Insanity is Doing the Same Thing and Expecting a Different Result

Back in 1879, the cartoon “A Lesson” appeared in the British magazine Punch, after the British defeat by the Zulus at Isandhlwana. The Zulu warrior may be stereotypical, but so is “John Bull,” who is depicted as entirely lacking his enemy’s physical grace and dignity, and (it is implied) his intellect.

I wonder if President Bush has seen it.

Last night, I watched President Bush’s speech. His expression was very disturbing: he stared fixedly at his teleprompter, reading from it without ever trying to make eye contact with his audience through the camera. Not the expression of a man who believes in himself and what he is saying; indeed, I think it the expression of a man haunted by the mistakes he has made. (You can find his speech at on this page, you will also find links videos of his speech and a fact sheet for “The New Way Forward in Iraq.”)

A few examples from the first paragraphs will suffice. (Because the ideas aren’t so much bad or wrong as delusional.) For example, these sentences in paragraphs 2 and 3:

The elections of 2005 were a stunning achievement. We thought that these elections would bring the Iraqis together, and that as we trained Iraqi security forces we could accomplish our mission with fewer American troops.

But in 2006, the opposite happened. The violence in Iraq — particularly in Baghdad— overwhelmed the political gains the Iraqis had made. Al Qaeda terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq’s elections posed for their cause, and they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis.

If the 2005 elections had been a stunning achievement, they would have produced a government composed of, and backed by, Iraqis of all confessions and ethnicities determined to put a stop to the butchery by carefully, selectively killing the murderers and torturers and rapists. But the Iraqis did not do this, and it is because they do not want to. Iraqis, after all, are armed and the country is littered, not with weapons, but with looted arms dumps. The silence of the armed is the silence of consent.

Or this one in paragraph 4:

The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people — and it is unacceptable to me. Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do. Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.

What does responsibility mean when you have begun a war of choice that has gone very badly, bankrupting your country, wrecking its military, reducing its standing in the world, and rather than liberating the country you chose to invade, liberating its monsters? For if responsibility means anything, it ought to mean at least the willing and principled resignation of the President and his cabinet.

As for “The New Way Forward in Iraq,” it’s got some great ideas, but it’s years too late to begin implementing them. If the Iraqis had wanted to implement these ideas and done so for their own sakes, Iraq would not be what it is today: still breathing, but mutilated beyond recognition. Alas, Saddam Hussein may have been the best Iraq and the Iraqis could do. We know this because of how most Iraqis have chosen to behave under an occupation of extraordinary humanity.

In his speech, the President said,

So I’ve committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq. The vast majority of them — five brigades — will be deployed to Baghdad.

The planning and rationale behind this “surge” appears to be based on a document produced by the American Enterprise Institute, “Choosing Victory“, by Frederick Kagan, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Jack Keane, a retired US Army General. I should note that the 20,000 plus troops are fewer than Dr. Kagan and General Keane wanted, but that could well be a camel’s nose tactic. Also, on p. 37, they note that their plan requires those additional forces for 18 to 24 months. That’s not a surge, that’s a permanent increase.

“Choosing Victory” is riddled with assumptions of the sort you would dare not make as a student at the War College or National Defense University, unless for some perverse reason you wanted to be called into your professor’s office and asked what you were thinking of. (All quotes are from the report.)

We must send more American combat forces into Iraq and especially into Baghdad to support this operation. A surge of seven Army brigades and Marine regiments [approximately 30 K troops] to support clear-and-hold operations starting in the spring of 2007 is necessary, possible, and will be sufficient. (p. 1)

Apparently, we, not the enemy, will dictate the sufficiency of those forces—and woe unto our troops if the enemy does decide to assert himself, because “Choosing Victory” itself notes that Iraq has a population of 25 million (p.1) and Baghdad, 6 million, with Sadr City, a Shiite slum, having more than 2 million people (p. 8).

The ground forces must accept longer tours for several years. National Guard units will have to accept increased deployments during this period. (P.1)

Regular, Guard and Reserve, these troops have families; the Guard and Reserve troops have civilian careers and pay scales, and civilian employers. Civilian communities often depend upon first responders who are Guard or Reserve and the Guard has an unlimited responsibility to respond to domestic disturbances and natural disasters.

The president must request a substantial increase in ground forces end-strength. … The president must issue a personal call for young Americans to volunteer to fight in the decisive conflict of this generation. (p.2)

Where are those troops—a just-proposed increase of 65,000 for the Army and 27,000 for the Marine Corps—to come from? And given that nothing in the president’s eyes, face, or words or actions inspires any confidence, why should anyone risk life and limb redeeming a policy his own daughters feel no need to help salvage?

“Choosing Victory” notes that:

The basic causes of violence and sources of manpower and resources for
the warring sides come from within Iraq. Iraq’s neighbors are encouraging the violence, but they cannot stop it.

This is a true statement. I just wonder why Kagan and Keane think that the United States, which has even less in common with Iraqis than, say, Iran, can stop this violence when the Iraqis, who, after all, are armed, seem to be quite satisfied with the violence.

And this is just the executive summary. Dig into the report, and it gets worse. Much worse.

U.S. forces in Iraq currently maintain a very light footprint—140,000 troops in a country of 25 million people. Most Iraqis surveyed report that they rarely if ever see American forces. There is no reason to imagine, moreover, that it matters to the insurgency whether there are 100,000, 140,000, or 200,000 Americans in Iraq. (p. 6)

So if they don’t see US troops, they don’t resent the occupation of their country? And if it doesn’t matter to the insurgents how many troops there are in Iraq, why are we just pouring more troops into that war?

[Sunni Arab neighborhood-defense militias] have formed primarily because American forces have chosen not to provide security to the population and Iraqis
have been unable to do so, while Shiite militias (which this report will consider
presently) have ruthlessly targeted Sunni Arab civilians. (p. 9)

This gets the problem precisely backwards: Americans cannot possibly protect Sunnis from Shiites. Only Shiites, the majority of Iraq, can decide to treat the Sunnis with respect, dignity, and humanity.

The larger assumptions chill the blood.

On p. 14, the authors note “the repeated declaration of all sides [to Iraq’s insurgency and civil war] that Baghdad is the key to victory or defeat. ” Nevertheless, they assume that only one soldier per 40-50 Baghdadis will be needed, since that’s what the Army’s new counterinsurgency manual advises, and Colonel H. R. McMaster employed in Tall Afar (p. 15). They don’t note that Tall Afar is largely Kurdish and Turkoman—not Arab—by ethnicity, that Tall Afar has a population of only about 250,000 (not six million) and can be easily isolated, with access and egress controlled because it’s in the middle of a desert.

Also on p. 15, the authors tell us that “[c]learing Sadr City is both unwise and unnecessary at this time.”

Why? Because they’re Shiite. Never mind that if we take on the Sunni militias while leaving the Shiite militias, such as the Mahdi Army (Moqtada al Sadr’s militia) and Abdul Aziz al Hakim’s Badr Corps, alone, they will attempt to strengthen themselves. On p. 20, the authors describe clearing and holding Baghdad, and on p. 22 repeat the assumption that this is going to be a clear and hold operation, as if they had not previously noted on p. 14 that the insurgents believe Baghdad to be the key to victory or defeat. “In addition, the enemy in Iraq has historically pursued a pattern of going to ground when coalition forces are present and waiting for them to leave.”

According to “Choosing Victory”, then, clearing and holding Baghdad is supposed to be the climactic battle for Iraq during which the US and Iraqi military destroy the militias, first the Sunni, then, at some later date, the Shiite, yet our enemies will simply bleed us a bit, then wait for us to leave, for however long that takes (because they live there and Americans, after all, don’t).

Many Iraqi troops are regionally recruited and based, and for that reason alone can be fairly stated as lacking in combat motivation, even when they can be counted to defend their own hometowns. And if the Iraqi Army may not be the most reliable force to go into battle with, the Sunni and the Shiite militias, along with the Baathists and criminals, may well unite to bleed the American invaders, and save intra-Iraqi score settling for later. Baghdad is probably laced with pre-planned ambush zones, prepared positions and stocks of arms and ammunition. Indeed much of the violence in Baghdad may have been deliberately staged to draw US troops into a battle in a city, where we cannot help but kill innocent men, women, and children, and our technological advantages are sharply reduced. While the Battle for Baghdad will in no way be commensurate to Stalingrad, or Hue, cities are still nasty places to fight.

The authors of “Choosing Victory” acknowledge that it is possible that the enemy might do something like this. On p. 24, they note, “Enemy groups might take advantage of this interval [between the President announcing his intentions and American reinforcements arriving in theater] to increase sectarian cleansing and to establish themselves in strong positions in targeted neighborhoods in the hopes of making the clearing operations too painful for U.S. forces to conduct. This is the most dangerous course of action they could take, but it is not the most likely if the president acts quickly and decisively and forces arrive in theater before spring.”

Why? They tell us a few sentences later that “Many enemies in Iraq are fair-weather foes…” Who clearly understand nothing about raiding, skirmishing and ambushing. Never mind what, say, Hezbollah has done in cities to the Israelis in the past.

They also think Iraqi insurgents can’t read statements like this one on p. 25 and plan to react accordingly:

They expect that any clearing operation will be short-lived, and that U.S. forces will leave vulnerable Iraqi Army and police forces unsupported when the operations end. They therefore conserve their fighters and weapons while the Americans are present. They anticipate unleashing them on the civilian population if political efforts to forestall the operation fail or Iraqi forces and Americans leave. This surge-go to ground-surge pattern is the likeliest enemy response to the clearing operations proposed in this report.

On p. 27, the authors note that the Mahdi Army “presents one of the greatest dangers to this operation”, and on p. 29, that if the Badr Corps makes “common cause” the Mahdi Army, “coalition defeat is very likely.” Therefore, we are to avoid attacking Sadr City because if we don’t attack them, they won’t attack us, although if they do, they can likely defeat us.

As for Iran, which has bankrolled this insurgency from beginning to end, seeing in America’s destruction of Saddam Hussein’s government a chance to reestablish Persian hegemony in the region?

[T]he range of Tehran’s possible responses is rather narrowly constrained. … Iran is highly unlikely to court a direct military confrontation with the United States during such an operation—by sending disguised fighters against our supply lines in the south, for instance, or taking any other military action that could be traced directly back to Tehran. (p. 29)

Why not? After all, we wouldn’t use tactical [battlefield] nuclear weapons to save a cut off supply convoy or patrol, would we? Because that’s the military position we could easily find ourselves in, if Tehran decides to attack American overland supply lines from Kuwait, engage in border skirmishes, or even try to seize Basra, with its oil facilities and from which Britain has withdrawn half its troops there, in the south. We would not incinerate cities, but the Iranian government might
well consider it worth some Iranian infantry (peasant conscripts) to provoke the Americans into using weapons. Against not merely Asians, but also Muslims.

This is a document that holds our enemies in contempt, and in so far as it serves as the basis of American conduct (one cannot dignify it by calling it a strategy) in Iraq, our strategy also holds our enemies in contempt. From the first day of this war, we have based national policy on the assumption that the Iraqis want what we want and will do what we think they should. We are now making the same assumptions about Iran. Why do we think the outcome will change?


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