The Big Picture on Iraq

Discussion in 'Middle East - General' started by Adam's Apple, Dec 13, 2004.

  1. Adam's Apple

    Adam's Apple Senior Member

    Apr 25, 2004
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    By Frederick J. Chiaventone, The New York Post

    December 12, 2004 -- THE hardest fighting in places like Fallujah and An Najaf has been concluded—for now. The casualties for American forces would, even for a campaign in Korea or Vietnam, be termed "light"—unless, of course the killed and wounded are your friends and family, in which case there is no such thing as a "light" casualty rate. This may be part of the problem for the United States. It's tough in the middle of a war to maintain a sense of perspective, a sense of the "big picture."

    We have a number of reporters who spend a great deal of time down at the combat infantry level—what we used to refer to as "where the rubber meets the road" or, where it "hits the fan."

    We also have a number of people covering what happens in Washington, D.C.—and other world capitals. Few of these reporters, if their comments are to be taken at face value, are very keen on or perceptive of what it is that we're trying to accomplish.

    WHAT we seem to be missing are the mid-level view and the long view.

    These are exceedingly hard to perceive when the bulk of the images and information to which we are privy are either exceedingly violent, as dense black smoke spirals up from some car bombing, or as American troops dash through rubble and fire from the doubtful protection of ruined doorways; mundane, as administration spokesmen—generals, the secretary of defense or President Bush—state overall policy objectives; or dismal, as homeless Iraqis look up at the cameras, their eyes a mixture of fear, hate and despair. While all of these images are valid, none should be taken in isolation as a true picture of what's at stake in Iraq.

    Where, for example, are the images of American troops providing aid, comfort and support to Iraqi citizens?

    Where are the images of average Iraqi citizens busily at work rebuilding their lives and their businesses?

    Where are the images of Iraqi soldiers and policemen working hard at re-establishing a stable and prosperous society? We don't see many of those images, and yet they exist—far more so than the images of violence and death that so pervade our television newscasts and daily newsprint. This dichotomy is strongly hinted at by a story in The Washington Post that quotes Juan Cole, a University of Michigan expert on Iraqi affairs.

    Cole has a blog called "Informed Comment" that notes "that the U.S. military is full of brave and skilled warriors who can defeat their foes, but is still no good at counterinsurgency operations, and is wretched at winning hearts and minds." And yet, that observation, while partially accurate, misses the point.

    Yes, the U.S. military is poorly structured for counterinsurgency operations— which, by its very nature, is the toughest kind of combat—but it learns very quickly. Perhaps more quickly than any army in the past. Despite comments to the contrary, the U.S. Army's leaders have studied vociferously the conduct of past counterinsurgency operations from Algeria to Vietnam and from Oman to Malaya.

    THE lessons of these conflicts are not lost on our officers but rather built on and expanded. Not only do our soldiers exchange information and experience among themselves, but now, at the 7th U.S. Army Training Center in Grafenwoehr, Germany, a formal program called the "Expeditionary Training Center" offers a modern approach to training forces—U.S. and allied—for the kinds of modern combat our military faces.

    Under the able direction of Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling, himself a veteran of the war in Iraq, this initiative is designed to better prepare our forces for the difficult situations they will inevitably face in the short term and for years to come.

    Soldiers who have learned from operations on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan (as well as Bosnia and Kosovo) now share their combat observations (Hertling rejects the term "lessons learned" because of the changing nature of today's battlefields and the different environments where our soldiers fight) with their colleagues so that success will be imitated and exploited while mistakes are examined and solutions derived to prevent them from occurring on future battlefields.

    According to Hertling, the training at this Expeditionary Center is both live and virtual, with soldiers facing replicated combat conditions both "in the dirt" and through the use of high-tech computer simulations. The trainers at this center are able to generate a heavy coat of sweat on their training audience, from the individual soldier conducting a mission to a Joint Task Force Commander planning an operation.

    Cole would be quite surprised to see the kind of scenarios that train counterinsurgency operations. The training design incorporates Information Operations, civilians on the battlefield, media requirements, clerics and non-governmental organizations and other factors as part of the training methodology for preparing our units for things they will find on the battlefield.

    Further, although little publicized, efforts to rebuild, reorganize and train Iraqi police and military units are moving forward at a significant pace. Taking their cues from Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, for merly commander of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Iraqi defense and security personnel are being prepared to reassert control of their own country. It's not an easy or easily praised program, and yet it deserves our attention, respect and appreciation.

    "In truth," says Gen. Petraeus, "Iraqi forces are starting to show their stuff." It's been a difficult, a challenging business but the benefits are indeed starting to show.

    As Petraeus puts it, "They've done well in Fallujah, North Babil, Samarra and Baghdad. And, though the police in Mosul were a big disappointment, the police commandos who deployed there in the wake of the enemy attacks have done magnificently and, alongside the superb Stryker Brigade elements there, actually have the enemy on the run."

    As the Iraqi forces continue to gain experience and regain their self-confidence, aided by American expertise, they are gradually assuming a number of the duties currently being done by U.S. forces. This is particularly true in the 12 provinces—of Iraq's 18—in which the situation is calm. Iraqi Security Forces are maintaining the peace, and rebuilding and economic revival are underway.

    Nor is this all that's been accomplished. Our news organizations should pay more attention to the Herculean efforts being made by the average soldier when not engaged in a firefight.

    Schools and hospitals are being rebuilt by men and women who are making themselves as handy with bricklaying mortar as they are with an 81-millimeter mortar.

    Roads are being re-paved, and Iraqi citizens are being fed, clothed and cared for by some of the toughest soldiers in the world.

    Medical assistance is being provided, and it is not unusual to see our soldiers tending to the wounds of an insurgent who, moments before, was trying to kill them. This is not something you'll see from the other side.

    The enemy, you must remember, has a different agenda. They are not engaged in Iraq to rebuild, to educate, to liberate. The enemy, led by as remarkable and onerous a set of pseudo-religious fanatics as has ever existed, is focused on terror and destruction.

    Not given to works of charity, not inclined to be merciful or humane, they do not see a world of potential friends or allies. Instead the world outside of their narrow focus is populated solely by enemies—all of whom merit only horror and annihilation. From Jakarta to Madrid to New York City, there are no neutrals.

    This is as much a "world war" as any that has preceded it. Our forces in the field are doing now what should have been done against Adolph Hitler when he moved against Czechoslovakia. In hindsight we can see what the consequences of our inaction in that case were. We cannot afford—the world cannot afford—a repeat of the mistakes of the 1930s. Our Armed Forces are working hard to see that the world is not again plunged into darkness.

    That is the big picture.

    Frederick J. Chiaventone, an award-winning novelist and screenwriter, is a retired Army officer who taught counterinsurgency operations at the U.S. Army Command & General Staff College.

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