Tuesday, April 26, 2005


Debate with Liberal Avenger – Part Three

I have been having a very enjoyable debate with The Liberal Anti-War Avenger. The sequence of out discussion to date:

1. I took the liberty to post our first discussions at Liberal Avenger Responds.

2. In the comments to that original post, Liberal Avenger posted a very serious and important question at Comment #1.

3. I responded in comments to my original post at Comment #3.

4. Since then, we have exchanged email, the question and answer portions of which are detailed below.

LA: Are ex-Iraqi military people available for the new security forces or have they been intentionally excluded from the process? One hears that the insurgency is composed mostly of ex-military forces... I am skeptical about this.

Dad: The Iraqi domestic insurgency (apart from Al Qaeda, Zarqawi) is definitely run by ex-military and ex-Baathist officials. This I see directly from apprehensions. Rank and file is probably a mix. I don't have first hand info nor have I heard directly, but the economic component definitely plays in.
Unemployment, the relatively lucrative amounts offered for bombers, Coalition deaths or woundings, threats of physical violence -- all serve to motivate young Iraqis to participate. Any Iraqi fired from Coalition employ, or known to work for the Coalition, is very vulnerable to intimidation, threats of physical violence against family.

These "recruits" don't stick very well though. Often, they are lied to, where they think they are "just transporting" vehicles or bombs, only to be blown up by their handlers. These can trigger tribal vendetta against the insurgents, and in the end be a net drain on recruitment efforts and increase civilian resistance.

LA: Clarification sought here... Which assessment do you find few knowledgeable military people sharing in your previous discussion? [Excerpted below]
(Dadmanly had said) So no, I don’t at all see any evidence to suggest that either munitions or minions are inexhaustible. Yes, we are witnessing a recent uptick in frequency and apparent urgency of attacks, but surely this is entirely consistent with the proposition that the last vestiges of the insurgency are desperate to achieve a kind of Tet Offensive Victory in the media campaign, rather than a growing and strengthening insurgency. (Which by the way, I find very few knowledgeable military people who share that assessment.) We all shall see soon enough which assessment is correct.

Dad: Few knowledgeable military would hold that the insurgency was growing or strengthening, rather that these are the desperate death throes of a failed effort.

LA: I am glad to hear that your impression of Fallujah isn't so terrible. I have been very concerned about the psychological effects of a campaign like Fallujah on those fighting... Working from the assumption that we "laid waste" to the city (which I understand is not a given), the psychological impact would have to be high. Destruction of infrastructure and property runs counter to everything that good citizenship is based upon. (Bear with me if my liberalness is trying... I'm don't mean to imply that soldiers are bad citizens... I do mean to say that under normal circumstances destruction is bad citizenship...) An example would be this: if you burned your neighbor's house down, you would likely feel terribly about it. If you burned your neighbor's house down accidentally you would likely feel terrible about it. If you burned your neighbor's house down in the course of doing your job, you would likely still feel terrible. The fact that you were doing your job exonerates you legally and even morally to a great extent, but I can't imagine that it could dampen the pain felt in one's heart entirely.

Dad: I would agree with you. I would share the same view.

LA: Multiply your neighbor's house by X thousand in Fallujah and you have a lot of heartache on the part of the men who were doing their job. (And previous comments.)

Dad: And I also think that would be true, if that's the kind of battle we waged. Even 10 years ago, in a place like Mogaqdishu, such an assault would have by necessity had the kind of effect that you suppose for Fallujah. But from everything I've seen and read, our forces waged an incredibly surgical operation. (And I need to tell you, its not juts our finest "elite warriors" who are trained this way, we are Combat Service Support, desk or Motorpool jockies and we have extensive Urban, Convoy, and Defensive Operations training. We wouldn;t be as good as the Marines, but we'd be better than anything seen in any prior era.

So my point remains, if the battle was as many might suppose, with lots of destruction, collateral damage, civilian death, there would be more evidence in military, ex-military, in theater and redeploying soldiers. And its just not there. Believe me, if it is, it will come out, and I think it would have already. I think our combat operations have been as much of an astonishment to Iraqis -- whose memories of war are the brutal 8 year Iran Iraq War and the Gulf War -- that we could remove Saddam anbd restore some semblance of normality with almost no collateral damage or civilian casualties. This is an almost antiseptic appllication of deadly force.

LA: The next level of concern there is if these people are psychically wounded, what happens when they get sent home?

Dad: Again, per my last point, there may be damaged or hurting souls coming home, but more from separations, family or financial troubles (but less of that last then ever in history, they reward us very well overall). Some get stressed out from long shifts, or cultural deprivations, some from seeing death or experiencing loss of their buddies, but a fairly typical mix I would think.

LA: I was once in the hospital, near death, for something very serious. It was the biggest event of my life - my universe revolved around it. Once I got out and returned home, I realized that everybody elses' lives did not revolve around mine. After a day or two I was just another person - the fact that I had cheated death had no bearing on my role in society and interactions with other people. After a day or two I had to get back to work - life moves on.

So what happens when we drop hundreds or thousands of psychologically war damaged kids back into the heartland and say, "See ya!" After a week or two sitting around the house they've got to get back to work. Nobody understands what they have been through. In some communities the only thing available to them is a Wal-Mart-type job. Here he is, the erstwhile warrior back in Hometown, USA working at Wal-Mart restocking the shelves in the mens' shoes department. I can imagine that the disconnect could be excruciating. I feel for these kids and I worry about them.

Do you think that I am way off base?

Dad: Not at all! This is a real concern, but more from the opposite of what you suppose. When you've spent a year being a hero to family and friends ands even strangers in airports, its going to be hard to go back to work at Walmart, or the local garage, or Department of Public Works, or some GE factory, or even unemployment.

But that can be a moment of tremendous opportunity and potential for them as well. They have been told, by their leaders and by their country, that they have served with courage and distinction and sacrifice (if only their time and time away from their families). Many of them have done things they never thought they could do, they may have survived or even thrived through experiences of which they almost certainly were afraid or at least anxious about before hand. These kids -- and today many not kids at all any more, I'm 46, our average age is 38 and I have Vietnam Vets in their 50s -- have had a once in a lifetime opportunity to do things and be things that their parents may never have been able to, and in ways their peers missed.

Yes, there will be those who suffer, and are never able to pick up the pieces of their lives. This is sad, and the accounting for these very real losses in human potential are part of the cost of war. But (hopefully) many more will shine, will grow in wonderful ways, will be courageous and heroic in their communities, in the public arena, in their families. And while such outcomes are never a reason for war (against what I think is evil), they are a very important way I believe God brings good from tragedy. That is ever the huiman potential, isn't it?

And perhaps, why this experiment in Republican Democracy (notice how the names of our two major political parties are represented in that!) may very well be God's second best gift to humankind.

[Following Dadmanly’s objection to a contrasts overall losses against the smaller subset of the “elite warrior pool.”]
LA: I understand that, however we still need to keep those slots filled with people and the point, I think, is that even a combat support or combat service support body "costs" more to replenish on our end than the insurgents' costs to replace one of theirs.

How much training do you think the insurgents get? I would imagine that it is little or none. What sort of resources go into taking a young American and placing them on the ground in Iraq as a service support soldiers?

Dad: Your points are completely correct. Viewed on a strictly utilitarian basis, any loss of a U.S. soldier will incur much greater organizational costs versus an insurgent. (And much of their "costs" are often stolen, in the sense of recruits lied to, coerced, or forced into cooperation.)

LA: About the materiel... I saw this comment on your blog:
Were do they get the ammo for IEDs? I can tell you from flying all over Iraq in an AH-64, that there are rounds lying around all over the place, as a matter of fact there were hundreds of them lying in a field not 10 miles from our FOB. In short there's that kind of stuff everywhere over there.

This, to me, is a semi-confirmation of the idea of a bottomless stockpile of exploding things from which they can make bombs. What do you make of it?

Dad: Bottomless, inexhaustible, a lot may seem like a lot until you consider the orders of magnitude involved. Yes, there are a lot of stockpiles and potential stockpiles. But we can already see evidence that the stocks are dwindling. The ex-military know what they're looking for. More and more of the discovered ordnance is older and less reliable, oddball things like training variants, the oldest Soviet era stuff from Iran-Iraq stocks. This suggests they can't get the good stuff, no more French made rockets or anti-tank or mines.

If we can continue to be successful and both financial and supply interdiction (think Italian ransom payments and Syria and Iranian border security), we can continue to throttle the insurgency down.

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