That Was Disappointing
Despite the fact that we never should have unilaterally invaded Iraq in the first place (more than 60% of Americans thought that was a bad idea before the war), we’re there now and we need to win, and most Americans understand that. What we don’t understand is why - despite the handover of sovereignty, despite the elections, despite two years of training Iraqi forces, and despite all the rosy rhetoric of progress - the insurgency is getting worse.
In his speech tonight, President Bush didn't address the fact that the insurgency has continued to grow, he didn't address the poor training Iraqis forces are receiving, he didn't address the credibility gap between crowing of progress and the crows feeding on US carcasses in the streets of Baghdad, and - most importantly - he didn't present a plan to address the military and political failures of the last two years.
President Bush's plan is still to train Iraqi replacements for US forces, and to move ahead with the political process. Unfortunately, this status quo plan will not deliver a stable Iraqi democracy.
President Bush stated that there are 160,000 trained Iraqi security personnel (down from 165,000 last month and 210,000 during the election campaign). The truth is, only about 5,000 of those troops are competent enough to handle the insurgents by themselves, and only about 15,000 more are competent enough to work with US troops in support.
One impediment is that the Bush administration insists all training be done in Iraq. The effect of this arbitrary policy has been to discourage allies who want to help train Iraqis, but are politically unable to send training cadres into the country. It's also necessitated a half-assed training regimen.
We should be taking hundreds of competent Iraqi officers out of the country and away from the distractions and entanglements there so they can get the same quality training our own officers do. We should break them down and build them up into professional soldiers who are committed to working for their country, rather than a paycheck or patronage. This isn't a new concept. It's a system we've successfully used to train officers of allied countries for decades. Once they're trained to American standards and instilled with dedication to democracy, they return to their countries and spread those values and pass along their training. We're not doing that in Iraq. As of this year, only three (3) Iraqi officers have gone through US officer training courses.
As for fighting the insurgents, US strategy in Iraq is to make quick raids into the villages, then retreat to safe zones when the operations are over. This approach will never result in the locals trusting US and Iraqi forces and turning in insurgents. It only encourages them to keep their heads down, because when the troops leave, the insurgents come back. In contrast, we should be taking a lesson from the way NATO is handling Afghanistan.
NATO set up Provincial Reconstruction Teams including doctors, international aid workers, police, civil administrators, and construction engineers, all under the protection of NATO forces. These teams live with the locals out in the villages. They create networks of friends and allies among the locals, they toss out corrupt officials, they help the locals rebuild and develop, and because they stay there, they create a bond of trust that encourages the locals to turn in insurgents and have a better relationship with the central government. As more and more PRTs come online, more of Afghanistan is denied to Taliban and al-Qaeda forces.
On the political front, President Bush made the error this year of holding an election knowing that Sunnis would be disenfranchised. In his speech, Bush made a big deal about expanding Sunni representation on the constitutional assembly, but failed to mention that the Shiites and Kurds expanded their representation by the same amount. The net effect is negligible. The Sunnis are proportionally no more represented now than they were before.
Sunnis need to be fully brought aboard the political process, but the new fundamentalist Shiite-dominated government is reluctant to give more than lip service to that idea. Sunnis are being attacked and harassed by Shiite and Kurdish militias, and the Sunnis and Kurds in the government are praising those militias and refusing to disarm them. Until the Iraqi government makes a commitment to protect and respect its Sunni minority, the insurgency will continue.
Unfortunately, there really aren't a lot of options left for America on the political front. To defeat the Communist insurgency in Malaya, the British told Malayans they'd get their country back when the insurgency was defeated. That message encouraged Malays to work with British police (backed by troops), and undercut the insurgent's anti-British message because everyone knew the insurgents were the only thing keeping the Brits in the country. In Iraq, President Bush threw that option away by turning over sovereignty too soon. In fact, it was only after the handover of sovereignty that the Bush administration admitted there even was an insurgency.
What President Bush needed to do tonight was reestablish his credibility with Americans. He needed to put forth a strategy for winning in Iraq that would increase American, allied, and investor confidence that the war is being handled effectively, and he needed to encourage Iraqis to reject the insurgents. He failed on all counts.