shiites don't want to fight alongside Sunnis and vice versa. So, the units that likely will go into Baghdad will be Shiite (since they have been more likely to join the military and police than the Sunnis who are mistrustful of those entities). This will further reinforce the fear in Sunnis that they are meant to be exterminated. Which, I fear, will lead to more insurgency and a stronger effort on the part of Sunnis to attack American soldiers and Shiites.

Moreover, Shiites don't exactly want to see more U.S. troops. The Shiites do not trust us, and believe that the U.S. knew about the bombing of the Shiite golden temple in Samarrah, the holiest place for Shiites, but chose to do nothing. Moreover, President Maliki is in Moqtada al Sadr's back pocket, and I don't believe for a second, that al Sadr will allow Maliki to let the U.S. military into predominantly Shiite areas of Baghdad to "quell the insurgency." President Bush tonight said he has Maliki's cooperation, but that is something I would need to see to believe.

3) The Army and Marines are already stretched very thin. The "trigger pullers" are but a fraction of the 1 million strong U.S. military, and many of them have already served 2, 3, or 4 tours of duty. How much more can we ask of our regular Army and Marines?

Even more critical for me is that in order for the Army to deploy the increased number of troops, the Pentagon will need to change their current policy on reservists and National Guard. Presently military personnel in these serve one tour of duty (extended at the start of the war from 1 to a maximum of 2 years). The Pentagon would need to change that to two tours of duty. How much can we ask of our reservists and National Guard? The states have joint control over the National Guard. Will they be willing to sacrifice that many men and women who are necessary for states in times of, for example, natural disasters?

Finally on this, Army and Marine units are going to be pulled from other theatres, specifically Afghanistan. NATO and the Afghanistan government have been begging the Pentagon to increase troop levels in that country, because the Taliban is gaining in force, and is quickly moving to reclaim areas of Afghanistan. NATO anticipates an orchestrated attack by the Taliban on Afghan/NATO forces in the coming months, and there are not sufficient troops to hold them back. So, just at the time we risk losing portions of Afghanistan to the Taliban, the U.S. is going to pull a brigade of Marines out of there and into Iraq. How does that make the United States more secure at home and abroad?

4) If there were to be a "unified Iraq," it would most likely be controlled by the Shiites (since they now have the most power and the most people in the country). The Shiites, for the most part, do not want a secular, nationalist government (like what existed under Sunni control). They want a theocracy styled in Iranian fashion. Although the Iranians are Persian and the Shiites of Iraq are Arab, they both share a common faith, and increasingly a common vision on how the government should be run, which includes Sharia Law, which is a fundamental Islamic legal system based in religion. The U.S. is unlikely to see women's rights in Iraq and Western-style democracy under Shiite-controlled Iraq.

Here's what I think we should be doing instead:

Diplomacy - the "political" solution as they say. We need to work with the Sunnis and the Shiites to help them each establish their own regional government. The Constitution that the Kurds and Shiites created (the Sunnis boycotted this process) establishes a very weak federal government and strong regional governments. This opens the door for not a "unified Iraq" but three strong, but separate regional governments that each get a share of the oil that comes out of the ground primarily in the Shiite region of the country (although there are productive wells and the possibility for more in all three regions), and that each establish their own local laws and rules of government. The Kurds have already done that. Now, we must find a way to help the Sunnis and Shiites to do the same.

It is a mistake to think that we can "unify Iraq" and "quell the insurgency" by bringing in 20,000 more troops to Baghdad. What we need are many more diplomats and regional experts (the regional experts have been quite left out of this entire Iraq fiasco to this point) in that country who speak the language, forging ties with local leaders, and helping them to each craft governments and military/police, and infrastructure that is acceptable to each region.

Forcing "Iraqis" to reconcile will be a fruitless mission that will kill thousands more American soldiers and "Iraqi" civilians, and drain our treasury even further. Helping the Shiites and the Sunnis to develop regional governments, to help them each gain ownership of a region, to let them define for themselves how they wish to govern themselves, and to allow the weak national government do what it wants to do - govern, then we will have indeed allowed for a democracy to take place and helped the people of Iraq to help themselves.

[Side note: Much of my information on Iraq comes from Peter Galbraith's smart book, The End of Iraq. My solutions are really his, but he convinced me as no one else has that his is a real solution to the problems of "Iraq." Reading the newspaper also helps .]

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