Friday, April 20, 2007

on mespotamia, again.

There' something that has been bothering me about the whole Iraq affair for a while now.

My 'net buddies and real-life friends are a reflection of the country as a whole when it comes to the war in Iraq. Roughly half of them think it's a disaster (and we should leave that place ASAP), and roughly half think we need to be there (and leaving would be like surrendering to the enemy.) Our illustrious leader says that we won't leave before "victory is achieved", and a significant percentage of the country seems to agree with him.

Here's my problem with the whole thing.

How exactly do you define "victory" here?

If by "victory" you mean "until there are no more insurgents in Iraq", then we'll be there forever, because as long as we are there, Iraq is both a recruiting ground and a convenient regional training center for every I-Hate-America vest pocket jihadi in the Middle East. (That's the laughable aspect of the whole "we fight them there so we don't have to fight them here"'s much easier for a Syrian or Saudi extremist to get into Iraq than it is for him to get into the United States. The notion that Mr. Amateur Jihad--who wears the same soccer jersey every day and who can't afford footwear that covers the toes--would somehow "follow" us to the US if our troops pulled out is a bit simplistic, to say the least. The professional jihadis, their varsity team, will always be a threat to us no matter where we are.)

If by "victory" you mean "until the Iraqi government can control its own country", then we'll there forever as well. Iraq's government reminds me more and more of the South Vietnamese: they're reliant on our direct military muscle because their troops are disloyal and ineffective, because their government is widely ridiculed as a U.S. puppet government, and because our pullout would result in al-Maliki and his cabinet hanging from ropes within the month. The Iraqi army is still not self-sufficient after more than four years of training and recruitment, and even the "combat-ready" units and police forces tend to disperse or join the fighting along sectarian lines when the going gets tough.

The problem, of course, is that we can't afford to be there forever. I do not doubt the fighting spirit and quality of our troops (they're the best military in the world), but the force is severely strained by the continuous war zone deployment. Guard and Reserve troops do multiple year-long deployments, which is having an effect on Guard and Reserve recruitment. The active Army is missing training and upgrade cycles because they're constantly being rotated into the sandbox, and the equipment is going to pot because it wears out much faster than in peacetime. (Outgoing combat units leave the gear for the incoming units, and the tank and humvees and
helicopters are in use year-round.) In addition, we are not capable of fielding the troops to answer another crisis anywhere else in the world, because our main fighting force is tied up in the sandbox. The Army is not broken yet, but it's well on the way there, and another half decade of this grind is going to have a disastrous effect on readiness, morale, equipment, recruitment, and retention.

Where does that leave those of us who don't want to "cut and run" or "declare defeat", but who realize that victory in this situation is undefined (and by extension, unachievable?) I really don't want to see our Army broken, and I certainly don't want to see another five hundred of our
finest get killed there every year for the next decade or two (and ten times that number come home wounded, disfigured, or burdened with mental problems), if their sacrifices merely prolong the inevitable sectarian war between the region's Sunnis and Shiites. In addition, we spend a half trillion dollars on Iraq every year, and that's a lot of cash going down a bottomless barrel.

Understand that I am not a "defeatist", certainly not "anti-military", or "pro-terrorist". You don't have to be any of those things to take a look at where we are, and to question the sanity and wisdom of the people who want us to "stay the course", even if it breaks our nation's main fighting force.

So, how do we define victory? And how long are we going to slug it out over there to achieve that goal, knowing what kind of strain it puts on our military's personnel and equipment?

I know a lot of people who would consider a pullout "admitting defeat". But if pulling out is "defeat", the definition of "victory" is this elusive, and sticking with the current program will almost certainly cause irreparable harm to our Army and our national budget, how do we deal with the situation?

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