Wednesday, November 23, 2005

# Posted 12:06 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WASHINGTON BUZZ -- "WHY IRAQ HAS NO ARMY": The talk of the town is James Fallows' cover story [subscription required] in the December issue of the Atlantic monthly about (you guessed it) why Iraq has no army. In fact, George Stephanopoulous attempted to use the article to cross-examine Donald Rumsfeld on Sunday morning. Rumsfeld insisted he hadn't read the piece and refused to comment. But I don't think that looked good and I think Rumsfeld could safely have confronted the issue head on.

The buzz around Fallows article suggests that is a pathbreaking and scathing account of what went wrong with our efforts to train the Iraqi army. The subheader on the article itself reads:
An orderly exit from Iraq depends on the development of a viable Iraqi security force, but the Iraqis aren't even close. The Bush administration doesn't take the problem seriously—and it never has.
Perhaps because of all they hype, the article seemed much less scathing to me than it should have. I thought that its three main points have been hit upon time and again in the pages of the WaPo and NYT, often in detail. Basically, it was a huge mistake to disband the Iraqi army, it was a huge mistake not to train ourselves in the local language and culture, and we took way, way too long to get serious about putting together an Iraqi counterinsurgency force. I don't think DoD spokesman would want to admit any those of points, but they aren't exactly surprising.

But what I did find surprising was how positively Fallows described Gen. Petraeus' and Amb. Negroponte's efforts to resurrect the American strategy of standing up a local force. Fallows writes that in June 2004,
A new American Army general arrived to supervise the training of Iraqis: Dave Petraeus, who had just received his third star.

The appointment was noticed throughout the military. Petraeus, who holds a Ph.D. from Princeton, had led the 101st Airborne during its drive on Mosul in 2003 and is one of the military's golden boys. What I heard about him from other soldiers reminded me of what reporters used to hear about Richard Holbrooke from other diplomats: many people marveled at his ambition; few doubted his skills. Petraeus's new assignment suggested that training Iraqis had become a sexier and more important job. By all accounts Petraeus and Negroponte did a lot to make up for lost time in the training program.

Under Petraeus the training command abandoned an often ridiculed way of measuring progress. At first Americans had counted all Iraqis who were simply "on duty"—a total that swelled to more than 200,000 by March of 2004. Petraeus introduced an assessment of "unit readiness," as noted above. Training had been underfunded in mid-2004, but more money and equipment started to arrive.

The training strategy also changed. More emphasis was put on embedding U.S. advisers with Iraqi units. Teams of Iraqi foot soldiers were matched with U.S. units that could provide the air cover and other advanced services they needed. To save money and reduce the chance of a coup, Saddam Hussein's soldiers had only rarely, or never, fired live ammunition during training. According to an unpublished study from the U.S. Army War College, even the elite units of the Baghdad Republican Guard were allowed to fire only about ten rounds of ammunition per soldier in the year before the war, versus about 2,500 rounds for the typical U.S. infantry soldier. To the amazement of Iraqi army veterans, Petraeus introduced live-fire exercises for new Iraqi recruits.

At the end of last year, as the Iraqi national elections drew near, Negroponte used his discretion to shift $2 billion from other reconstruction projects to the training effort. "That will be seen as quite a courageous move, and one that paid big dividends," Petraeus told me. "It enabled the purchase of a lot of additional equipment, extra training, and more rebuilding of infrastructure, which helped us get more Iraqi forces out in the field by the January 30 elections."

The successful staging of the elections marked a turning point—at least for the training effort. Political optimism faded with the subsequent deadlocks over the constitution, but "we never lost momentum on the security front," Petraeus told me. During the elections more than 130,000 Iraqi troops guarded more than 5,700 polling stations; there were some attacks, but the elections went forward. "We have transitioned six or seven bases to Iraqi control," he continued, listing a variety of other duties Iraqi forces had assumed. "The enemy recognizes that if Iraqi security forces ever really get traction, they are in trouble. So all of this is done in the most challenging environment imaginable."

Had the training units avoided the "B Team" taint? By e-mail I asked an officer on the training staff about the "loser" image traditionally attached to such jobs within the military. He wrote back that although training slots had long been seen as "career killers," the importance of the effort in Iraq was changing all that. From others not involved in training I heard a more guarded view: If an Iraqi army emerges, the image of training will improve; if it doesn't, the careers of Petraeus and his successor Dempsey will suffer.
Surprisingly, Fallows doesn't go into much detail about what Petraeus accomplished. At the beginning of the article, Fallows describes Petraeus' four-level classification scheme and tells us how many Iraqi troops fall into each category. But one doesn't get a sense from the article of what that really means. How do Level 2 troops behave in combat as opposed to Level 3? Have soldiers of either level had any notable successes? The Iraqis are clearly taking heavy casualties on the battlefield. Is this a sign of success or failure?

The list of questions could go on, but the basic point is that you don't get the in-depth feel for the subject that you should from an article this long. Instead, the overwhelming focus is on mistakes that were made before Petraeus took over.

The final pages of Fallows' article are like an op-ed. He's told us what the situation is, now he's telling us what to do:
Let me suggest a standard for judging endgame strategies in Iraq, given the commitment the United States has already made. It begins with the recognition that even if it were possible to rebuild and fully democratize Iraq, as a matter of political reality the United States will not stay to see it through.
That is a strange argument coming from a journalist who is doing quite a good job of stoking public pessimism. Anyhow:
What is needed for an honorable departure is, at a minimum, a country that will not go to war with itself, and citizens who will not turn to large-scale murder...If the United States leaves Iraq knowing that non-American forces are sufficient to keep order, it can leave with a clear conscience—no matter what might happen a year or two later.
That seems like a very strange moral standard, reminiscent somewhat of Pontius Pilate. Moreover, what about national security?

Call me a maximalist, but we don't just want to stop the casualty count and walk away with clean consciences. We want to make sure that Iraq (or even the Sunni part of Iraq) doesn't become what Afghanistan was before 9/11. You can argue that none of this would've happened if we hadn't gone in the first place, but that doesn't affect our national interests now. Finally, Fallows writes that:
If we were serious about reconstituting an Iraqi military as quickly as possible, what would we do? Based on these interviews, I have come to this sobering conclusion: the United States can best train Iraqis, and therefore best help itself leave Iraq, only by making certain very long-term commitments to stay.
How does that square with the (alleged) need to recognize that we lack the will to see it through? I'm not sure. In a lot of ways, I think Fallows gives voice to great dilemma of mainstream Democrats, who know we need to win this war but lack confidence in Bush and perhaps even morseo even Rumsfeld (in the same manner as a lot of neo-conservatives). If the Democrats turn against the war, they will hasten our defeat and be branded as soft. If they support the war, they sense that it will allow the administration to be even less responsible.

So is there a third way that will allow Democrats to both criticize the war and be seen as hawkish? Yes there is. They can click their heels three times and say "I agree with John McCain."
(18) opinions -- Add your opinion

General Petraeus did an extensive briefing on the Iraqi army readiness issue here.
Fallows has a long-proven ability to say nothing at great length, by the simple expedient of talking out of both sides of his mouth at the same time, the propositions from one side canceling out those from the other.
While we cannot deny that public opinion has turned against a prolonged US military presence in Iraq -- both domestically and among Iraqis -- it would be a foolish idea to train the Iraqi army and leave before an effective democratization has been achieved.

An unstable Iraq characterized by a strong Army and weak civilian democratic governance would leave the country vulnerable to the same forces that have dictated the course of events in every Latin American nation that the US has sought to democratize over the past 100 years. The striking pattern of: US led invasion, followed by US training of civilian defense forces (many of whom were holdovers from previous regimes), followed by a turn in US public opinion, followed by a US withdrawl, followed by a descent into chaos, followed by the rise of a strongman to fill the security void, followed by 50 years of violence and tyranny, followed by another US invasion has held up remarkably well in most every country that we have attempted to democratize with the notable exceptions of Japan and Germany (who, I might add, benefitted and still benefit from an enormous contingent of US troops on their soil).

Unless we would like another El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, or heaven forbid Cuba, we should think twice before gliby building up an army and leaving before civilian dominance of the military is institutionalized.
I subscribe to the print version of The Atlantic but decided to skip this article. Those of us who get news/views on line know that any print magazine has such an early deadline that articles on fast-moving situations -- such as building an Iraqi Army -- are out of date before they are printed.

Besides, I don't trust Fallows.
I subscribe too, and while I do trust Fallows, I rarely agree with his point of view. I've read too many sources (such as the DoD in the first comment, centcom and others) to believe his overall premise indicated by the title, so I'll not be wasting time reading it either. I do recall reading at at least one Iraqi blog, that the idea that we could've kept the existing army together (they were scattered on their own accord almost immediately) or that we even should have is ridiculous -- no one would have trusted them.

I read the aticle as well and came away with similar conclusions.

Of interest is another article in the same issue, "If America Left Iraq" by Nir Rosen, which shines a different light on Fallows' assumptions. Rosen argues that a civil war is already underway but might improve with our departure and that neither the foreign jihadi or domestic insurgent elements would be emboldened by our departure.

I'm a bit skeptical of both articles.

Scott @ POV
Thank you for this critical reading. I remember how impressed I used to be with articles in Harper's and the Atlantic. It just HAD to be the unvarnished Truth! This is going to filter down to the lower chattering classes of course. Ever notice how pessimism sells? It's pathological. No one wants to be the fool.

All I know is, if we hadn't gone into Iraq, all the critics would be giving us no end of grief about it right now. They would be howling, what about Saddam...Iraq has been just a cudgel to beat us over the head.
Go back and read Fallows Atlantic articles on Iraq starting from 2002. His 2002 analysis remains accurate today.
This stands in stark contrast with the written and televised statements from the administration in 2002.

Once again I think Fallows is dead right. The Bush administration is not taking this war seriously. Why dont we have a draft, why are Iraqi troops and police not fully equipped. There is no reason for Iraqi units to be riding around in unarmored pickup when we have the industrial capability to put them in armored humvees. Each Iraqi that is killed is another that we must train. We are squandering the talent, good will and patience of the Iraqi people. We are watching an exodus of the smartest and best trained people in Iraq.

We either need to flood the country with 500,000 troops, clamp down the borders, provide security to the cities, roads and infrastructure or get out. What we currently have is a half-ass commitment from the administration that is getting our troops and our Iraqi allies killed.

The motley cast of characters that are likely to take the control of Iraq in the upcoming elections are not inspiring, there are strong signs of corruption, signficant ties to Iran and other assorted religious radicals.
Fallows is one of the most overrated writers on Iraq. He's been wrong about most everything.

Here, Fallows brings up the myth that we "disbanded" the Iraqi army. That's been debunked, most recently here. Wrong agains, Jim.
... the same forces that have dictated the course of events in every Latin American nation that the US has sought to democratize over the past 100 years.

Unless we would like another El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, or heaven forbid Cuba,

Wait, Panama? Huh? The military coup in Panama (and then the following takeover by Noriega after the death of Torrijos) took place without military intervention on the part of the United States, and after Operation Just Cause Panama has had a stable, functioning democracy with a regular succession of power between different parties. Plenty of your other examples (El Salvador, etc.) include military coups that happened certainly without American intervention. There were definitely later US involvement in those countries, but the number of Latin American countries that actually match the supposed pattern of a real US invasion are very small. Outside of the actions in the Spanish-American war and in the Mexican-American war, it's difficult to think of actual "US invasions" aside from Operation Just Cause, which contradicts the point being made.

As for the main question-- certainly disbanding the army caused problems; that's obvious. I completely fail to be convinced that not disbanding the army wouldn't have caused problems at least as large, and none of these articles seem to have addressed those points.
Now, the US has certainly given aid to "friendly" dictatorships in the hope that they were "least bad option." That's certainly led to all sorts of nasty actions that have been associated with the US (and that the US has been accused of tolerating.) That's different from a "US invasion," however. (And, interesting, similar to the policy advocated by some of the fiercest "realist" critics of overthrowing Saddam, or by some who supported overthrowing Saddam but favored putting "our guy" in his place.)
Dear John,

Thank you for your thoughtful response. In terms of recent history you are indeed correct, especially vis a vis Panama and the secret wars waged by the CIA during the 1980's in El Salvador and Nicaragua -- there were no US troops officially involved.

The point of the post, however, was to take a broader view of history and expand the timeline to look at other places which we have attempted to democratize over the last century or so. The rhetoric used by President T. Roosevelt and by President Bush (II) are remarkably similar in the ways in which they both emphasize that US forces were being used to democratize those places where our troops were being sent. In light of those similarities, they make excellent test cases from which to learn lessons that can guide the success of our current efforts especially since we justify our involvement in Iraq by saying -- Yes, ok, things are not good there now. But this is not a short term project, wait fifty or a hundred years and look back and see if what we did was not justified by its successive events.

While I believe that the success of such an effort is the best shot that countries in the Middle East have for a successful, fulfilling future I thought it important to look at those cases where we have intervened and glean some lessons. The lesson I drew was -- don't train the army and leave, it makes a country vulnerable to military coups or the rise of a dictator from the upper classes who aligns himself with the military.

In terms of when US troops were involved in the countries I cited:

Panama (1895)

Nicaragua - which I didn't cite but should have (1894 - 1933 off and on)

El Salvador (1932)

Guatemala (1920)

Honduras (1919)


Cuba (1917-1933).

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
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Panama (1895)

Umm, no. Panama wasn't a country in 1895. In 1895 the French had just given up trying to build a canal in what was then Colombia. From 1902 to 1903 the US gave assistance (and some say hatched the plot) to Panamanians who seceded from Colombia and formed Panama. The US built the canal between 1904 and 1914; official recognition by Colombia of Panama's independence did not come until 1921. Considering that the first military coup in Panama did not take place until 1968 (although the military had been interfering since the 50s), well after US troops had been involved, I think you're really stretching things here.

El Salvador (1932)

Nope. Peasant rebellion. US-supported dictator brutally supressed the rebellion, but he was already in power at the time, having had a coup in 1931. US troops were not involved in that coup. The frequent revolutions and coups certainly predated US influence and predated the 30s in El Salvador. The US did continue to support El Savadorean dictators; this is another one in the supporting dictators category, not an invasion.

The occupation of Nicaragua is a legitimate mention. Also the occupation of Veracruz in Mexico during the Mexican Civil War. Haiti is another example.

For the rest, you're confusing US support of native dictators with occupations and invasions, the influence of the United Fruit Company, and some other things.

Guatemala (1920)

Revolt against Manuel José Estrada Cabrera which forced him to resign. In 1906 similar revolts had been put down with the help of other Central American governments and Mexico. Democracy would last until General Jorge Ubico started rigging the constitution after being elected, in 1931. In 1944 he was removed. Again, it does not really fit the pattern of a US invasion. (In this case, the US failed to keep the dictator in power.)

I find it rather remarkable how you seem to keep picking the wrong examples that don't seem to make your point, things that weren't invasions, weren't occupations, and where dictatorships did not follow under any sort of reasonable timeframe. Even though there are certainly some examples out there. You got a bit closer with some of your examples this time.
Also, you cite Teddy Roosevelt, but then give a bunch of dates that mostly correspond to Woodrow Wilson. Panama actually did occur under Teddy, though it doesn't match your pattern and you give a date under McKinley that corresponds to the Spanish-American War.

In any case, Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba (and the not-in-Latin America Philippines) are all examples of actual US invasion and occupation. The latter were related to the Spanish-American War, as I mentioned. The other interventions were of a substantially different nature and don't fit your thesis.
I'm with a number of the commentators: Fallows writes pretty, like most who write for The Atlantic, but to the best of my knowledge, he doesn't know Arabic and has no particular training in military affairs. It's a sign of the silliness and superficiality of Washington that people there take this sort of thing seriously. I guarantee you, if Fallows wrote an article about something that people in New York care about, like, for example, subordinate real estate investment trust debt, no one would pay any attention.
Fallows' invidious title, "Why Iraq Has no Army," is supposed to make you think 200,000 men under arms have no ability to force anything.

The Atlantic should run additional articles entitled, "Why Germany Has No Army," "Why France Has No Army," "Why England Has No Army," etc., along with Spain, Benelux, Scandinavia, etc. The gist of all such added articles would be that the unsung U.S. taxpayers have been providing a protective military shield for their countries for as long as anybody can remember. I find it a laugh to say these countries plot military strategy at NATO. With what?
Shouldn't the issue should be Iraq's army, not Fallows?

An "Iraqi Army" will exist only when Shia, Sunni, or Kurdish troops will obey officers and fire on targets, irrespective of sect or ethnicity. Thus far, I understand that the only "combat ready" units tend to be quasi ethnic militia who are efficient only when policing another group. Unfortunately, the local political culture makes the notion of a neutral "national" army an oxymoron.

Poor Petraeus probably had to dope up on anti-nausea pills each time he gave an upbeat briefing on progress with the new Iraqi army. He certainly knew that most of the recruits were hungry kids who would never fire on their own kind, that some names on the payroll were ghosts or no-shows, that much of the procurement budget disappears in graft, and that all the ranks are infested with insurgent spies and sympathizers.

People continue to mention Germany and Japan as precedents for successful reconstruction. They forget that both were soundly defeated and de-manned by war, then surrounded by hostile nations. Neither Germany nor Japan wanted to be occupied, but the relatively benign US occupation was the lesser of alternative evils. Much of the emphasis was on demilitarization of the two countries. Iraq shares no military, religious, geographic, economic, or cultural paralllel whatever.

No need to discuss whether Iraq needs a Somoza or a Trujillo. A Mubarak, a Musharaf, or a Saddam lite will do. However, the elected Shia government will make darn certain that one never emerges from the new military. Iran may not be the template of the new Iraq, but there one will find more guidance than anywhere else.
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