Monday, February 20, 2006

Nailing Iraq

Sometimes in life there are no good solutions.  The more you try to push something in one direction, the more you’ll screw-up something else.  Unfortunately, the only way to get the proverbial free-lunch is to skip out on the bill.  

And this is a part of daily life.  You want to “be your own boss” and “follow your dreams”; but you don’t want to give-up that steady paycheck and your nice possessions.  Or you want a happy life, allowing you to eat delicious foods and spend all your time blogging and jacking-off; but you also don’t want to become a fat loser pervert (I am giving you the benefit of the doubt on that one).  Or you want the benefits of being in a steady relationship, but you also want to be able to screw anyone, anywhere, anytime.  It’s just natural to want it all, but quite unnatural to get it.

And many situations are so big that you can’t even hold the various sides in your head simultaneously.  You just keep seeing one side of an issue and can’t even fathom that there’s another side.  And then you see another side, but don’t see how it’s associated with the first side.  So you see lots of simple problems with many simple answers, and fail to see how it’s really just one big problem with no good answer.  And you keep thinking that you can do both things at once, and can’t understand why your fixes keep unfixing themselves.

Think of a nail that’s sticking out of the wall.  And the answer seems simple: Just nail the damn thing back in.  Then the next day, you’re in another room and you see another damn nail sticking out, and you nail it back in.  Then you go back to the first room, and there’s that first damn nail sticking back out again.  And you keep going back and forth, until you finally realize that it’s the same damn nail and that it’s just too long for the wall.  So you go ahead and pull the nail out.  And right when it comes out, the wallboard falls down and conks you in the head; because that nail was the only thing holding it up.  All you wanted was an aesthetically pleasing wall, and now you’ve got a lump on your head and a big gap in your wall.

That never happens, of course; but I’ve been sitting here too long trying to think of a proper analogy and that’s the only one I could think of.  But I think the message is obvious.

Democracy’s Downsides

And democracy is kind of like that.  Democracy has its upsides and its downsides.  But many conservatives have forgotten that and want it to be all upsides.  They continue to tout the awesomeness of democracy, but clearly are frustrated at the inconveniences of the whole thing.  Like actually having to let people vote for who they want.  Or giving those voters what they thought they were getting.  Or providing the information necessary for the electorate to make an informed decision.  They know that democracy has many benefits, but they refuse to understand how those benefits work and act as if you can just smack a “democracy” label on a dictatorship and be done with it.

Beyond hiding things for political reasons, like the worst parts of abu Ghraib, and the Plame thing, and just about every other political embarrassment; they also have a real problem with the sharing information or power.  They like propaganda, and think that it’s overly burdensome that they can’t be outright about it.  And they see the “Checks & Balances” thing as an unnecessary burden that they have to keep working around.  And they like talking about “liberty” in the abstract, but they clearly see it as a problem in the concrete.  And overall, Bush’s “A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier” line tells it all.  Because that is exactly what he wants and how they’ve attempted to run our country.  They want the benefits of democracy, but without any of that messiness.  

But the problem is that all of that “messiness” is exactly what makes democracy work.  It’s not just a feel-good label.  The Truth that they want to hide from us is the lifeblood of democracy.  As are the ideas of Shared Power and Representation.  It’s like they’re trying to make a cake without using flour, eggs, and sugar.  And while you can make a cake without those things, it won’t be a cake.  Nor will it taste as good as a cake.  And it’ll probably be crap.  

And that’s exactly the recipe they’re using with democracy.  They think they can leave out all the key ingredients and still make a democracy.  But it just doesn’t work that way.  You can’t have the benefits of democracy if you insist on acting like a dictatorship.  Most everything has an upside and a downside, and the benefits of democracy come with a steep price.  And you just have to accept it.  Anyone who’s played Civilization III is fully aware of that; as the democracy that makes your citizens happier, more productive, and smarter will also make them dislike the warfare that you need to win the game.  Too bad that life lessons don’t come so easy in real life.

What Insurgents Know

But what I really wanted to talk about was this chilling Knight-Ridder article, via Atrios.  It describes the problems that our soldiers are facing to keep peace in Samarra.  This line was the one that got me started:

"Samarra is one example of many towns in Iraq that are barely functioning," said Capt. Ryan Edwards, 31, of Plain City, Ohio, who majored in Middle Eastern studies at West Point. "What the insurgents know is that we lack the will to go after them. It's not the American Army that lacks the will; it's the American people and their leadership."

But that’s not what the “insurgents know”.  They know that we can’t go after them if we want to avoid a full-scale rebellion.  That’s one of the basic elements of guerrilla/terrorist warfare: That the stronger power will be unable to distinguish enemies from innocents, and will eventually become so frustrated that they’ll either submit to the smaller forces demands or they’ll take overbearing actions which turn more innocents into enemies.  In essence, they use their opponent’s strength to their own advantage.  That’s one reason why these methods are so effective.

And not only do we risk creating more insurgents by accidentally killing/capturing innocent people, but killing true insurgents can also create more enemies.  Because nobody likes to see their friends and relatives die; even if they deserve it.  And maybe the relatives know that their relation was an insurgent, or maybe not.  But in either case, when we kill that insurgent, the relative might then decide to become an insurgent to avenge their relative’s death.  And it doesn’t matter if it was right for us to kill that insurgent; we will produce more insurgents in either case.

And this isn’t something new to Iraq.  This is exactly what happened in Vietnam too.  For all the toughguy talk about what we should have done in Vietnam, they’re just wrong.  Because they’re trying to have it both ways.  The harder we waged the war, the more we ruined the cause we were fighting for.  It was a losing proposition no matter what we did.  The time for us to win in Vietnam was in the 1940’s, though a smarter policy in the mid-50’s still could have saved the day.  And by the time America started sending “advisors” our defeat was inevitable.  Not that the North Vietnamese could ever have defeated our army, but because we couldn’t defeat theirs.  And the stronger our tactics were, the sooner we would lose the war.  

Overall, we weren’t defeated by the Vietnamese; we were defeated by the French who hornswaggled us into supporting their futile colonial aspirations.  Because of that, all of our efforts in support of freedom and independence would only appear to be further efforts at colonialism and subjugation.  It didn’t matter what we thought we were fighting for.  What mattered is what the enemy thought we were fighting for.  And we see the same thing in Iraq.  Perhaps we are fighting for democracy and freedom; but that’s certainly not what the insurgents are fighting against.

And the main problem is that conservatives still haven’t figured out that war isn’t a great option in every scenario; and sometimes, it just sucks.  Which is why it’s the option of last resort.  Because it’s always very risky and can’t solve many problems.  So you shouldn’t do it unless you really really need to.  Like if Hitler’s taking control of Europe or if Japan bombs your harbor.  But war is simply much too heavy-handed as far as sending messages and looking tough.  It’s like using a lawnmower to trim your fingernails.  Despite the neo-cons disdain for the United Nations, it really is a decent forum for sending messages without getting hurt.

And for as much as Bush insisted that war in Iraq was a last resort, it’s obvious that it was also the only resort.  He created an ultimatum to which Saddam couldn’t possibly comply, and then tut-tutted as he kicked out the inspectors and got to wage his war.  And you can certainly bet that Georgie was eternally peeved that he had to go through such an elaborate song & dance to get the war he thought he deserved.  But again, rather than this being an annoying side-effect of democracy, as I’m sure Bush saw it; this is one of its benefits.  And it took one of the biggest con-jobs in history to give him the war that democracy should have prevented.

On a side note, my research is surely incomplete, but it sure seems as if the media hyped-up Bush’s “last resort” stance far more than he actually said it.

Various Quotes

But back to the insurgency.  Below are a bunch of quotes I pulled from that article, which show why we’re doing so poorly in Iraq, and why we are unable to “go after them” properly; as the Captain cited above wants to do.  Not because we lack the will to do it, but because the necessary actions will only serve to hasten our defeat.  That isn’t to say that we will necessarily lose, but a stronger offensive is clearly not the answer.

Five other soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division scrambled down, pulled two of the insurgents' bodies from the reeds and dragged them through the mud.  "Strap those motherf-----s to the hood like a deer," said Staff Sgt. James Robinson, 25, of Hughes, Ark.  The soldiers heaved the two bodies onto the hood of a Humvee and tied them down with a cord. The dead insurgents' legs and arms flapped in the air as the Humvee rumbled along.  Iraqi families stood in front of the surrounding houses. They watched the corpses ride by and glared at the American soldiers.

The dirt wall that the Americans built around Samarra left three checkpoints where residents can enter after they show identification and submit to searches. After the wall went up, the city's population fell from about 200,000 to about 90,000, according to U.S. military officials.

"The textbook answer is to build infrastructure," said Capt. Scott Brannon, who commands Bravo Company, which oversees Samarra. "But what happens with the contracts is that we're funding the AIF," or anti-Iraqi forces - the insurgency.

Call and three other soldiers dashed into a house, mud flying from their combat boots, radios squawking. The women inside shrieked. A man moved from a hallway to the living room, almost a shadow in the dimly lit house. Call jerked his M4 assault rifle back and forth, his finger on the trigger.

Powell blasted the padlock with his shotgun. The American soldiers screamed at the police inside to drop their weapons.  The police substation was attached to Samarra General Hospital, and the soldiers questioned doctors and policemen alike, swabbing their hands, looking for explosives residue.  There was no sign of the grenade thrower.  The men of the 2nd platoon were furious. Many of them suspected that the police may have been behind the attack.

Last month, 33 police recruits from Samarra were killed when gunmen ambushed their bus and shot them in the head, execution-style.  Most Iraqis assumed that Sunni insurgents had killed the men as a warning to anyone else who might be considering joining the security forces.  But Brannon, the Bravo Company commander, suspects that the killings were an inside job by police officials vying for control of which tribes supply recruits.  "I would not put it past them that someone in the IP leaked where that bus was going to be," he said. "There's a lot of politics here."

Call and his men dashed out the front door. Pena had shot an unarmed Iraqi man on the street. The man had walked past the signs that mark the 200-yard "disable zone" that surrounds the Alamo and into the 100-yard "kill zone" around the base. The Army had forced the residents of the block to leave the houses last year to create the security perimeter.  American units in Iraq usually fire warning shots. The Rakkasans don't.  A few days later, Call said his brigade command had told him, "The Rakkasans don't do warning shots." A warning shot in the vernacular of the Rakkasans, Call said, was a bullet that hit one Iraqi man while others could see.  

Looking at the man splayed on the ground, Call turned to his medic, Specialist Patrick McCreery, and asked, "What the f--- was he doing?"
He looked at McCreery and raised his finger toward the house in front of him.  "This my house," he said in broken English.  McCreery reached down. With his hands cupped, he shoved the man's organs back into his body and held them in place as Call unwrapped a bandage to put around the hole.

The Lesson

Just from this one article of this one town, we see the same problem repeatedly.  But again, there is no good solution to this.  In some of these cases, the soldiers acted poorly and are responsible for alienating Iraqis.  But in other cases they acted properly, but still alienated Iraqis.  And yet, some people think that we’re still not acting strongly enough; when we’re already firing “warning shots” to kill.  And what do we do if reconstruction only funnels money to the insurgency, or if the police and army are secretly working against us?  The more we take the “correct” actions, the more we’ll screw ourselves up.

Many conservatives will look at the one side of all this and dismiss them as necessary precautions to save our troops.  But that’s no kind of answer, as it’s just making things worse.  As one soldier said referring to the “warning shots”: "But what about when his buddy comes back with another guy ... that and the other 15 guys in his family who you've made terrorists?"

But most conservatives will ignore that.  Largely because the only real “solution” was for us to not have gone into Iraq in the first place.  And the unfortunate irony is that it was this kind of one-sided thinking that got us into this mess in the first place.  Conservatives insisted that the Saddam problem had to be dealt with, and refused to consider any of the downsides of the war option.   And now that we’re dealing with many of those downsides, they continue to see just one side and refuse to take responsibility for their actions.  They continue to see simple answers to simple problems, without acknowledging how much worse these answers are making things.

And so we’ve got that nail that looks so simple to beat-in, but that keeps popping out the other side.  And if we try to pull the nail out, the whole thing will come down and conk us on the head.  And while it is correct to say that pulling it out is certainly a bad option; leaving it in will likely only serve as a costly and dangerous delay of the inevitable.  Sometimes, you’re always screwed.


Dan said...


Please crosspost this on DailyKos. It's great stuff, but I don't think it gets enough eyeballs here. Obviously I'm not privy to your readership stats, I'm just guessing based on the comments per post.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Hey, that's not a bad idea; though I have no idea how one goes about doing that. Kos has too much to read so I generally don't go over there, and know nothing about how posting works.

As for the eyeballs, I think that many of my readers are just shy.

Dan said...

Well, you'd need to register for a user account first. You'll need to wait a week before you can post diaries, but after that, you'd just need to cross-post there. Assuming you make the rec list (on the right side, meaning enough other registered readers recommend your diary), you'll see some wide coverage (and promote this blog a bit more).

I stumbled upon your blog because someone else linked to you in a diary from Kos, but I think you'd be a great addition to that community. Though of course, you may prefer being chief-banana on your own Blog, vice one-of-many voices on Kos.

Great writing and clear analysis (with descriptive and creative analogies) like yours should see more readers.

I'll keep reading anyway.


Doctor Biobrain said...

Hey, I'm not above a little self-promotion; for the benefit of the cause, of course. I figure I'll just save it for my better posts. I've now gone ahead and registered at Kos.

WTF said...

I enjoy your posts, well let me re-phrase, I don't enjoy getting pissed off at how f'ed up things are but I like your logic.

Keep up the good work!

You, the poorman, and digby are my favorites. Oh shit, I forgot about Billmon and Wolcott...alright you're in my top 6! :)

wtf said...

Ooops, top 5! Sorry I don't have a biobrain!