What A Difference A Year Makes

Retired General Barry McCaffrey was once called by The New Republic Donald Rumsfeld’s “most outspoken critic” and a critic of the war in Iraq at nearly all levels. Last year, he visited Iraq and gave a lengthy report about what he saw there. Last month, Gen. McCaffrey returned to Iraq to see how things compared. Via The Belmont Club we get a comparison of the situation in Iraq then and now. McCaffrey noted some major improvements between April 2005 and April 2006:

The Iraqi Army is real, growing, and willing to fight. They now have lead action of a huge and rapidly expanding area and population. The battalion level formations are in many cases excellent – most are adequate. … The recruiting now has gotten significant participation by all sectarian groups to include the Sunni. The Partnership Program with U.S. units will be the key to success with the Embedded Training Teams augmented and nurtured by a U.S. Maneuver Commander. This is simply a brilliant success story.

Indeed, the success of the Iraqi military is one of the great missed stories of this war. It takes a long time to train a cadre of effective military leaders – real military leadership is a rare quality, and those with any sense of initiative under the previous regime tended to end up in a mass grave for their efforts. The US realized after the disastrous collapse of the Fallujah Brigades in April 2004 that something had to be done to get the Iraqi military into fighting shape – and our subsequent efforts are now paying their dividends in the form of a force that can actually bring stability to Iraq and win battles with terrorists and insurgents. It’s easy to give a man a gun and tell him to shoot – it’s a lot harder to make him into a leader. It’s been said that a Private in the US military has as much authority as a Colonel in an Arab army – and that is essentially true. Traning the Iraqis to American standards is a difficult and arduous task, but it’s the only way to keep the peace in Iraq over the long term as US forces draw down from Iraq.

McCaffrey notes the continuing problem with Iraqi police and security forces:

The Iraqi police are beginning to show marked improvement in capability since MG Joe Peterson took over the program. The National Police Commando Battalions are very capable – a few are simply superb and on par with the best U.S. SWAT units in terms of equipment, courage, and training. Their intelligence collection capability is better than ours in direct HUMINT. … The police are heavily infiltrated by both the AIF and the Shia militia. They are widely distrusted by the Sunni population. They are incapable of confronting local armed groups. They inherited a culture of inaction, passivity, human rights abuses, and deep corruption. This will be a ten year project requiring patience, significant resources, and an international public face. This is a very, very tough challenge which is a prerequisite to the Iraqis winning the counter-insurgency struggle they will face in the coming decade. We absolutely can do this. But this police program is now inadequately resourced.

Reading the various Iraqi blogs makes this quite clear. The Iraqi people don’t trust the police, and they have good reason not to. Unfortunately, while we’ve done an excellent job of training Iraqi military personnel, Iraqi police are ineffective, corrupt, and heavily inflitrated by sectarian militias. Incoming Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki has promised to fight the militias and restore order to Baghdad. As Omar of Iraq the Model notes, securing Baghdad is crucial to securing Iraq, and al-Qaeda is planning to make Baghdad their primary battleground.

Getting the police and security forces to the level of the military is our next major task – and like rebuilding the military, it will take time. However, the same tactics and training can be used. Coalition troops should embed with Iraqi police units, training them in proper technique and keeping an eye out for corruption and human rights abuses. Iraq won’t be secure until the average Iraq doesn’t have to live in fear – and right now life is too uncertain for the average Iraqi, despite the fact that things are getting better in many key areas.

Gen. McCaffrey makes another crucial observation, one that cuts to the heart of the situation in both Baghdad and Washington:

There is a rapidly growing animosity in our deployed military forces toward the U.S. media. We need to bridge this gap. Armies do not fight wars – countries fight wars. We need to continue talking to the American people through the press. They will be objective in reporting facts if we facilitate their information gathering mission.

Based on my military associates’ views of the media, McCaffrey is understating the “animosity” between the military and the media. The word “traitors” has been used on more than one occasion. The military has been very slow to realize that we’re in a 21st Century war, and the press is being used better by our enemy than by our own military. The embedding program during the march to Baghdad helped ensure that accurate information was being disseminated to the American people. Back in 2005, McCaffrey observed:

The US media is putting the second team in Iraq with some exceptions. Unfortunately, the situation is extremely dangerous for journalists. The working conditions for a reporter are terrible. They cannot travel independently of US military forces without risking abduction or death. In some cases, the press has degraded to reporting based on secondary sources, press briefings which they do not believe, and alarmist video of the aftermath of suicide bombings obtained from Iraqi employees of unknown reliability. … Military leaders on the ground are talking to people they trust instead of talking to all reporters who command the attention of the American people. (We need to educate and support AP, Reuters, Gannet, Hearst, the Washington Post, the New York Times, etc.)

The perception of a “quagmire” has been fed by journalists who are largely confined to the Green Zone and fed agitprop by the same Ba’athist minders who controlled the flow of information during the Hussein regime. The good that happens in Iraq is rarely reported, except when it’s something obvious like the elections. Part of it comes from the anti-military bias of many journalists, but much of it comes from the fact that the military isn’t doing enough to tell their side of the story to the press. Making sure that the whole story gets out is crucial to fight an information-centric war like the war in Iraq, and that’s why CENTCOM and others in the military chain of command are starting to get serious about ensuring that the full story is told. Still, McCaffrey’s recommendations need to be instituted on a larger scale.

McCaffrey finishes his 2006 report by stating:

There is no reason why the U.S. cannot achieve our objectives in Iraq. Our aim must be to create a viable federal state under the rule of law which does not: enslave its own people, threaten its neighbors, or produce weapons of mass destruction. This is a ten year task. We should be able to draw down most of our combat forces in 3-5 years. We have few alternatives to the current US strategy which is painfully but gradually succeeding. This is now a race against time. Do we have the political will, do we have the military power, will we spend the resources required to achieve our aims?

It was very encouraging for me to see the progress achieved in the past year. Thanks to the leadership and personal sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands of men and women of the CENTCOM team and the CIA – the American people are far safer today than we were in the 18 months following the initial intervention.

McCaffrey, the former war critic, is right. This is a battle of wills. We cannot afford to leave Iraq a shattered hulk, a failed state that would be the perfect breeding ground for al-Qaeda. Those who call for such a thing are fundamentally irresponsible. We must finish the job in Iraq and create a viable state that can be a bulwark against terrorism across the region. We must ensure that Iraq provides a workable model for Arab democratization that has a very strong chance of transforming the rest of the region.

We cannot abrogate our responsibilities in Iraq, and McCaffrey is right in pointing out that this is a battle we can win. The question is this: whose will is greater, ours or theirs? The answer to that question will determine whether our world continues on the path of greater democracy or falls into tyranny. If we lose, not only will we lose, but the people of Iraq will lose, and sooner or later the events of September 11, 2001 will have been but a prologue to the greater horrors that followed in its wake. For our sake and theirs, we must not falter in seeing to it that the Middle East not be abandoned to tyranny and terrorism.

2 thoughts on “What A Difference A Year Makes

  1. The fact that the Iraqi Army is now formed, of Shiaa, is not exactly staggering improvement, in fact, it’s the kind of improvement we sought to avoid.

    The test is whether they simply become the thugs of the ruling Shiaa, no different, and perhaps vengence-filled/reflexively worse, than the Sunni secret police.. err Army.. that preceeded them.

  2. The Army is less sectarian than the police are – and the police/internal security forces are the real problem – they are in deep with the Shi’a death squads.

    Prime Minister al-Maliki says that he will move against sectarian militias. It’s going to be a long and difficult fight for him to do so, but he seems genuine in his desire to do so. Plus, it does help that Ayatollah Sistani has officially declared a fatwa against the militias…

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