The Grand Illusion

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When asked for their solution to the mess in Iraq, both of America’s presidential candidates — Tweedledumb and Tweedlephony — advance the same line: "train more Iraqi security forces." Once enough Iraqis have been trained, they suggest, American troops can be withdrawn and our puppet Iraqi government can stand on its own six legs.

Unfortunately, the problem is not training, but loyalty. All the training in the world is worthless if the people being trained have no reason to fight for those who are training them. And a paycheck isn’t much of a reason, especially when the fellow Iraqis they are to battle are fighting for God.

As is so often the case in Fourth Generation war, the most useful way to look at the situation is through the prism of John Boyd’s three levels of war: the physical, the mental and the moral. On the physical level, American-trained Iraqi security forces may have advantages over their Fourth Generation opponents. American training in techniques is often very good. While we are not giving the Iraqis equipment as good as our own (a big mistake on the moral level), it may be better than that of their enemies. With salaries of about $200 per month, our mercenaries are among the best-paid men in Iraq.

Unfortunately for us, as soon as we consider the mental and moral levels, which Boyd argued are more powerful than the physical level, the advantage shifts. At the mental level, the Fourth Generation elements have already gotten inside the heads of Iraqi police and National Guardsmen. How? By killing them in large numbers. More than 700 have died in the past year, with many more wounded. A story on four recruits for the Iraqi police in the September 27 Washington Post quotes one of them as saying, "We’re walking dead men."

That fear opens the door to the sort of deal that typifies Arab countries: the police and Guardsmen collect their paychecks, but look the other way when the resistance is up to something. In some cases, the deal can go further and create double agents, men inside the security forces who actually work for one or more of the resistance organizations. The same day’s Post announced the arrest of a "senior commander of the Iraqi National Guard" for, as the U.S. military put it, "having associations with known terrorists, for alleged ties to insurgents." I suspect that if we arrested all the Iraqi Guardsmen who fit that description, Abu Ghraib would again fill to overflowing.

At the moral level, the position of the Iraqi police and Guardsmen is almost hopeless. They are being paid to fight their own countrymen and fellow Mohammedans on behalf of an occupying foreign power that is also (nominally) Christian. The fig leaf of Mr. Allawi’s "government" deceives no one, especially after last week’s pictures of Allawi holding hands with George Bush, the Islamic world’s Voldemort. Is it any wonder that, all their training notwithstanding, when it comes to fighting alongside American forces the Iraqis usually change sides or go home?

The American authorities in Iraq argue that thousands more Iraqis volunteer to serve in the security forces than we can train or equip. That is true, but the motive is not one that leads to much willingness to fight. As one of the Iraqi police recruits interviewed by the Post said, "Everyone wants jobs, and there really are no jobs but the police."

Throughout history, armies of hirelings have melted at a touch when faced with people fighting for something they believe in. All the training in the world will make no difference. The core problem is the deepest taproot of Fourth Generation war: the "state" Iraqi security forces are being told to fight for has no legitimacy. When Bush and Kerry argue that we can avoid defeat in Iraq by training more Iraqis to do the fighting for us, they are indulging in a grand illusion.

William Lind [send him mail] is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation.

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