Sunday, August 19, 2007

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

The operators' view of Iraq

In a stark rebuttal to the O'Hanlon and Pollack op-ed from a few weeks ago, the New York Times runs another op-ed -- this one co-authored by seven enlisted soldiers based in Iraq.

I think it would be safe to say that Army specialist Buddhika Jayamaha, sergeants Wesley D. Smith, Jeremy Roebuck, Omar Mora, and Edward Sandmeier, and staff sergeants Yance T. Gray and Jeremy A. Murphy have a view of Iraq that differs from O'Hanlon and Pollack:

In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: one of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a “time-sensitive target acquisition mission” on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive and is being flown to a military hospital in the United States.) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse — namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.

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....

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.

At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, “We need security, not free food.”

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.

Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.

Read the whole thing.

This op-ed will raise a hornets nest of questions. Once the September report on the surge is issued, there will be a "compare and contrast" exercise between this downbeat assessment of the "operators" of our Iraq policy, as opposed to the "managers" of David Petraeus, Ryan Crocker, and the White House. As John Cole puts it: "While these guys are in the 82nd Airborne, you can see that what they write is sure to infuriate the patriots in the 101st Chairborne."

posted by Dan on 08.19.07 at 09:06 AM


What I find so significant about this Op-Ed is the ranks, or pay grades, if you will, of the authors. These aren’t policy wonks with PhDs. Or even masters degrees. The authors are at the heart of the Non Commissioned Officer (NCO) corps. Four are E-5 sergeants and two are E-6 sergeants. These are significantly high enough enlisted men that they lead troops. Staff Sergeants and sergeants would have a title of Squad Leader and, depending on the type of unit be responsible for from eight to sixteen subordinate soldiers.

These soldiers are not commissioned officers wanting to make sure everything has the right spin so as to not put future promotions in jeopardy. These soldiers have the freedom to “tell it like it is.”

posted by: Chief on 08.19.07 at 09:06 AM [permalink]

The other key consideration in examining the pay grades involved is that these are not men trained in strategy or regularly having a broad perspective of the battlespace. Rather, their roles and expertise are tactics in the small portion of Iraq in which they operate at any given time.

Saying this does not diminish in any way their insights into the local situation in their Area(s) of Responsibility. The op-ed is simply a well-crafted data point for the time(s) and space(s) in which those insights were gained, and should be added with the observations of others operating elsewhere to develop a more strategic picture.

posted by: Jem on 08.19.07 at 09:06 AM [permalink]

I'll also note that the tone of the op-ed is very different than I've normally encountered when interacting with personnel at that level of the military. One wonders if there was "assistance" provided by others, not credited, who agreed with the sentiments but lacked the credibility accrued from being in combat themselves...

posted by: Jem on 08.19.07 at 09:06 AM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?