Iraq developments

Greg Richards
Several developments have occurred in the Iraq narrative in the last few days:

1. We now have a book from the Iraqi perspective to join the excellent American books Fiasco by Thomas Ricks, State of Denial by Bob Woodward, Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekar and The Foreigner's Gift by Fouad Ajami.  It is The Occupation of Iraq by Ali Allawi, the first Defense Minister of post-Saddam Iraq.  It is a harrowing tale of the history of how Iraq was assembled by the British, the provenance of its various factions and their philosophies and then the tale of the war and the American presence in Iraq.  It focuses particularly on the dethroning of the Sunni from their historic leading position in Iraqi affairs and society, the effects of which we seem to have been inexplicably unprepared for.  It talks about the Iraqi government and the amazing corruption in it - for instance, virtually the entire defense budget for 2004 was plundered:

"In one notorious case, Iraq was sold twenty-four Soviet-era helicopters, over thirty years old, for $100 million.  The Iraqi inspection team refused to take delivery of these helicopters, given their near-unusable state - even when the purchase price had already been paid in advance." [p. 366]   
For those of you interested in "what went wrong" in the Iraq War, the Allawi book is the next big thing.  It does not say that we cannot prevail, at least after a fashion, but it shows what we have been and are up against.


2. Fouad Ajami has an important
column on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal on April 11 ("Iraq in the Balance: In Washington, panic. In Baghdad, cautious optimism.")  Like all experts on Iraq, including those with a knowledge of the Arab culture and language, which he has, he was not right about what would happen in Iraq post-Saddam.  But he has a theory that is harsh, which could just be right.  It is that the sectarian violence that surged in 2006 and continues into the present is not all bad.  What it represents is fighting-back by the Shia.  I.e., up to this time, the Shia were pretty much terrorized by the dominant, but minority Sunni.  Now, according to Ajami, "the Sunni have learned that two can kill."  What has happened over the last year is that the Sunni have lost the battle for Baghdad.  Exiles from the city are the Sunni middle class who had the means of escape.  Ajami suggests that the balance of terror may be the necessary precondition for a gradual settlement.  The best hope is that the stable parts of both the Sunni and Shia communities are now moving to expel the extreme radicals from their midst.

3. The announcement by Defense Secretary Gates on April 11 of 15 month tours of duty for the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan (up from 12 months) means that we are in this for the long haul, at least for the duration of the Bush Administration.  It seems likely that even with the current disaffection, Bush has the political tools at his disposal to hold the ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan together over growing Democratic resistance.  Public opinion, his powers as Commander-in-Chief and the very substantial Republican presence in Congress, give him sufficient points of leverage to get his war plans executed. 

4. Peter Baker and Thomas Ricks broke the story in the Washington Post on April 11 that the White House has been interviewing ex-generals for a new slot to oversee the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The point seems to be the inability of the government to mobilize our non-military assets in these conflicts.  The concept behind this new command slot is a little bit mystifying since to most of us, this would be the job of the president himself.  But apparently the White House does not see it that way.

It appears that the generals interviewed so far for this job cannot keep a secret.  According to the article, retired Marine General John J. "Jack" Sheehan is among those who have rejected the job.  "So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer, and eventually leave, I said, ‘No, thanks,'" he said.  Let's hope it didn't work like that when the general was on active duty.  "Guys, I don't think this assignment is going to be good for my health.  Why don't you do it and come back and tell me about it."  Not exactly Semper Fi.

Yes, it is clear that General Sheehan imagines he is teaching the White House a lesson for what he sees as its sub-par conduct of the war so far.  And on this point, there are a lot of us who would agree with him.  However, these are the great affairs of state.  The fate of the nation is at stake in Iraq.  If the general cannot bring himself to respond to a call to the colors, then it strikes this observer that the least he could do is to keep that fact to himself. 

We'll make it without you, general.  And in the meantime, you might brush up on your Illiad.  I recommend the part where Achilles is sulking in his tent.
Several developments have occurred in the Iraq narrative in the last few days:

1. We now have a book from the Iraqi perspective to join the excellent American books Fiasco by Thomas Ricks, State of Denial by Bob Woodward, Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekar and The Foreigner's Gift by Fouad Ajami.  It is The Occupation of Iraq by Ali Allawi, the first Defense Minister of post-Saddam Iraq.  It is a harrowing tale of the history of how Iraq was assembled by the British, the provenance of its various factions and their philosophies and then the tale of the war and the American presence in Iraq.  It focuses particularly on the dethroning of the Sunni from their historic leading position in Iraqi affairs and society, the effects of which we seem to have been inexplicably unprepared for.  It talks about the Iraqi government and the amazing corruption in it - for instance, virtually the entire defense budget for 2004 was plundered:

"In one notorious case, Iraq was sold twenty-four Soviet-era helicopters, over thirty years old, for $100 million.  The Iraqi inspection team refused to take delivery of these helicopters, given their near-unusable state - even when the purchase price had already been paid in advance." [p. 366]   
For those of you interested in "what went wrong" in the Iraq War, the Allawi book is the next big thing.  It does not say that we cannot prevail, at least after a fashion, but it shows what we have been and are up against.


2. Fouad Ajami has an important
column on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal on April 11 ("Iraq in the Balance: In Washington, panic. In Baghdad, cautious optimism.")  Like all experts on Iraq, including those with a knowledge of the Arab culture and language, which he has, he was not right about what would happen in Iraq post-Saddam.  But he has a theory that is harsh, which could just be right.  It is that the sectarian violence that surged in 2006 and continues into the present is not all bad.  What it represents is fighting-back by the Shia.  I.e., up to this time, the Shia were pretty much terrorized by the dominant, but minority Sunni.  Now, according to Ajami, "the Sunni have learned that two can kill."  What has happened over the last year is that the Sunni have lost the battle for Baghdad.  Exiles from the city are the Sunni middle class who had the means of escape.  Ajami suggests that the balance of terror may be the necessary precondition for a gradual settlement.  The best hope is that the stable parts of both the Sunni and Shia communities are now moving to expel the extreme radicals from their midst.

3. The announcement by Defense Secretary Gates on April 11 of 15 month tours of duty for the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan (up from 12 months) means that we are in this for the long haul, at least for the duration of the Bush Administration.  It seems likely that even with the current disaffection, Bush has the political tools at his disposal to hold the ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan together over growing Democratic resistance.  Public opinion, his powers as Commander-in-Chief and the very substantial Republican presence in Congress, give him sufficient points of leverage to get his war plans executed. 

4. Peter Baker and Thomas Ricks broke the story in the Washington Post on April 11 that the White House has been interviewing ex-generals for a new slot to oversee the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The point seems to be the inability of the government to mobilize our non-military assets in these conflicts.  The concept behind this new command slot is a little bit mystifying since to most of us, this would be the job of the president himself.  But apparently the White House does not see it that way.

It appears that the generals interviewed so far for this job cannot keep a secret.  According to the article, retired Marine General John J. "Jack" Sheehan is among those who have rejected the job.  "So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer, and eventually leave, I said, ‘No, thanks,'" he said.  Let's hope it didn't work like that when the general was on active duty.  "Guys, I don't think this assignment is going to be good for my health.  Why don't you do it and come back and tell me about it."  Not exactly Semper Fi.

Yes, it is clear that General Sheehan imagines he is teaching the White House a lesson for what he sees as its sub-par conduct of the war so far.  And on this point, there are a lot of us who would agree with him.  However, these are the great affairs of state.  The fate of the nation is at stake in Iraq.  If the general cannot bring himself to respond to a call to the colors, then it strikes this observer that the least he could do is to keep that fact to himself. 

We'll make it without you, general.  And in the meantime, you might brush up on your Illiad.  I recommend the part where Achilles is sulking in his tent.