Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Michael Totten in Mashudah

Michael Totten has a new dispatch, this time from Mashudah. It is worth reading in full, like all of Totten's Iraq dispatches. Here are a few short excerpts:
He introduced me to the man in charge of the station, Captain J. Dow Covey from New York City.

“Do you know the Weekly Standard magazine?” Captain Covey asked me.

“Of course,” I said.

“My buddy Tom Cotton was just written up there,” he said. “It was pretty cool seeing him in that magazine.”

“What did he do to get in the magazine?” I said.

“He’s like me,” he said. “He’s a Harvard Law grad who joined the Army after 9/11. I’m an attorney.”

“You’re an attorney?” I said. “What are you doing out here in Iraq?”

“I practiced law for three years,” he said, “then got into investment banking. When 9/11 happened I just had to sign up with the Army. Investment banking is a lot more stressful than this.”

“You’re kidding, right?” I said.

“No,” he said and laughed. “I am totally serious.”

[ed: WTF???]
Pride is much more important in Arab culture than it is in the West. Humiliation is therefore more painful. I wondered if this created problems when Americans train Iraqi soldiers and police officers. What must it feel like for local men to be yelled at by foreigners who showed up uninvited and knew their job better than they did?

Colonel Steele insists it isn’t a problem.

“They don’t want to be babied,” he said. “They want to be treated as equals and adults. Their shame culture actually helps. Our new recruits recently complained about having sore feet during a march. When they noticed our female soldiers are in better shape than they are, they never complained again. Also, when we first had them try on our body armor, it nearly broke their spines. They want to be physically capable of wearing it, too.”

[ed: this fear of being made to look bad by American females seems to be a powerful motivator for arabs. What is it about their culture that makes arab males naturally lazy and weak?]
“I am optimistic,” he said. “But only for one single reason. Because I talk to the average Joe in Iraq. I meet the children and parents. Iraqi parents love their children as much as I love mine.”

I knew what he meant. Counterintuitive and contradictory as it may seem, I never felt more optimistic in Iraq than I did when I walked the streets and interacted with average Iraqis. Iraq looks more doomed from inside the base than it does outside on the street, and it looks more doomed from across the Atlantic than it does from inside the base.

Major Mike Garcia said this view of Iraq is typical. “Soldiers who don’t leave the FOB [Forward Operating Base] are more likely to be pessimistic than those who go out on patrol. They’re less aware of what’s actually happening and have fewer reality checks on their gloom.”

...We drove back down IED Alley to Camp Taji. It was 4:00 in the afternoon, and so unbearably hot. The air conditioner in the Humvee hardly did anything. I desperately wanted a shower so I could wash Iraq off my skin.

Nothing exploded on our way back.

Major Garcia wanted to know what I thought. I didn’t know what to say.

“Whether we like it or not,” he said, “and whether we like them or not, they are the future of this country.”


Totten doesn't try to sugar coat the dismal situation in Iraq. That is good. Neither does he present the situation as completely hopeless, like some defeatist bloggers and politicians.

Dealing with arabs is not easy or predictable. TE Lawrence and many other embedded officers of more modern militaries have learned that lesson the hard way. Many more will have to learn it in the future. Cultures are slow to change, particularly cultures such as arab cultures and other tribal cultures.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Metrics for Iraqi Success

When General Petraeus reports to US President Bush in September on the progress of the nation-building and counter-insurgency mission in Iraq, what metrics will he use? Austin Bay, a writer and former US military intelligence officer, suggests a possible list that the general may use.

This list is a “rough draft” of “rough metrics” but I am certain it includes in some shape or form a few of the “metrics” the September report will consider. Call it a Baker’s Dozen – not to be confused with James Baker and the Iraq Study Group. Some of them obbiously incorporate both qualitative judgments and quantitative measures.

1) Number of trained and equipped Iraqi troops and their level of training

(2) Number of qualified Iraqi senior and mid-level military officers (key measure: can they plan and lead their own ops?)

(3) Number and locale of police precincts judged competent and minimally corrupt (and don’t mention Chicago to me — I know minimally corrupt applies to places in the US — like every Texas border town)

(4) Number of “extremist violence” related incidents (incline, steady, or decline) and location of incidents

(5) An assessment of the “demonstrated commitment” of key sheiks and local leaders in terms of cooperating with security forces and development teams – perhaps analyzed on a neighborhood by neighborhood level.

(6) Control of Iran and Syrian borders (what does this mean? Good question — better surveillance of the borders, more border forts, more reliable border cops, dimunition in flow of supplies for sectarian militias and terrorist groups…etc)

(7) Estimate of “robustness” of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia cells. (If we have killed a lot of these sociopaths, have the sociopaths we’ve killed been replaced?)

(8) Quality of Iraqi government action against Shia death squads (including Mahdi Militia) [NOTE: maybe quality is a hedge word, but you get the point.]

(9) Competence of key ministry officials and senior department heads — Interior and Defense — as well as an estimate of their commitment to a free, federal Iraq, [This leads to an assessment of provincial and national leaders commitment…)

(10) “Infrastructure protection” trend lines — are power lines, pipelines, key installations being protected?

(11) Trend line of development. At the local level: have the revitalized PRTs begun to do their jobs? At the national level: What’s happening to Iraq’s GDP?

(12) A neighborhood by neighborhood evaluation of the “new security plan” — which on the ground was about securing neighborhoods and stopping the “cycle of violence” (ie, Sunni terrorists kick it off, Shia death quads enter, the locals are caught in between…)

(13) An estimate of the quality of intelligence (better, same, worse) provided by Iraqi police, military, and citizens. If the intel from a neighborhood, town, or province has improved, this potentially is an indcator of increasing faith in the government’s capacity to defend vulnerable civilians. (Intel obviously affects several other metrics…few of these metrics are discrete.)

Austin Bay Blog

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Michael Totten Reports From Iraq--A Must Read!

Michael Totten and Michael Yon are the two most reliable reporters recently or currently inside Iraq. Totten's latest dispatch is must reading for anyone wanting to dispense with his own prejudices about Iraq, and read Totten's harsh blend of optimism and pessimism that is modern Iraq.
“They act like our friends,” said Master Sergeant Tyler. “It is a fa├žade to an extent, yes. They get benefits from having a good relationship with us and will do and say anything to keep us on their side.”

I heard rumors that the Iraqi Army colonel in charge of his side of War Eagle is himself a supporter of Moqtada al Sadr. I could not, however, confirm that with Military Intelligence. Maybe it’s true and maybe it isn’t. American soldiers there believe it is.

Nothing makes me more pessimistic about Iraq’s future prospects than this. The Mahdi Army is Iran’s major proxy in Iraq. It is, in effect, the Iraqi branch of Hezbollah.

...I went on mounted and dismounted foot patrols with American soldiers every day in that part of Baghdad. Except for one slightly creepy experience where shadowy figures stalked us in the dark, all the local Iraqis I met and interacted with were exceptionally friendly.

On a typical patrol at dawn the soldiers I embedded with did only two things: they kept up a visible presence in the area and tossed boxes of Girl Scout cookies to children.

As the morning progressed and more people woke up, entire families came out of their houses to greet us and wave. Private Goings, the gunner in the Humvee I rode in, threw one box of cookies after another. Kids and their parents received them ecstatically. We did this all morning, for four hours. Aside from a 20 minute dismounted patrol near a palm grove, all we did was drive around and throw cookies.

...“A lot of the people around here are Sadr supporters,” said Sergeant Lizanne. “But they’re also pro-coalition. I don’t really understand how that works.”

Don’t ask me to explain it. Moqtada al Sadr is an enemy of the United States. His militiamen kill or at least try to kill Americans every day elsewhere in Baghdad. How anyone in Iraq could support both him and the Americans is beyond me.

Iraq is a bewildering country. I can tell you what I see and what I hear, but I can’t unravel and explain with confidence the contradictions in the hearts and minds of its people. The Kurds are fairly straightforward and easy to read. The recently turned pro-American Arabs of Anbar Province likewise aren’t too complicated these days. Baghdad, though, is all but impenetrable. I don’t suggest you trust any Westerner who hasn’t spent years there who says he or she understands the alleyways and secrets of that city.

In my mind I keep returning to what an Iraqi interpreter named Hammer said to me a few days before. “You can’t understand Iraq because you can’t get inside their mind. When you get inside their mind…it is a crazy mind.”

“Do you think the civilians here are genuinely friendly or just faking it?” I asked Sergeant Lizanne. Private Goings tossed more boxes of cookies.

“Hmm,” he said. “Well, I wouldn’t want to be out here by myself at night, I’ll tell you that much. The children really do love us, though. At least we’re making friends with the next generation.”

I am not willing to excerpt more than this. One really must read the entire report to understand what Totten is trying to say.

Iraq will never be an American style democracy--duhhhh! Who ever believed it would? No one that I know. Regardless, check out the link to Totten's article.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hey Nancy!...The US Military Is More Successful Than The World Wants to Believe--Don't Tell Harry

Ramadi is an irritating contradiction of almost everything the world thinks it knows about Iraq -- it is proof that the US military is more successful than the world wants to believe. Ramadi demonstrates that large parts of Iraq -- not just Anbar Province, but also many other rural areas along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers -- are essentially pacified today. This is news the world doesn't hear: Ramadi, long a hotbed of unrest, a city that once formed the southwestern tip of the notorious "Sunni Triangle," is now telling a different story, a story of Americans who came here as liberators, became hated occupiers and are now the protectors of Iraqi reconstruction.

When you are so deeply invested in a US defeat in Iraq as Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, Barak Obama, the European news media, the BBC, many bloggers . . . you simply cannot let this information sneak past the internal censors. Too much cognitive dissonance.

This is not the story of a war that is won. But neither is it the story of a war that is lost. The problem is much deeper and wider than those simplistic terms allow. Simpleminded people are unable to look at deeper, longer-lived historical trends, and understand more profound meanings. These simple minds typically teach in universities and work as journalists.

Those of us who enjoy a deeper game will always include more variables, and more sources of information.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Why US Marines Enlist in Wartime

Journalists, professors, and other pseudo-intellectuals have a difficult time understanding how marines and other military members think. A volunteer military in wartime is clearly different from a draft-based military in wartime.

Getting inside the heads of these volunteers is almost impossible for people who make a living interpreting reality for university students and the public. For pseudo-intellects, ignorance is no obstacle to pontification. That is what they do for a living--pontificate out of ignorance.

This video presents the point of view of most marines who sign up voluntarily for wartime duty, in the present day US.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Al Qaeda in Iraq--Monstrous Face of Arab Jihad

Other than trying to achieve the next level, there are few human activities more worthwhile than undermining would-be autocrats, tyrants, and religious terrorists. Al Qaeda in Iraq demonstrates what the jihad will be like in any nation of the world that harbors enough sympathetic residents to shelter jihadis. The UK is incubating a horrific future, by not facing the problems that Al Qaeda brings to Iraq.
Five weeks ago, I came into a village near Baqubah with American and Iraqi soldiers. Al Qaeda had openly stated Baqubah was their worldwide headquarters — indeed, Al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed just a short drive away.

Behind the village was a palm grove. I stood there, amid the crushing stench of death, and photographed the remains of decapitated children and murdered adults. I can still smell the rotting corpses of those children.

If a child is seen by Al Qaeda as an obstacle to the jihad, Al Qaeda will kill the child in such a way as to get its message across in a visceral way.

This is the al qaeda behind the Taliban atrocities in Afghanistan. This is the Al Qaeda that is nurtured and promoted by Wahabi clerics, financed by Saudi and Persian Gulf oil wealth.

Al Qaeda would like to franchise groups in the UK, Canada, Australia, and all of Europe. Australia, at least, may be waking up to the threat. Canada is a bit slower, and the UK is the slowest of them all.

While Sweden may be lost irrevocably to the civilised world--if current trends continue--it is not necessary that the UK repeat Sweden's mistake. Sadly, there are no signs that the new PM is alert in any way to the nascent danger under his nose.

US Democrats Hoping for Defeat for their Own Troops in Iraq

US Democrats who control the US Congress are unflinching in their claims that the US military has already been defeated in Iraq. Until recently, the US media has been proclaiming the same message--in unison with the US Democratic Party. But if the US media does begin presenting a more objective view of the military situation in Iraq, public opinion polls may begin to change. And if that happens, some of the presently lock-step Democrats may fall out of cadence.
When two critics of the Bush administration's handling of the war came back from a trip to Iraq and printed an op-ed article with the title "A War We Just Might Win" (New York Times, July 30, 2007), most Americans cheered, grateful to see some progress.

But while most Americans embraced the good news, the Democratic leadership continued on its pessimistic path toward defeat. In fact, they have little choice.

Since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared, repeatedly, that the war is already lost, he's backed his Democrats into a corner. They've invested so much political capital in bringing the troops home regardless of the status of the job they are doing to back down now would be a tacit admission that President Bush's surge strategy might just have a chance of working.

It's a terrible thing to have to say, but the Democrats have to bank on things getting worse over there. They've leveraged their entire political futures on it. Yet in the long run, it could spell disaster for them on many levels.

From congressional candidates to presidential hopefuls, Democrats who oppose a strategy that appears to have a chance of winning will only further distance them from the average American, who hates to see troops injured and dying overseas, but hates to lose a fight even more.

Democrats are once again in danger of shooting themselves in the foot, a habit they seem to have every time they gain any momentum. If things get worse in Iraq, you can count on them making as much hay out of it as possible.

On the other hand, if things get better, the Democrats will have to make a choice: to continue on the Reid-Pelosi-Schumer party line in their blind ambition to put a Democrat in the White House, or to try to figure out a way to distance themselves from their party in an effort to reconnect with Americans who will jump on the bandwagon.

The Democrats are so deeply invested in defeat--as are many bloggers--that they can only hope the news gets even worse.

Rationally, the situation in Iraq is not one that can be lost, unless the US declares defeat and leaves. It cannot be easily won, because it is the Iraqis who must demonstrate the ability to rule themselves democratically--something no other group of arabs has been able to do.

So we are left with neither a win nor a lose situation, unless the US declares defeat--as the Pelosi/Reid/Obama coalition wants to do. If the US stays, more American troops will be killed, certainly. If the US leaves, it is equally certain that the terrorist "insurgency", more accurately the world jihad, will follow US troops to the homeland. Then more American civilians will die in large scale attacks perhaps much bigger than 9/11.

US military members volunteer for combat, risking their lives in the belief that by holding the line in the heartland of jihad, they are protecting US civilians back home. It is something they are willing to do for the rest of you, including Pelosi and the gang.

And all the Pelosis in the world can do is hope they lose.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Inconvenient Truths About Iraq

Harry Reid and his party cohorts have invested their political futures in the coming defeat of US coalition forces in Iraq. It is to be the grand defeat of the Bush-Chimp-Cheney overreach, and the ushering in of the Grand Democratic Party Millenial Reign. But something happened on the way to the glorious revolution:
The inconvenient truth here is that, apart from the irreconcilable Left, the American people's support for withdrawal has been based on an assessment that we were losing the war. If that no longer seems true, support for withdrawal will melt away. The Democratic leaders know this; that's why they made a concerted effort last week to get a vote on withdrawal in July. September, which will likely see a favorable report by General Petraeus, will be too late. Claims that the inability of the Iraqis to reach a political settlement is a reason for us to leave will ring a bit hollow in the face of a possible military success. After all, the American people have noticed that our Congress, unthreatened by anything more serious than an upcoming election, couldn't pass an immigration bill, can't eliminate earmarks or adopt ethics rules, and can't agree on energy legislation when gasoline is $3.50 a gallon. Politicians, they know, will be politicians, but that doesn't mean we should hand our enemies a victory instead of a defeat.

As I explained earlier to a less than perspicacious commenter, it is my view that one can neither describe Iraq as a won or lost war--despite what slow-witted Democratic Party officials of divided loyalty may say. Iraq is merely a small slice of the world-wide pie of Sunni and Shia youth-bulge driven "revolutionary jihad." The jihad will last as long as the muslim youth bulge lasts--unless Islam receives a badly needed reformation.

Since that is unlikely, it appears that problems in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Gaza, etc. etc. etc. will be with us for many decades. In the meantime, much of the effort required of western nations such as the US will involve "finger in the dike" efforts such as the Iraq and Afghanistan military missions.

If the Iraqis and Afghanis are able to outgrow traditional tribal corruptions and inbred ideology and customs--that is all for the good. If on the other hand, the inertia of customs, traditions, and primitive religions holds sway, it will simply be necessary to outlast the youth bulge--devising energy strategies to defund radical muslim terror organisations along the way.