Sunday, August 19, 2007

In Iraq (I-Wreck), It's the Occupation, Stupid!

And Not a War!
Throughout these pages, I have long and relentlessly argued that Bush's opponents do themselves a tremendous disservice by buying into the lexicon of his Warparty that we must 'win' the 'war in Iraq'. Some of my readers have dissented and taken great umbrage, saying that my insistence on the word "occupation" is demeaning to the heroic service rendered by the brave men and women in our Armed Services. My response has been, and is, that it's not my calling Bush's occupation of Iraq for what it is which is demeaning. It's the mission which the Chickenhawk-in-Chief has assigned our troops that is demeaning.

Here, from today's New York Times, we can hear directly from the troops about the conditions on the ground in Iraq. In the report which Bush is writing for General Petreus, you will see the word 'war' many times. But, in the following piece written by Army Specialist Buddhika Jayamaha, Sergeant Wesley D. Smith, Sergeant Jeremy Roebuck, Sergeant Omar Mora, Sergeant Edward Sandmeier, Staff Sergeant Yance T. Gray and Staff Sergeant Jeremy A. Murphy only the word "occupation" is used:
. . . . the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched.

As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day.

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army,

Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.
We are arming tribally-based Sunni militias to serve as anti-al Qaeda proxies, but
the enduring question is where their loyalties would lie in our absence. The Iraqi government finds itself working at cross purposes with us on this issue because it is justifiably fearful that Sunni militias will turn on it should the Americans leave.

In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. . . . While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse — namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

. . . . The Iraqi government is run by the main coalition partners of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, with Kurds as minority members. The Shiite clerical establishment formed the alliance to make sure its people did not succumb to the same mistake as in 1920: rebelling against the occupying Western force (then the British) and losing what they believed was their inherent right to rule Iraq as the majority. The qualified and reluctant welcome we received from the Shiites since the invasion has to be seen in that historical context. They saw in us something useful for the moment.

Now that moment is passing, as the Shiites have achieved what they believe is rightfully theirs. Their next task is to figure out how best to consolidate the gains, because reconciliation without consolidation risks losing it all. . . .

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.

At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

. . . . In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.

Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities. . . .
Iraqis are clearly pre-occupied with our occupation. We Americans should be, too.

15 Moderated Comments:

Blogger Messenger said...

Cheney and Bush have misused our troops to launch an unprovoked invasion and to maintain an unwelcomed occupation. And now Cheney wants to use occupied Iraq as a staging ground for an un-provoked attack on Iran. These freaks won't stop until they're stopped.

8/19/2007 08:30:00 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

Vigil,

Congratulations on another important post. Would that it were front and center on every single newspaper in America today.

I would say that it is not only "far fetched", it is delusional for Bush and his cabal to preach to our citizens (and the world) that the United States of America is "Doing What is Right" by invading, and now, occupying a sovereign nation which had never attacked us in order to do "God's Work"and impose upon that people (the Iraqis) our vision of democracy - something Iraq had not sought for herself.

Please remember that the nation of Iraq was only called into being some seventy-five years or so ago. It was the English who created this country composed of Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds who were, thereby, forced to live together under one shared national flag, regardless of what they might have preferred had they been asked. We are repeating this mistake with our naive American-centric policies, which utterly ignore the hopes and dreams of the Iraqis and which infantalize and disrespect them.

To refuse to acknowledge the realities on the ground in Iraq; to persistently spin the news from Iraq in order to perpetuate the wishful and fantastical thinking of Cheney-Bush-Rove; and to continue to fear-monger, obfuscate, lie, and pontificate in order to manipulate the American public into cowed silence (including the Democratic led congress) is to perpetuate the truly heinous behaviors of this administration and to continue the destructive downward slide of America's standing among the nations of the world which the irresponsible and dreadful policies of Cheney-Bush-Rove have caused.

How sad that America is so lacking in courageous leaders who will stand up and speak truth to power. This administration is corrupt to the core and Bush is truly the worst president our "Supremes" have ever selected.

8/19/2007 09:23:00 AM  
Blogger M.D. said...

Stopped by to alert you to this article, Vigilante, but I see you got to it first!

8/19/2007 09:39:00 AM  
Blogger LTE said...

There is now only one solution possible: FOR AMERICA TO ANNOUNCE A DATE SET BY WHICH IT WILL REMOVE ALL TROOPS. Incompetence is forgivable should it be clear that the occupation will come to an end. But America's good-will is unbelievable when the issue is continued occupation. An thus, no Iraqi leader is believable when sustained by the occupiers. Any contact with Americans leads to discrediting of the involved Iraqi. Only the SCIRI officials can get away with it because they are known to be Iran stooges and are duly supported efficiently and lavishly.

The key issue is that Americans are staying in Iraq for a reason-- most assumed by Iraqis are reasons in support of US or Israeli interests. The US must make a truce with Sadr so he can feel safe to reconcile with the Sunnis against the Iran run SCIRI before we withdraw.

8/19/2007 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger TomCat said...

Excellent article, Vig. I'd love to say more, but Emily had the audacity to say it first. ;-)

8/19/2007 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger ROGERSBIZ said...

NICE BLOG.

8/19/2007 11:38:00 AM  
Blogger Todd Dugdale said...

The reason the word "occupation" is so vehemently hated by neocons is that you cannot *lose* an occupation. You have already "won" by defeating the military and occupying their country. A military cannot "win" an occupation any more than an umpire can "win" a baseball game. Since, as the right loves to repeat, Americans like to win, therefore you need to call it a "war", which can be "won".
Otherwise we are just hanging around after the victory and trying to solve social, political, and economic problems with military force...which is exactly what we are doing in Iraq.
The same goes for term "surrender". Who, I always ask, are we to "surrender" to? The general in charge of Social Unrest? The commander of Ethnic Strife? The Field Marshall of Political Impotence, perhaps? This is NOT a war, but the neocons continually frame it as a war, because their talking points collapse once the word "occupation" is applied.

8/19/2007 02:42:00 PM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

Nice points are made above.

LTE says the united States should make a truce with Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army. I concur. To attack the Sadrists is dysfunctional, assuming we are trying to build self-sustaining political structures for a future Iraq. It's a little like retreat mining as illustrated in the Utah mining disaster: mining the pillars that hold up the ceilings over your head.

OTOH, only if American policy aims to use I-Wreck just as a dispensible base camp and/or pretext from which to attack Iran, as suggested by Messenger, attacking the Mehdi Army makes sense.

And welcome to Todd Dugdale. I recommend his blog, Extemporaneous Discourse. Todd has a tight grip on the Neoconservative throat. We just all need to apply our fingers.

8/19/2007 09:44:00 PM  
Blogger Messenger said...

Iraq has been and is only temporarily an occupation. In order to justify it, it has to be changed back into a war.

I am clipping from a wounded Vietnam veteran, Jerry Eagan (Silver City, NM) who's written to Juan Cole's Informed Comment:

...by arming Sunni Arab tribal sheiks, we now have a "proxy army" which is effectively being used against al-Qaeda (Salafist) terrorists).

...I'd contend, every Iraqi shiite knows exactly what these Sunni militia will be used for once al-Qaeda is broken: namely, they will join the Americans in fighting Shiite militia.

...Bush and Petraeus, at their different levels, appear to have already decided to side with the Sunnis

...we've now actually begun arming/aligning ourselves with one side. And, with the side which once again shows that American foreign policy is hypocritical.


Because, obviously, we are siding with the side of those who LOST the only election(s) ever held in Iraq. All because of Bush-Cheney's anti-Iranian lunacy:

Arming Sunni tribal sheiks and Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Gulf nations, are the opening rounds of our war with Iran. Bush will do all he can to instigate an Iranian military response.

We'll be in a new war. This President has to have a scape goat to lay this terrible Iraqi fiasco on. Iran will be it.


Conclusion: So this illegal and unnecessary invasion, which begat endless occupation, is now being morphed into protracted war with Iranians.

8/20/2007 06:15:00 AM  
Blogger Indicted Plagiarist said...

Brian Palmer concludes Counterinsurgency for Dummies -- and Chickenhawks:

Eventually, facts will speak louder than words, louder than the propaganda of war boosters like Pollack, O'Hanlon, and Kristol, whose work rests on scant boots-on-the-ground experience, a stunning indifference to human suffering, and the presumption of a divine right of do-overs for the Bush administration. The facts on the ground are clear: the US occupation of Iraq is, more than four years on, a tragic improvisation. First let's call it what is. Only then can we figure out what we must do next in order limit greater harm to ourselves and to Iraq.

8/21/2007 05:35:00 AM  
Blogger Indicted Plagiarist said...

Muqtada al-Sadr is interviewed:

We are at war and America is our enemy so we are entitled to take help from anyone. But we have not asked for Iran's help.

I would support the UN here in Iraq if it comes and replaces the American and British occupiers. If the UN comes here to truly help the Iraqi people, they will receive our help in their work. I would ask my followers to support the UN as long as it is here to help us rebuild our country. They must not just be another face of the American occupation.

Al-Maliki's government will not survive because he has proven that he will not work with important elements of the Iraqi people. The Prime Minister is a tool for the Americans and people see that clearly. It will probably be the Americans who decide to change him when they realise he has failed. We don't have a democracy here, we have a foreign occupation.

8/21/2007 05:57:00 AM  
Blogger MadMike said...

What we have is a failure to communicate. The hell that is Iraq is a war first and foremost, and only coincidentally an occupation, and that only because we are there and the indigents don't want us there. There is no comparison between Iraq and Vietnam, except both were unnecessary and driven by lying politicians and greedy generals. The similarity ends there. In Vietnam 58K American lives were sacrificed to the lie. Iraq is not now nor will it ever be close to that bloody number.

8/21/2007 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

Michael-the-Mad is certainly Mad.

You can show him the words of the troops and still he insists we're in a war and not an occupation. Let the record show he continues to bear the Administration's framing on his broad, Vietnam Vet's shoulders as he plods along. Michael is definitely one of the good guys; I admire him greatly. And he certainly has good intentions. But isn't that what the roads to hell are paved with?

8/21/2007 08:46:00 PM  
Blogger Boris said...

Best not be poking Mike in the eye, Vigil. He's quite capable of coming in here and breaking some furniture.

8/21/2007 09:02:00 PM  
Blogger MadMike said...

LOL! Thanks Boris! :-) :-)

Vigil: It's a war first and an occupation second. I know we will never agree on this point despite overwhelming evidence supporting both positions. Regardless the fact that we can agree to do so speaks volumes. I thoroughly enjoy your blog.

8/22/2007 02:15:00 PM  

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