Monday, December 18, 2006

A sinking feeling

I have written about Major Connable before and, yes, he knows how to manipulate the terms of an argument. Witness:
For some, the collapse of Iraqi society into Hobbesian mayhem is inevitable no matter how many American troops remain on the ground. A few argue that disintegration of the Iraqi state actually would bring about the national catharsis that seems so elusive today — that absolute civil war would be a greater good.

This cold calculus ignores the very real impact of an American withdrawal on the people we now protect. Any debate that does not consider the bloody reality we would leave in our wake does a disservice to the people of Iraq and the troops who have fought so hard to defend them.
Compelling stuff, but let's look at the facts.
  • We're not doing a very good job of protecting anyone right now. So says the DoD (PDF link) in a report released today.
    In the past three months, the total number of attacks2 increased 22%. Some of this increase is attributable to a seasonal spike in violence during Ramadan. Coalition forces remained the target of the majority of attacks (68%), but the overwhelming majority of casualties were suffered by Iraqis. Total civilian casualties increased by 2% over the previous reporting period. Fifty-four percent of all attacks occurred in only 2 of Iraq’s 18 provinces (Baghdad and Anbar).
    The Defense argument here is that attacks are limited to "hot spots," but nearly a third of American troops are in Baghdad and the violence continues to increase. Even Connable has to admit that "Since 2005, the situation in Anbar has significantly deteriorated."

  • The troops, as I've pointed out before, are ready to come home and don't seem all that concerned that leaving now would somehow dishonor them.*

  • Al Anbar province--the focus of much of Connable's essay--is getting steadily worse according to a report by the Marine Col. Pete Devlin, the head of Marine intelligence in Iraq. We've lost the political battle in the area.
There was, I believe, a slim chance that this war could have turned out differently, but it would have required smart, thoughtful people at the helm of American government and not the clubby, venal chickenhawks who have overseen this war. I understand that there will likely be violence in Iraq after a pull-out, but the violence is bad and worsening in the very areas our troops are focused despite their best efforts. While I appreciate Maj. Connable's well-founded belief in the abilities of American troops, every bomb that goes off and kills Iraqis creates more insurgents. Every bullet we fire seems to do the same.

Iraq is not just a quagmire. It is quicksand. The more our soldiers struggle, the more Iraq sinks.

* Leave the accusations of dishonor to the likes of John Podhoretz, who writes that "Americans in uniform haven't failed," but they've morphed from warriors to sissified "political scientists" unwilling to change course because that would "be to admit that the past 3 1/2 years have been bungled." That's some but. Ralph Peters makes the same point in the December Armed Forces Journal (not yet available online), and even stumbles into a moment of lucidity arguing the "key issue" in regards to the insurgency "is motivation, not tactics." He's right. He goes on, however, to suggest that "graphic, tangible destruction is what ultimately breaks an enemy's will," without the slightest hint that he understands the motivational effects of "graphic, tangible destruction" on a generation of Muslims.

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