October 03, 2007
Does The Military Matter?
The apparent drop in civilian deaths in Iraq is very good news. And not because it means our Iraq strategy is working. Indeed, the forces behind this have little to nothing to do with American forces. The so-called Anbar Awakening is a Sunni operation, while the unilateral ceasefire of the Mahdi Army was Sadr's decision. The pacification of Baghdad, meanwhile, has a lot to do with the fact that Baghdad's effectively been ethnically cleaned, converting from a majority Sunni city to a 70% Shiite city -- they're running out of people to kill. Our troops aren't terribly involved in this change, and that's a good thing: Any changes brought about by American forces will be temporary. Changes that reflect shifts in the underlying dynamics of the country may endure.
I was talking to an Iraq expert yesterday and asked him whether it was correct to say that the military questions -- how many troops we have deployed, what their strategy is, etc -- are increasingly beside the point. He said yes, and then continued on to say that he forgets how different the conversation in the country is from the conversation among Iraq experts. Among those folks, he said, it was taken for granted that the military issues were largely a distraction, and the only questions worth asking were political and regional in nature. Some think the military's doing harm, others think it's offering a bit of benefit, but no one thinks the troops are making much of a difference one way or the other, or that their strategy has anything to do with the long-term success of Iraq. And the focus on what the military is doing, rather than on a diplomatic surge and Iran's involvement and all the rest, is actually quite harmful.
Strange how the decrease in the number of dead Iraqi civilians is now held up by hawks as proof that the war is "working," when the U.S. government doesn't even bother to track the number of Iraqis killed as a result of the war.
Posted by: david mizner | Oct 3, 2007 10:31:14 AM
Success has many fathers; failure is an orphan.
Posted by: stm177 | Oct 3, 2007 11:06:09 AM
I was talking to an Iraq expert yesterday...
Posted by: El Viajero | Oct 3, 2007 11:52:30 AM
I've been watching Ken Burn's The War on PBS, it seems like each episode has one or more actions where a mission was undertaken that led to huge losses of American soldiers lives but didn't have any strategic or tactical value - even from the beginning. The most vivid was some deep forest bordering on Bavaria that cost like 35,000 US lives, but was a pure vanity play by a clueless Major General with no war experience. Another episode described the taking of some island in the mid-pacific to gain the airport. At the time the US landing started the goal was no longer pertinent, but the invasion went ahead and like 50,000 men lost their lives.
These incidents, taken in the context of a global war on many continents were tragic but not crucial. The US forces in Iraq are now engaged, however, in exactly like these same military-goalless fubars, except we are doing long-lasting harm to our 'entire' Army and Marine Corp, to our reputation as a fair democratic nation, and to our moral standing everywhere.
Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Oct 3, 2007 12:25:58 PM
I tried to make a similar point on Reihan's guest blogging. Things in Iraq are so bad that it's not clear you can get to an acceptable level of violence via the military. Obviously, the military is trying various psy-ops tactics to treat Al-Sadr with respect, but it's not clear if/how they can go further.
If you could get Baghdad and surrounding areas down to 650 deaths a month (that's actual deaths, not reported deaths), you'd be at something like twice the murder rate of Detroit or Philly or Baltimore a few years ago or NYC in the 1980s. That'd probably be low enough that I'd call it "success". Reported deaths last month were 487 a month.
Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Oct 3, 2007 1:45:45 PM
I am left wondering why this sounds bad to you...
Posted by: jmack | Oct 4, 2007 6:36:50 AM
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