Sunday, August 21, 2005

The other shoe drops.

I'm in a bit of a funk this evening and I am not sure why. Lots of news out there, and from where I sit, very little of it is good. I know in my heart my down mood really has nothing to do with the news, but I'll get to that later.

The US Army finally made public what I knew for a long time, the war in Iraq is a cancer that is going to plague it and the United States for many years to come. The Army Chief of Staff admitted that the Army is already in the planning stages for maintaining troop strength at "the current number of soldiers in Iraq - well over 100,000 - for four more years, the Army's top general said Saturday."

I think its important to point out that, just planning for a prolonged troop rotation, does not mean that it will necessarily occur. If the situation in the country were to dramatically improve (something I doubt) well then obviously they could slow down or eliminate such deployments. The Army has to stay ahead of the game and this gives them a plan to deviate from. That's only a prudent preparation. Still its depressing in many ways.

Now if you have followed my rantings here, you will know that I am no fan of America's little adventure in Iraq. Not because I am some raving left wing lunatic, or supporter of Cindy Sheehan. My objections are more technical than philosophical, namely that the invasion of Iraq is a diversion from the long term objectives of the global war on terror; that despite whatever benefits may accrue from having Saddam gone, the United States has inserted itself into a region and a nation in the role of invader and occupier with no real good reason and or outcome; and finally that the current occupants of both the White House and the E-Ring office of the SECDEF will continue to resource this effort in a way that is fundamentally bad for all of the armed services and the Army in particular. I find it interesting that many of my associates, both in and out of the military actually agree with me on the last point, but of course in the brave new world of Rummy's DOD, one must keep such traitorous thoughts to himself.

Now there is also a more fundamental, less objective reason I don't like the war in Iraq. I don't like Arabs and I don't like Islam. The latter, I believe, is a millstone around the neck of the former, and prevents them from advancing forward as a civilization. I definitely do not feel they are worth expending American lives and treasure over. That is perhaps racist, but it is a true emotion with me.

I also received word today that a friend of mine has accepted a job with a contractor in Iraq. His motivation is the money, pure and simple. He knows what the risks are and is walking into it with his eyes open. He asked me why I do not consider going the same route. I don't have a good answer for him, except that I just don't want to do it, and I sure as hell do not wish to work in the Middle East and leave Asia.

He's pointed out to me that a year over there would help me solve some big issues. Financially the money would immensely help out my current situation a lot, it would get me away from the S.O. and probably solve that little emotional entanglement. A year of tax free money would help increase my "war chest" dramatically for the inevitable battle that I will have to have with the ex-wife over getting my alimony reduced. So there are arguments in favor of it. However without a powerful motivation to work those kind of hours with those kinds of risks no amount of money is worth it. Besides there are alternatives that are more stable, have better creature comforts and still allow for good money. My sincere appreciation goes out to all of our Soldiers and Marines, who have clearly bought the "s**t" end of this war, yet keep going out every day to do the job and serve. Personal political opinions or no, they are all heroes in my book. That's something that sadly, many liberals forget. The guys serving, just want to be allowed to do their jobs, get the job done and go home. However they are not going to leave if the job is not done. They understand that very well.

A big part of getting that job done is getting the Iraqi Army trained. Looking around the blogosphere while writing this I stumbled upon a very good blog by a guy who is doing just that, Listen to what he has to say and then ask yourself if its all good news coming from this little fracas:

Living off the land is nothing new. In the ten months of this tour I can think of only one instance where my higher headquarters provided the support we requested, and that was only because they
needed us to have what we requested as much as we needed it. The units to which we have been attached have provided resources to sustain the fight, but not much more beyond that.

We are truly the red-headed step-children of this war, and it is easy to understand how. There are two chains of command for support, the U.S. military and the Iraqi government. The Iraqi Army lacks
senior leadership, thus the intent was to stand up battalions of Soldiers and at the same time work at the higher levels to ensure brigades and divisions could support their subordinate units. What happened in reality was the Ministry of Defense (MOD) began issuing direct orders to battalions circumventing the process of the chain of command.

This move was done to immediately support the fight, but has had a long term effect of pandering to incompetent Iraqi leaders at the brigade and division level. Now the U.S. is looking at the exit strategy; me, and are forcing the Iraqi government to support it's own military. The expression I' ve frequently heard is, they must support themselves but we will not let them fail. I say, let them fail. Your mistakes are the only things you can truly call your own, and sometimes people don't learn unless they fail.

Recently, I was pleasantly surprised to have a visit to Camp Thursday by a lieutenant colonel who was an advisor at the MOD level, who promised to provide for the battalion's support needs. Although his picture of who and what was supposed to be on this camp were drastically different from the reality that was before him. Intermittent power, limited life support, and poor force protection were a bit of a surprise for him. Personally, I didn' t think those guys left the palaces in Baghdad ever.

I am now told as advisors we will be attached to the U.S. division that controls the regional battle space, thus we would receive direct support. The issue is there are no points of contact or
means to communicate with them. The division staffs live in their crystal palaces unaware of the ground truth while we live with the Iraqis.

At the same time the Iraqi battalions would be moved and working with in the battle space of their parent brigades and the brigades within their parent divisions a plan concocted almost a year ago, but which is just now being implemented. The Iraqis will be forced to find contracts for their own food service, petroleum needs, equipment maintenance, and all other manner of logistics support. Some of these issues have already been resolved at the MOD level with nepotistic agreements and tribal alignments.

One man has lobbied for his company to provide food services anywhere in the country. A request is simply made via the chain of command and the contractor will find a suitable location, staff and supplies to feed the Iraqi troops. There is apparently a written contract which I am told is easily received from the Iraqi chain of command, however that remains to be seen.

We are told the contractor will furnish several life support needs as a part of this contract, though the manager we deal with here seems to think he is in no way obligated to perform these duties. Hence the negotiations about what is and what should be. We found the same from all other contractors who are providing services here. We have obtained a few statements of work which the contractor does live by once we quote it to him, but getting him to meet is a challenge in itself.

Consistently from all of the contractors we get the expression, basher Inshallah, which translates to, tomorrow if God wills it. Inshalla can mean an accord has been struck, (I agree to those terms) or it can mean maybe (open ended excuse), and the context is incredibly subtle to pickup on. In Arab culture there is no agree to disagree as we have in America. Once an agreement has been reached it is binding, with the loophole of divine intervention. For God may not want you to be successful in that particular agreement.

We' ve gone so far as to detain workers of the food services contractor until he arrived on the camp to discuss his successes and failings in the administration of this contract. This tactic was both successful and wildly entertaining for a few minutes.

In the meanwhile, the Iraqis are doing what they do best, adapting to the conditions they are in. They' ve setup outhouses over the septic tanks, though some of the tanks are for used shower water not septic water. Still the shanties are better than the alternative which is to find little dried piles of excrement wherever they choose.

Until yesterday, every few days we would make a trip to the American base which is across the street, no more than 200 meters to update the officers on the progress of the battalion. However, yesterday we were forced to return the vehicles we've been borrowing for transport. The American officers continually ask if we' ve moved to their base and we continually tell them, tomorrow if God wills it.

We are told the U.S. division commander who controls this area wants no U.S. personnel living on an Iraqi base. Apparently, we are supposed to punch a clock and work from 9-5 just like we are back in the states. This guy has either no idea or has gotten bad information about conducting this advisor mission, and Iraqi culture.

The trust you must establish is not created overnight and cannot be won by punching a clock and commuting. Trust is a two way street, and if you don't trust them by living with them, they won't trust you or your suggestions or advice even if they've heard it before from someone they do trust. In this way I do not envy the next team that will eventually replace us. They will have the challenge of not living with their Iraqi counter parts, as well as the mass exodus that occurs when advisors leave.

We have been given orders to not ride around in unarmored vehicles like the Nissan pickups we use on the base, and we have been told we cannot walk onto the base. Either of those courses of action
would result in us being shot at or denied access, or both, so we are told. Thus we haven’t tried. The trucks we used on combat missions are still with the bulk of the battalion’s combat power at our old base being used daily by the rest of the team.

As a team our thinking is unanimous, that our remaining time is too brief to make the effort to move. Especially since the Americans who are to host us are not making any effort to support that move. In a few weeks time the bulk of the battalion will be here, as will the bulk of our team and our trucks. A few very short days after that our replacements will arrive.The end is near inshalla.

From my own experience dealing with Arab contractors in Bahrain, I understand his frustration. So you can crow all you want about the good news stories coming out of Iraqi, this is the central story to getting US troops home and it is hardly a good one. Fundamentally, Arab culture is flawed and they are making no moves to change it. And they won't, as long as oil is $68 dollars a barrel.

Eventually, just as in Weimar Germany, a strong man is going to re-emerge. Only he will use Islam as his unifying force and the results will not be to the liking of the US.

There's more to my funk than this etheral stuff though. Next post, I'll explain my sadness because my daughter's birthday is approaching. However for today, this depressing news will have to be sufficient to itself.



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