Tuesday, October 05, 2004

I'm seeing two very different takes on our recent attack on Samarra in the blogsphere. Here's an American perspective, from Phil Carter, who is cautiously optimistic:

I wouldn't necessarily have steaks and beer on the objective just yet. There remains a lot of work to be done in Iraq. And while certain people -- particularly in the Pentagon and the pro-war parts of Washington -- will seize on this victory as a sign of future success, I would exercise a bit more caution. Fallujah and Ramadi will be tougher nuts to crack, and it's unclear whether this approach will work there as well.

However, there may be a more important trend to discern from this victory -- something which transcends the tactical or operational importance of any individual city. This is the first time the Iraqi forces have participated in a major engagement and done reasonably well. They didn't run away from the sound of the guns, as they did earlier as they were loading up to go to Fallujah. They didn't break under fire. And while I have been told they fought for fairly limited objectives in fairly limited circumstances, they still did well. Granted, we're only talking about two battalions here -- roughly 1,000 - 2,000 soldiers. But this little victory could be what turns the tide for Iraqification, because it will show the capabilities of the Iraqis when they're well-trained, well-led, and employed correctly.

Little victories like this can have a major psychological impact on the force. I'm not sure I would compare this to the Battle of Midway, for the strategic import of the Samarra battle pales in comparison. But it may work in much the same way, by conferring some much-needed momentum on the effort to train Iraqi security forces. According to this report, that effort is still languishing. (Thanks to ML for the link.) But this engagement shows that such forces can do the job, and that's a small step in the right direction.

And now, for an Iraqi perspective, here's Riverbend:

Watching the military attacks on Samarra and hearing the stories from displaced families or people from around the area is like reliving the frustration and anger of the war. It's like a nightmare within a nightmare, seeing the corpses pile up and watching people drag their loved ones from under the bricks and steel of what was once a home.

To top it off, we have to watch American military spokespersons and our new Iraqi politicians justify the attacks and talk about 'insurgents' and 'terrorists' like they actually believe what they are saying... like hundreds of civilians aren't being massacred on a daily basis by the worlds most advanced military technology.

As if Allawi's gloating and Bush's inane debates aren't enough, we have to listen to people like Powell and Rumsfeld talk about "precision attacks". What exactly are precision attacks?! How can you be precise in a city like Samarra or in the slums of Sadir City on the outskirts of Baghdad? Many of the areas under attack are small, heavily populated, with shabby homes several decades old. In Sadir City, many of the houses are close together and the streets are narrow. Just how precise can you be with missiles and tanks? We got a first-hand view of America's "smart weapons". They were smart enough to kill over 10,000 Iraqis in the first few months of the occupation.

Of course, if you'd prefer to hear about the human consequences of our little victory here from an American source -- the morgue overflowing, bodies lying uncollected in the street, delivery of humanitarian supplies interdicted except to the hospital -- there's always the L.A. Times. And while civilian deaths are part of every war, the Iraqis are obviously wondering whether we're doing nearly as much as we should to minimize them. Which has a lot more to do with the outcome in this war than most.

Clausewitz famously said that "War is the continuation of politics by other means". Well, except that he actually said it in German, in which the word "politik" apparently can be translated as "policy" at least as well as "politics" in the ordinary English sense. Slice that however you like, though, Clausewitz's dictum applies to our current adventure in Iraq in the most direct way possible: it is literally the case that our near-term strategic objective in Iraq is to have parties which are generally friendly to us win a credible election, because that, and the establishment of a widely-recognized government with some kind of a credible mandate, is the currently imagined precondition for our own troops at least starting to get out.

So to win the battle, according to our publicly announced strategy, we have to win the vote. We have to get Iraqis to vote for candidates we like, or who at least are willing to tolerate policies we can live with. And we aren't likely to win anybody's vote by dropping bombs on a house up the street...


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