Archive for Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Waiting for Godot in Iraq?

January 17, 2007

If you want to know a little more what issues are being contemplated by the Army, a good place to start is Military Review, a bimonthly journal published by the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth. The January-February issue went online this week.

As part of the Military Matters blog, we'll check in from time-to-time to see what's being written in the review, to give insight into the issues being contemplated by commanders in the Army - and editors at Fort Leavenworth.

We won't, however, try to digest an entire issue in one blog. There's too much there.

First up is an article (PDF) from F.J. Bing West, a former Marine and former assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan. He likens the military's mission in Iraq to "Waiting for Godot" - hoping for "strategic clarity" that is unlikely to arrive.

He writes: Indeed, the level of pessimism among the policy-making elites, the Congress, and the press is astonishing. Having visited with 15 U.S. and Iraqi units in September and October, I am a solid five on a scale of one (disaster) to ten (success).

He then paints a grim picture of an Iraq with a "feckless" government, divided between religious sects, unable to overcome decades of oppressive rule. But, he says, the fight should continue.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq, however, is real, evil, implacable, and dedicated to killing. collapsed Iraq would result in a wider, messier regional war. defeat for the United States would be more than a national humiliation; it would adversely affect trade, our economy, our domestic comity, and the willingness of other nations to ally with us. Losing is not an option.

So what is the mission today? To train Iraqi security forces capable of restoring a modicum of enduring stability. Whether this will be accompanied by a Western-style democracy or by a military controlling things behind the scenes, as was the case in Turkey and South Korea a few decades ago, remains to be seen.

And he concludes the 11-page essay - a wide-ranging critique, including words for the American media - with "four lessons" for the military to get through the rest of the war, and the aftermath:

  • First, senior military leaders in Iraq should convey a common set of expectations about aggressive mission behavior for the duration of this politically divisive war.
  • Second, we have to evaluate our military performance with candor, and not copy the politicians who refuse to acknowledge error-no one gets through life, war, or a football game without a lot of mistakes.
  • Third, the social contract between the Soldier and the American public needs to be restored. The new secretary of defense should go out of his way to reaffirm the virtue of valor and urge the press and to do the same.
  • Fourth, the competition for defense resources is going to be fierce. To lessen the budgetary cuts that follow after an unpopular war, a credible general officer must articulate a convincing strategy for land forces.

The essay is appended with this note: The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense.

More to come in future days.

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