Thursday, May 03, 2012

Stroking unchecked power

Al Rafidayn reports 1 Iraqi soldier was shot dead by a snipre in Baghdad today and, in Anbar Province, city council member Nuri al-Obeidi's home was attacked with grenades (al-Obeidi survived the assassination attempt).  On the topic of the Iraqi military, Slate is running excerpts of Owen West's The Snake Eaters: An Unlikely Band of Brothers and the Battle for the Soul of Iraq.  Part three (language warning -- f-word) is here.

Based on the excerpts, West thinks he's captured something praise worthy.  He hasn't.  His book matters for reasons he never grasped.

You learn of Iraqis being 'trained' by US forces who aren't trained enough to train them.  While they could train in shooting, in marching and other military maneuvers, they are not trained in democracy building -- no one other than War Hawks of both major parties ever believed the US military was trained in democracy building.  The military is trained to fight and, task them with that, and they will do as well as can be expected (meaning, the brass generally knows how a combat deployment's going to end before it begins). 

West writes of the military training in areas they have no expertise.  The last thing gung ho Iraqis desperate to prove they're able to do it all alone and that they are not Saddam Hussein's minions need is encouragement in unchecked power.

But that's exactly what they were given. 

So you find that when the forces the Americans are 'training' have a 'big kill' and the Americans say the corpses are now turned over to the hospitals, the trainees insist no way, demanding instead to parade them through the twon to send a message.

To send a message.

Those paying attention may grasp the problems there immediately.  If so, you're far ahead of the New York Times.  When "Awakenings," Sahwa or Sons Of Iraq took hold (as opposed to the early abortive attempts), the New York Times couldn't stop gushing.  We'll be kind and not name the two reporters who went to a town to 'report' on how effective Sahwa had been.  (It was a male reporter and a female reporter.)  The streets were calm, things were wonderful, the Sahwa were a success! 

And that passed for reporting.  However, who gets to call it a success?

This was a town where people lived, where children were raised.

The paper wasn't interested in those people.  The paper wasn't intereted in their opinion and didn't seek it out.  Instead, they tagged along with Sahwa as Sahwa pointed to this 'calm' street and that one and they wrote up what they were told.

The people who had to live there, who had to live under that, their opinion wasn't sought out.

It's a detail that no one at the paper wanted to own.  The paper (and Sahwa) decided what mattered. 

By the same token the goals of the military -- due to training -- are not about the village or the city and the people's wants and desires. 

The area the New York Times reported on, the 'success,' has seen some of the worst attacks on Sahwa in the years since.  That's not at all surprising.  They were not heroes to the town.  The very thing that impressed the paper -- terrorizing into 'peace' (fear) is exactly what led so many of them to be killed in the coming years.  You can only intimidate and scare for so long.  The bullied will plan revenge.  You can not live indefinitely in a pressure cooker.

What Iraq needs was rule of law, not vigilantes, not mobs.

Do you really think people in a village feel safe when a bunch of  Iraqi thugs with guns display corpses? 

They don't.  They feel degraded. 

Paul Bremer might have actually had a point in disbanding the military if this was the Iraqi military.  Bremer's failure would then be that he didn't move quickly on training a new one.

The US military was never going to be able win 'the soul of Iraq.'  That Owen West can't grasp that goes to his own limitations and the fact that typing or dictating does not an author make.  There's a little device called insight and West has none to display based on the excerpts (and advance publicity for the book elsewhere).

He's rah-rah, he just doesn't understand a damn thing.

Iraq is the story of Iraqis.  If the US were the great evil, it would still be only an antagonist in the story of Iraq.  Iraqis would be the protagonists.  I am so tired of American men and their books on Iraq.  The bulk of them never grasp that reality.  Women do.  Deborah Amos did in her wonderful Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East as did  Manal M. Omar's Barefoot in Baghdad: A Story of Identity -- My Own and What it Means to be a Woman in Chaos.
But tell a Thomas E. Ricks to write a book about Iraq and suddenly it's all about Americans and Iraqis are rendered extras, background players in a supposed book about their own country. 

It's got to be one of the most amazing stories of the Iraq War.  That and many more -- including the animal sacrifices -- which the press largely hid -- will probably be the things people look back on with wonder and disbelief decades from now.

The following community sites -- plus, KPFK, Watching America and Chocolate City and Jane Fonda --  updated last night and this morning:

The Newsroom Season 1 Trailer #2
17 hours ago 
In the US, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Richard Burr is the Ranking Member.  The Committee notes:
Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
United States Senate
112th Congress, Second Session
Hearing Schedule
Update: May 2, 2012
Wednesday, May 16, 2012 10am Senate Hart Office Building Room 216
Hearing: Seamless Transition: Review of the Integrated Disability Evaluation System
Matthew T. Lawrence
Chief Clerk / System Administrator
Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
The e-mail address for this site is