Tuesday, April 13, 2021
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Iraq Trap: Remember, It Wasn’t the “Surge”

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 photo 140706AbuGhraib_zpsb1c88e26.jpgThough tempting to believe American military power turned the tide in Iraq when President Bush sent in additional troops and that today that same resolve can save an illegitimate government, neither is true. We learned this lesson in Viet Nam. The military answer is simple. Obama's political choice is not.

Two important forces converged at the moment George Bush decided to throw more troops into the fray against the growing Iraqi insurgency. Neither were military. Neither were affirmations of support. It was the story of choosing the lesser evil as perceived by the Iraqi people.

American military forces committed atrocities that alienated the most important factors in any insurgency: the hearts and minds of the populace. It is a convenient fact that the American people were never allowed to grasp the full impact of Abu Ghraib and other moral lapses committed by our troops and their leadership. That failed leadership extends, by the way, all the way to Washington D.C. and is not limited to the principal resident of the White House. But as my Australian officer classmate, Mal Reardon, liked to aver, "Winners are grinners."

If you love America, you should read this even though it won't be pleasant. But for you super-patriots who love a place that doesn't exist, beware of cognitive dissonance.

In the fall of 2003 the rules of engagement for the invasion of Iraq included sweeping suspected regime sympathizers into custody. The term sympathizer was applied broadly and interpreted by at least one unit to include reporters for Arab news media. As told to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in Iraq After The Invasion, one reporter from al Jazeera was taken into custody when he responded to an explosion of a mini-bus in Diyala province north of Baghdad.  He had been detained before and thought it would be the same questions and same result: release after an hour or two. This time was different; he was taken to a prison that had been infamous as a site of torture and execution under the Hussein regime: Abu Ghraib. We had taken part of the facility and used it as a military prison.

Washington’s White Thobed Thugs

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If there is reason to intervene in Libya, there are just as compelling reasons to intervene in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Bahrain's Sunni Emir rules a population vastly Shia. The Saudi monarchy uses a heavy boot to quash any Shia opposition. National interests? Here's your national interests at work.  

Every time I passed a former British outpost on Bahrain, I wondered if it would be an Iranian or Chinese officer who would one day have that same uneasy feeling passing a former American outpost. That day may be coming sooner than ever imagined. The subject of representative government in nations such as this always drew the ire of Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) officers when it arose in seminar discussions at the Joint Forces Staff College or at conferences in Tampa; never raised on host country terrain. Bahraini officers would rankle at the suggestion that the population was majority Shia (it is upwards of 80%; "but no "official" statistics are available," they would argue). I was there two years and lived across the road from third country nationals living in stables and down the street from Shia neighborhoods much larger and more Spartan than my Sunni area quarters.

In private, the Emir (today's Emir's father) scoffed at Shia affectations such as the "Tree of Life" out in the desert and joked about cutting it down. This widely held Sunni attitude left Shia connections to relatives and business partners in Iran as their most cordial. The dialect spoken in the streets was "Gulfy" rather than the more formal Saudi version and far from the Egyptian and Levantine. There was a nascent insurgency held at bay by a heavy handed hired gun; a retired British general, veteran of the Malay success. But there is so much time and just so many prison cells; they cannot contain all the disgruntled forever. And now, the disaffectation has spilled into the streets. Fine to turn a blind eye in Saudi and Bahrain, but not in Libya?