December 05, 2003

Iraq Dispatch Mark Danner in

Iraq Dispatch

Mark Danner in the NYRB. The key grafs that make the points we've stressed repeatedly over here at B.D.:

"As I write, on November 19, US military forces in Iraq are conducting Operation Iron Hammer, striking with warplanes and artillery bases thought to be occupied by Iraqi insurgents. American television broadcasts are filled with dramatic footage of huge explosions illuminating the night sky. In Tikrit, Saddam's political base and a stronghold of the opposition, the Americans staged a military show of force, sending tanks and other armored vehicles rumbling through the main street. "They need to understand," Lieutenant Colonel Steve Russell told ABC News, "it's more than just Humvees we'll be using in these attacks."

The armed opposition in Iraq seems unlikely to be impressed. However many insurgents the Americans manage to kill in bombing runs and artillery barrages, the toll on civilians, in death and disruption, is also likely to be high, as will damage to the fragile sense of normalcy that Americans are struggling to achieve and the opposition forces are determined to destroy. Large-scale armored warfare looks and sounds impressive, inspiring overwhelming fear; but it is not discriminate, which makes it a blunt and ultimately self-defeating instrument to deploy against determined guerrillas. In general, the American military, the finest and most powerful in the world, is not organized and equipped to fight this war, and the part of it that is—the Special Forces—are almost entirely occupied in what seems a never-ending hunt for Saddam. For American leaders, and particularly President Bush, this has become the quest for the Holy Grail: finding Saddam will be an enormous political boon. For the American military, this quest has the feel of a traditional kind of war not wholly suited to what they find in Iraq. "We are a hierarchy and we like to fight hierarchies," says military strategist John Arquilla. "We think if we cut off the head we can end this."

Whatever the political rewards of finding Saddam, they will not likely include putting a definitive end to the insurgency in Iraq.[7] "The Americans need to get out of their tanks, get out from behind their sunglasses," a British military officer, a veteran of Northern Ireland told me. "They need to get on the ground where they can get to know people and encourage them to tell them where the bad guys are." As I write, operations on the ground seem to be moving in the opposite direction. In any event it is difficult to impress an opponent with a military advance plainly meant to cover a political retreat."

I disagree with Danner that the counterinsurgency operations underway are meant to "cover a political retreat." But I still feel we haven't figured our the right force mix and method for fighting this counterinsurgency effectively. Go here, here and here for some reasons why.

Posted by Gregory at December 5, 2003 12:49 PM
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