Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Against Futility

At the risk of giving ammunition to a certain troll who frequents MILBLOGS, I have to say I’m beginning to budge on my previous view on troop levels in Iraq.

I’m not entirely convinced that more troops earlier would have substantially improved outcomes or diminished violence, but I find it hard to argue with the logic of an “on-the-ground” military observer, one with no axe to grind, no book to sell, and no objection to the war’s genesis.

First Lieutenant (1LT) Pete Hegseth, as credited by the Opinion Journal, “served as an infantry platoon leader and civil-military operations officer in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division.”

Critics who use any passing call from disgruntled Generals or other booksellers or partisan opportunists invariably argue disingenuously. On record against the war, they echo calls for more troops, or to impose a draft. They do so to gain political advantage in the hopes of making victory less certain, and hype dimming prospects to to reinvigorate the fight but to hasten the surrender.

Not so 1LT Hegseth:

I volunteered to serve in Iraq because I believe in our mission there. I share the president's conviction about the Iraq war--we can and must win, for the Iraqi people, for the future of our country and for peace-loving people everywhere. But I'm frustrated. America is fighting with a hand tied behind its back. Soldiers have all the equipment we need--armored humvees, body armor for every body part, superior technology, etc.--but we simply do not have enough troops in Iraq, and we need them now.

1LT Hegseth saw first hand the Iraqi “man-on-the-street” reaction to continued violence. Contrary to what war critics often misreport, most Iraqis will tolerate the presence of American troops, and even welcome them warmly if they perceive US presence as reducing or preventing violence. This forms the basis for 1LT Hegseth’s warning:

I also understand calling for more troops is contrary to conventional thinking inside government and the military. Supporters of the current approach argue sending more troops would further inflame anti-American sentiment, incite more violence and retard independent progress. My experience suggests otherwise. American troops are tolerated, even welcomed when they effectively provide security; but their presence is cursed when it does not accompany progress. Violence persists not because American troops are present, but because our presence is futile. Many local leaders asked us, "How come the most powerful country in the world cannot defeat local criminals and thugs?" They suggested our failure was part of a larger conspiracy to keep the Iraqi people suffering.

I fear that 1LT Hegseth correctly diagnoses the present situation. I don’t agree that this has been the case since the Coalition first toppling the Hussein regime and its brutal oppressions, but I think it may be the case now.

I think I saw hints of this in the cagey responses of some of our Iraqi guest workers in Tikrit, and maybe too in the cautious rejoinders to tribal politics and cultural norms of the Iraqi Army officers we trained. A mix of respect, fear, face saving, and strong man politics. Arab perhaps, but tribal and historical.

“One day, you will leave. The strong will take charge. Those who want to lead, must fight. The rest of us, we see who wins, we get what we can.”

I keep coming back to 1LT Hegseth’s piercing assessment:

Violence persists not because American troops are present, but because our presence is futile.

As currently deployed, in the current disposition, with the current capabilities, with the current mission, and with the current rules of engagement (ROE).

No plan survives the first contact with the enemy, and the best Generals monitor the situation reports (SITREPS), watch trends, and look for opportunities. They do not dictate war aims or overall strategy. But they are required to advise civilian leadership of threats, opportunities, and the cost benefits of strategies in light of accepted objectives.

And if there’s a way to win, explain it and advocate for it. Which, in essence, is the call to arms voiced by 1LT Hegseth:

I believe, as the president noted, that "the safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad." Why then do we have just enough troops in Iraq not to lose?

(Via The Corner)

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