Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Giving hope to those who try 

The St. Cloud Times leads with a letter from Abbas Mehdi, a sociology professor here and an Iraqi, who is currently working in Baghdad for a contractor for the US government helping to rebuild his home country. I know Abbas, and am happy that he sent me a copy of the letter. The article is accurate in its reflection of the letter's contents. Abbas has said to friends that the place is much worse than he imagined. Here's the bulk of it:
There is no government, there are no institutions, no security, no jobs, no water, and no electricity.

Even worse than that, I don't see any solution in the near future. Of the many possible options I hear about, none seems to me to provide the answer, not even the Baker report, which I know is attracting a lot of attention right now in the US.

The reality for both the US and Iraq is very grim. If the US leaves, it will make the situation here worse very quickly; but if the US stays, it will become worse very slowly. In the meantime, ethnic killing has started to spread widely among different communities in Baghdad.

If you ask me what I think the answer is, I have to say I simply don't know, and I don�t know if anyone else really knows, either.

Iraq�s future is in serious doubt and it's moving toward one of the darkest chapters in its history. Iraq has been destroyed as a result of stupidity and policies that were rushed through too fast, and it may be a very long time until the damage can be repaired.
You might expect me to disagree with the letter, but I cannot. No plan currently put forward sounds reasonably like something that would work; I agree that the plan initiated by Paul Bremer immediately after taking Baghdad was a complete disaster and made matters worse not better. What I would disagree with is the reflection on the letter by another faculty member here.
As he read Mehdi's letter, Philion was reminded of a newspaper article he had read recently about a Marine commander who had been sent to Iraq to train Iraqi police units to do the most basic policing. That commander told a reporter that the mission now was just to make sure the soldiers in their unit made it home alive.
The first job of any commander is to keep his or her own troops alive (I'm reminded of the scene in the beginning of Patton, where George C Scott says nobody helps his country by dying for it, he helps by making the other poor bastard die for his.) But as Captain Ed noted last week, perhaps the goal is about more than just making the other poor bastards die.
The reason why the US insisted on engaging in the Wilsonian task of nation-building after toppling Saddam was twofold. Democracy should allow more rational outlets for political aspirations instead of allowing them to fester in tyranny, thus eventually reducing the impulse towards terrorism. The second follows from the first, and that was to seed Southwest Asia and North Africa with democracy, with its roots in Iraq.
If the goal is Wilsonian nation-building, it had to be said from the start that 1) it's not worked well in many other places, 2) we don't know why it worked in the places it did, and 3) those who supported the idea are not doing a good job explaining why it's not working. The last is why good men like Abbas are now despairing.

The faculty member's comment is part of the argument that everyone wants to cut and run phased redeploy in Iraq, just that some people want to shoot the natives on the way out and others just want to bug out. Abbas closes his letter saying "I so much wish I could be writing to you with hope and optimism and a sense of better things to come." It is up to those who still support the effort in Iraq to provide that sense.

UPDATE (10pm): Of course, Dale is correct in comments that it's not the military leader's job to keep every last soldier alive if it means the mission is not accomplished. But if I have figured out what the faculty member was referring to, it was a story on Iraqi police training and keeping those trainees alive. I of course could be wrong and he was talking of a different article. I don't know, but this is the only one I could find with Google and two weeks worth of news. If that is the article, I'm not convinced that the imperatives of a military commander and a police commander are identical.