Tuesday, October 16, 2007

More "Phony Soldiers" Piping Up

About two months ago, the New York Times published an op-ed from seven infantry NCOs that questioned the wisdom of “staying the course” in Iraq. The piece was damning, and punctuated by the fact that one of the Soldiers was seriously wounded between the time the piece was written and when it was published, and two more of the seven were killed shortly after.

Today, on the fifth anniversary of the congress passing the AUMF, the Washington Post ran an op-ed penned by twelve former Army Captains who served in Iraq; and it is just as damning and just as sweeping. Five years into this mess, the military is over-extended and under-resourced, and the nation of Iraq is in tatters.

As Army captains who served in Baghdad and beyond, we've seen the corruption and the sectarian division. We understand what it's like to be stretched too thin. And we know when it's time to get out.

What does Iraq look like on the ground? It's certainly far from being a modern, self-sustaining country. Many roads, bridges, schools and hospitals are in deplorable condition. Fewer people have access to drinking water or sewage systems than before the war. And Baghdad is averaging less than eight hours of electricity a day.

Iraq's institutional infrastructure, too, is sorely wanting. Even if the Iraqis wanted to work together and accept the national identity foisted upon them in 1920s, the ministries do not have enough trained administrators or technicians to coordinate themselves. At the local level, most communities are still controlled by the same autocratic sheiks that ruled under Saddam. There is no reliable postal system. No effective banking system. No registration system to monitor the population and its needs.

The inability to govern is exacerbated at all levels by widespread corruption. Transparency International ranks Iraq as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. And, indeed, many of us witnessed the exploitation of U.S. tax dollars by Iraqi officials and military officers. Sabotage and graft have had a particularly deleterious impact on Iraq's oil industry, which still fails to produce the revenue that Pentagon war planners hoped would pay for Iraq's reconstruction. Yet holding people accountable has proved difficult. The first commissioner of a panel charged with preventing and investigating corruption resigned last month, citing pressure from the government and threats on his life.

This is the scenario against which the U.S. military is struggling to hold the nation of Iraq together, with too-few troops. Even with the additional 30,000 that the “Surge™” temporarily afforded. There are simply not enough Soldiers and Marines in-country to clear insurgents, hold territory and build sustainable institutions.

…Though temporary reinforcing operations in places like Fallujah, An Najaf, Tal Afar, and now Baghdad may brief well on PowerPoint presentations, in practice they just push insurgents to another spot on the map and often strengthen the insurgents' cause by harassing locals to a point of swayed allegiances. Millions of Iraqis correctly recognize these actions for what they are and vote with their feet -- moving within Iraq or leaving the country entirely. Still, our colonels and generals keep holding on to flawed concepts.

American G.I.’s are tasked with too many objectives and too much battle space. This serves to makes them targets, and sadly, one of the inevitabilities of a protracted withdrawal will be a ratcheting upward of attacks against the occupying forces, the civilian leadership of the nation, and third-party consultants. They will also, without a doubt, be caught in the crossfire of the Iraqi civil war.

Iraq’s security forces will be unable to salvage the situation. Even if they had adequate training, equipment and commitment; with their numbers shy of 350,000 there are too few of them to successfully hold the country together.

Besides that, soldiers in the Iraqi army pretty much leave at will, once the pay envelopes and weapons are passed out; the police are controlled by the militias, the corruption is systemic and the United States taxpayers are equipping and arming the very elements that will fight one another once the American forces inevitably withdraw.

American Generals are laying plans that are contingent on peace breaking out in Iraq, while simultaneously, the Iraqis are preparing for a full-on, salt-the-fields and poison-the-wells civil war.

The Captains close the piece with an uncomfortable truth…There is only one way to sustain an operation like is currently being pursued in Iraq, and that is to bring back the draft. “Short of that, our best option is to leave Iraq immediately. A scaled withdrawal will not prevent a civil war, and it will spend more blood and treasure on a losing proposition.”

America, it has been five years. It's time to make a choice.”