On August 19, the New York Times ran an op-ed by seven military personnel, who were described as follows:
Buddhika Jayamaha is an Army specialist. Wesley D. Smith is a sergeant. Jeremy Roebuck is a sergeant. Omar Mora is a sergeant. Edward Sandmeier is a sergeant. Yance T. Gray is a staff sergeant. Jeremy A. Murphy is a staff sergeant.
These seven slam the surge, saying that military victories really count for nothing against an insurgency, and that any American self-praise simply represents American self-centeredness. Here’s a sampling:
The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.
Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.
Coupling our military strategy to an insistence that the Iraqis meet political benchmarks for reconciliation is also unhelpful. The morass in the government has fueled impatience and confusion while providing no semblance of security to average Iraqis. Leaders are far from arriving at a lasting political settlement. This should not be surprising, since a lasting political solution will not be possible while the military situation remains in constant flux.
The Iraqi government is run by the main coalition partners of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, with Kurds as minority members. The Shiite clerical establishment formed the alliance to make sure its people did not succumb to the same mistake as in 1920: rebelling against the occupying Western force (then the British) and losing what they believed was their inherent right to rule Iraq as the majority. The qualified and reluctant welcome we received from the Shiites since the invasion has to be seen in that historical context. They saw in us something useful for the moment.
I’m not there (“there” being Iraq), so I don’t know if their facts are right. As I understand it, these soldiers are saying, in part, that the situation on the ground in Iraq is confusing, and if everything’s not going our way, then nothing is going our way. The story is also already a little dated, because it looks as if one of the major disgruntled insurgent groups just decided to give up. If that’s the case, the fog of battle, with divergent factions all over Iraq, may just have cleared up a bit. That’s just deconstructing the writing though and comparing three day old conclusions to today’s facts. For all I know, everything in the article could, in fact, be dead-on correct. (And if it is dead-on correct, why in the world is the Army letting its guys undercut it this way in a major American publication? But that’s a question for another blog post.)
What really intrigues me right now is the dead silence in the conservative blogosphere about this one. I don’t recall any of my favorite conservative sites discussing this article. That’s really unusual. And for those of you who count yourselves among my liberal readers, and are inclined to think badly of conservatives, let me assure you right away that the reason for that silence isn’t simply because this story goes against the prevailing wisdom in the conservative blogosphere — namely, that that the War can still be won and that the surge is working. One of the things I’ve loved about the conservative blogosphere is its willingness to tackle all fact and opinion articles, whether the bloggers see the articles as occasions for celebration, deconstruction or despair. No matter the article, if it’s about a hot topic, as this one is, silence is never the response.
Given the reality of the conservative blogosphere, I have to ask if I’ve missed the response to this article or if, for a reason unclear to me, this article has been met with resounding silence? And if the latter is true, why is that?
UPDATE: Blackfive has respectfully challenged some of the authors’ conclusions. Has anyone else of the big guys?
UPDATE II: In addition to Blackfive, I’ve got a couple more links. Greyhawk, writing at Milblogs, which is part of the Mudville Gazette, takes some time out from getting the job done in Iraq to comment on the op-ed’s perspective. His major point is that, while the op-ed’s authors have their facts right, he disagrees with their conclusions. Here’s a sampling:
We are indeed working to straighten out a hell of a mess in Baghdad, and any number of things can foil our objectives. In fact, failure is easier and quicker than success, our failure can bring success to others (is, in fact, prerequisite to their success as they currently envision it) and not all of these “others” are ready to develop new definitions of personal or group success more compatible with ours. (Or at least, definitions of “success” that can be achieved following our success rather than only after our failure).
But, in fact, that’s exactly what’s happened in most of al Anbar, and during the bloody campaign to get there such an outcome was far from obvious. (Such an outcome is far from a done deal now, too, but at least it can be mentioned without drawing sneers.) It’s entirely possible that all hell may still break lose there. But it seems (at best) that the general population has had enough of al Qaeda and their ilk and are willing to cast their lot with us, or (at worst) have finally realized that the best way to get rid of us is to let us finish and leave – after gaining whatever edge they can against their future rivals from us before our departure. (Said edge being training, money, weapons, and perhaps a bit of thinning of the rival herd before we depart.) One can’t rule out some middle ground between those two possibilities.
That being the case, our best hope is that prosperity (or at least being on a recognizable path thereto) will prove incentive to keep the peace without the presence of American guns. Said peace being more conducive to such prosperity, a positive spiral can develop, and we’re beginning to see the early indications of that spiral now in Anbar as months of positive developments have at least resulted in people noticing the positive developments and in turn developing at least some semblance of hope.
This seems to be a more lucid statement of the bone I had to pick, which was my comment that the op-ed seemed to say that, since all things aren’t going right in Iraq, than everything must be going wrong. I incline by nature to Greyhawk’s view that, if enough is going right, that can change the momentum — and you certainly don’t abandon the fight just as you’ve got a policy in place that is tilting more and more things in the winning direction.
Bill at Bill’s Bites has touched on this issue, since he hunted down the articles mentioned above and well as this one — posts I wouldn’t have found without his help.
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