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Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Question about the Emperor's New Clothes

The story making the rounds is that more troops will solve the problem in Baghdad, and by extension, if we solve the problem in Baghdad, we solve the problem in Iraq.

There is, of course, the alternative explanation, which is that a military solution simply is not possible. But to the man with a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail, so we're stuck with pursuing military solutions for the time being.

But this is the usual analysis given of "what went wrong":

"Our misstep here was we believed we could do this on the cheap, to be very candid. Now, the individual who drove that was half-right because we actually won the (invasion) on the cheap," Looney said.

"What we have not been able to do is stabilize the country and create the environment for success. And the military advice was it was going to take three times what it took to win the war, to stabilize the country," he added. "It was not heeded."
This analysis, however, raises a question:

1) US troop levels at one poin in Iraq were 160,000 or so. This "surge" will bring the troop levels back to that high point, or as close as we can get.

2) The military told Bush they had only 19,000 troops to send in (no breakdown yet, apparently, on where the extra 2100 are going to come from, but educated guesses can be made).

3) We've lost over 3000 so far, and the number of wounded exceeds 20,000 (how many of those can no longer fight is unclear, but it's probably well over half, and nearer to 75%. Still, we'll assume half, to be safe.)

So here's the question: when did we ever have enough men and women under arms to conduct this invasion and occupation? Isn't the deeper question here one of: "What military are we paying for, precisely, and why are we paying for it?" The war I was sold for most of my life was the "inevitable" war with the Soviet Union (even some peace groups were convinced nuclear weapons would someday be launched against the Soviets). That war was largely envisioned, in the popular mind, as a war which would involve the exchange of more and more destructive weapons, until (or maybe just on a first-strike by each side) there was no one left to launch any weapons, and no infrastructure to launch them against. Invasion and occupation weren't really considered, since: (a) "we" didn't do that, and (b) there'd be nothing but radioactive moonscape to occupy anyway.

We never thought much about our army trying to occupy "their" country. Indeed, this was one of the generalized complaints about Vietnam: that we never really tried to hold anything, that our "mission" was never "clearly defined." What was never acknowledged was that a "clearly defined mission" in war means either extermination or occupation. Our model was WWII, which was all about "liberation." But we invaded Iraq; Iraq didn't invade anyone else.

Which is part of how we got to where we are today. We built a massive war machine in a fantastically short amount of time, and basically matched the industrial output of Germany, which had been working on its war machine for quite some time, and the industrial output of Japan, who also had a head start, and who decimated our Navy at Pearl Harbor. It was an astonishing feat. And then, as Eisenhower warned us, we didn't know how to stop. Now we are the musclebound body builder who looks fearsome but can't really do anything, because even our bombers and airships can't insure we kill the right person. We have the most expensive and powerful military money can buy, but we don't have the personnel to do anything with it. We've reduced Iraq to rubble, which was part of the invastion plan. But having kicked over the anthill, we find we can't rebuild it and are surprised that the chaos we created in order to invade, is not amenable to our attempts (feeble and pathetic as they are) at control. And the consensus seems to be coalexcing around the idea that we failed at control because we didn't put enough boots on the ground.

Assuming arguendo that a military solution will always trump a political one, we still have a problem: when was the military solution ever available? When did we ever have enough troops under arms to control Iraq? Even with the "Coalition of the Willing," we weren't able to do that.

Which is what makes this latest excuse for another chance at victory, such a tragic farce. Condoleeza Rice says: "We cannot afford to fail." But the fact is, by the Administration's own terms: we already have. We failed before we even started.

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