Friday, November 2, 2007

Reflections on Iraq

Elites and Grunts

How did Scott Thomas Beauchamp land the position of "Baghdad Diarist" for TNR in the first place? That his wife, Elspeth Reeve, was an employee certainly provided an "in" to come to the attention of decision-makers, but it doesn’t account for the actual decision to publish him. The TNR leadership had to make that decision based on what they believed served TNR’s interests, and those are no doubt varied. Would Beauchamp’s work appeal to the readership, contribute to the themes and ideas that the editors of that self described "Journal of the Arts and Politics" thought worthwhile, and provide TNR the credibility of having "boots on the ground" in the war? All of the above and more?

But why Beauchamp? He got involved in writing in college, and could turn a phrase passably well, but his military experience and acumen was, to say the least, limited. Why not a Michael Yon, a Matt Sanchez, a Bill Roggio, a Bill Ardolino a JD Johannes, or a Michael Totten, any one of whom had more writing and combat experience than STB? If an active duty soldier, why not one with more combat experience?

Beauchamp was a safe bet for TNR in this sense: he wouldn’t challenge the elite, namely Foer et al. Reading all three of Beauchamp’s pieces, there is no serious opinion, idea or analysis there. The Scott Thomas in his pieces is not in Iraq for any purpose other than that he was sent by the Army, and he observes and records disquieting, gloomy and personal incidents but provides no context to how they or anything might apply to tactics, strategy, policy or politics. In other words, he leaves the big stuff to the elites at the office, whereas a Yon, Totten or Roggio just might take personal observations and weave them into the bigger picture to the discomfort of some at TNR. TNR wanted a military Stepin Fetchit to both confirm their intellectual superiority over those military types and one who would stay away from their province, the "what it all means". In pursuit of a writing career, Beauchamp was willing to play the role his masters wanted.

There is no better theme for that TNR elitist purpose than the "Shock Troops" one of the dehumanizing effect of war. If a few months in a war could so "dehumanize" STB and his fellow soldiers that they would cruelly and sexually mock a disfigured woman within her hearing, most certainly the judgement of combat veterans and millbloggers is at least potentially questionable. The elites, though, have stayed above it all.

Recruiting Monsters

While the dehumanizing theme has been popular in some circles, very little attention has been paid to the Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) strategy of recruiting the already inhuman to join their holy jihad.

One of the themes that pops up time to time is that of our military lowering its standards for recruitment, and don’t you know that explains why we have so many misfits in uniform and can’t win a hearts and minds war! By October of 2004, when critics of the war in this country were decrying our military’s lowered recruiting standards, AQI had been using the internet to disseminate a slew of beheading videos (e.g., Nick Berg, Kim Sun-il, Paul Marshall Johnson, Eugene Armstrong, Jack Hensley, Kenneth John Bigley, etc.) for months, meant to intimidate us and our allies but also to recruit just the type of holy warrior AQI wanted. AQI targeted sociopaths, psychopaths, sadists and the violently criminal, in Iraq and from the broader Middle Eastern ummah, offering to them a veneer of holy respectability for performing despicable deeds. Think for one moment of what kind of person is drawn to the idea of slowing sawing off the head of a bound and screaming captive!

The Abu Ghraib scandal broke into the mainstream media in April 2004, about the same time that the months of beheading videos started worldwide distribution via the internet. While we were deluged for months with images of Lynndie England and abused naked inmates at Abu Ghraib, the media spared us from the grisly and horrifying beheading videos. There was, however, never an Army or Marine recruiting commercial where potential enlistees were offered top notch training, money towards college and the opportunity to abuse naked prisoners! AQI was recruiting not just religious fanatics and deluded suicide bombers, but human monsters.

When the Sunnis turned against AQI beginning in al-Anbar, it was and continues to be explained as the Sunni's reaction to AQI’s brutality toward them. The question is not asked: what made AQI engage in that potentially self-defeating brutality against the only demographic in Iraq from which they could have received cooperation and/or support?

I think the answer starts in late 2005. The Sunnis largely sat out the election early that year. By the election at the end of that year, though, they had a change of heart. If this democratic Iraq stood, they could possibly lose out totally. As such, at the urging of their leaders and even clerics, the Sunnis voted. At the same time, AQI’s al-Zarqawi weighed in on the elections with pure takfirist ideology:

"We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology. Anyone who tries to help set up this system is part of it."

Zarqawi went on to call all Iraqis who vote in the election "infidels." To AQI, the Sunnis needed some takfirist disciplining, and when coupled with their HR (Human Resources), or more appropriately IR (Inhuman Resources) recruitment policies, AQI unleashed itself on their only possible allies again and again.

The Civil War That Wasn’t

Has anyone else noticed that as the numbers of coalition and civilians deaths fall so too has the use of the phrase "civil war"? That Iraq was in the midst of a civil war was something like received wisdom for the Democrats seemingly only weeks ago. Matt Lauer at MSNBC seemed to aspire to be for Iraq what Walter Cronkite was for Vietnam when a year ago he said:

"For months the White House rejected claims that the situation in Iraq has deteriorated into civil war. For the most part news organizations like NBC hesitated to characterize it as such. After careful consideration, NBC News has decided the change in terminology is warranted and what is going on in Iraq can now be characteritized as civil war."

AQI did try to start something like a civil war, but moreso like a regional conflagration with the bombing of the Shia Golden Mosque in Samarra in February of 2006. As much as two years before that al-Zarqawi wrote of his passionate hatred of the Shia and the idea of attacking them without mercy so as to cause the Shia to seek retribution against the Sunni. He hoped that if that happened, the majority Sunnis of the Middle East would be roused to join the fight. The civil war ploy worked in the collective mind of the Democratic Party but not with the great majority of Iraqis. It did, however, unleash a horrific level of sectarian violence that took the lives of almost 3,400 Iraqis during the Ramadan month of September in 2006 alone.

Yet in all the discussions during 2006 and early 2007 of which factors did and which did not qualify what was happening as a civil war, one was glaringly missing: reports of pitched gun battles or fights of any kind between the armed Sunni and Shia groups. All sides were bombing Mosques and markets, shooting, torturing, torching and beheading civilians individually or in large groups. Yet the opposing sides were not engaging each other’s armed forces. It may not have begun that way, but the sectarian violence ended up becoming a protection racket operated by Middle Eastern incarnations of The Sopranos on crank. All the sides could advantageously slaughter the unarmed "others", and then extort money or obedience from those they would presumably protect from the inevitable reprisals. Of course, they wouldn’t protect anyone, because continuous murder and mayhem kept the scheme operating. The Iraqis caught on.

Hiding under the terror-insurgency there has been and still is a whole lot of just plain opportunistic criminality. Whenever six or sixteen bodies are found overnight in Baghdad and its environs, we add it to the war’s death toll. Some of it, even a whole lot of it, is crime, not war.

From the Bottom Up

Reuters provides a daily roundup of events in Iraq, and had this for October 6:

"SAMARRA - Iraqi army, police and local groups working with U.S. forces known as "concerned citizens" killed eight gunmen, detained 37 and liberated 27 truck drivers held hostage during an operation on Thursday southwest of Samarra, 100 km (62 miles) north of Baghdad. Four members of the Iraqi security forces and four concerned citizens were killed, U.S. military said."

That seemed a bit out of the ordinary, and so I looked for more, and found this from the Multi-National Division - North PAO (Public Affairs Office):

"4th Iraqi Army Division accomplishes independent assault

TIKRIT, Iraq – Iraqi Security Forces and Concerned Local Citizens, in response to local citizens’ tips, conducted a unilateral operation 15 miles southwest of Samarra in the early morning of Oct. 4. Several terrorists were killed, 27 hostages were rescued, and a sizable cache of weapons and equipment were discovered during the operation.

Acting on intelligence tips received from CLCs in western Salah ad Din province, elements of the 4th Iraqi Army, along with Iraqi Police from the 2nd Emergency Response Unit, uncovered 27 varied weapon systems, including DSHKA heavy machine guns, in addition to rescuing 27 truck drivers and destroying eight enemy cargo trucks.

While conducting site exploitation, IA Soldiers were engaged by dozens of enemy fighters with small-arms fire. The gunfight resulted in eight terrorists killed, including two potential senior leaders. Additionally, 37 suspected terrorists were detained."

That reads like the Northfield, Minnesota Bank Robbery during which the James-Younger gang exited the bank they robbed to find something like the entire community of Norwegian farmers blasting away at the gang with their hunting rifles and shotguns.

No American forces were involved in that gunfight, and the Iraqis say it was Al Qaeda. Reading the Reuters round-up alone, the bad guys were just unidentified gunmen, and it wasn’t clear that our troops took no part in the fight. Odd, I can’t find where any other media picked up that story in any detail. Okay, it’s not odd at all.

Thursday, November 1, 2007