Friday, July 20, 2007

Public Opinion and Iraq: Numbers Not Adding Up

Malou Innocent is one of the “next generation” voices commenting on U.S. foreign policy. Her analysis suggests why the "numbers" aren't adding up on Iraq.

She notes, "Latest polls show that more Americans are souring on the Iraq War. According to CBS News, 77 percent of the population believes the war is going badly, including 40 percent who want all U.S. troops withdrawn. This poll comes amidst the recent defections of Senate Republicans John Warner of Virginia, George Voinovich of Ohio, and Richard Lugar of Indiana. …

"To start, the Counterinsurgency Field Manual, published in December 2006 by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, states that operations underway in Iraq require a density ratio of 20 to 25 soldiers per 1,000 residents. By the U.S. military's own standards, the Iraq mission would require between 525,000 and 620,000 U.S. troops, rather than the paltry 160,000 U.S. soldiers currently deployed.

"In addition to force presence, the manual argues that the central tenet of counterinsurgency is not killing adversaries, but protecting civilians. However, a recent survey found that less than half of U.S. soldiers agreed that "all non-combatants should be treated with respect." This finding does not impugn the motives of American forces in Iraq; rather, it is clear that they have simply lost their sense of mission. Given the inevitable disillusionment, self-preservation has become the top priority for troops on the ground, and that does not bode well for the counterinsurgency goal of protecting civilians."

Let me interject here--this is a repeat of the problem facing "peacekeepers" in the Balkans and elsewhere during the 1990s, including in Kosovo in 1999. The mission is to protect civilians and the folks at home think this is an honorable task--but to do so requires getting in harm's way--which means that if soldiers are killed or injured, political support at home for the mission dries up. So her final line is a key takeaway. But getting back to her analysis:

"If our occupation already appears lengthy, we may have many years yet to go. General David Petraeus and the American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, will release a report on September 15 on how the surge is working. Considering Petraeus told the BBC’s John Simpson that counterinsurgency operations typically last nine or 10 years, that report will likely urge the administration to forge ahead and keep a significant number of troops on the ground.

"Yet the evidence suggests that the surge is not having a decisive beneficial impact. While violent civilian deaths fell sharply, down to 1,227 in June, the number of U.S. soldiers and Marines killed spiked to 101. In the face of these sacrifices, the Iraqi government has been unable to meet its political benchmarks, such as the inclusion of Sunnis in the government, the adequate provision of goods and services, and an equitable oil-sharing plan. But as far back as November 2006, CIA director Michael Hayden told members of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group that "the inability of the [Iraqi] government to govern seems irreversible." Was anyone listening? If Hayden is correct, even a more robust U.S. military effort will only postpone an inevitable failure.

"The American people increasingly recognize the futility of the Iraq mission. Public misgivings about the administration's course of action are well-founded. Sadly, the facts on the ground are grimmer than many Americans may think."

My own thoughts: Do we let Iraqis fail, and then move to a fallback position where we try to insulate ourselves from the consequences? I suggested last week for the discussion program sponsored by Newsday that when U.S. support dried up for interventions in Haiti and Somalia, the fallback was on getting out and then trying prophylatic measures to prevent spillover. Is this where we are headed in Iraq?

Or we have to split soldiers doing heavy lifting in Iraq from voters in the U.S. Contractors, immigrants, still think the end result is an American legion--
Your rhetorical question is emblematic of the analytical approach you have taken. To wit:

1- There are no "Iraqi-ness" in the "Iraqi people" - you must fine-grain to "Shia Iraqi Arabs of Baghdad", "Shia Tribal Iraqi Arabs of South", "Sunni Arabs of Baghdad" etc. You get my point - I trust. There never was an Iraqi-ness except among the professional classes who largely worked for the State - and that started breaking up sometime in 1990s.

2- What is meant by "fail" here - since the collective identity that you ascribe to the inhabitants of Iraq does not exist any longer, ascribing failure has to be confined to specific groups there. Have the Shia failed? Have the Sunni? Have the Kurds? This is played out as a zero-sum game by the contenders there - one person's success is the other person's failure.

3 - It is US/UK etc. that have failed in creating a stable client state in the Heart of Islam. Those days are gone.

4 - The fallback position that you have mentioned is really the only position which is left. It is the only option.
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