Saturday, September 11, 2010

So what's all that got to do with us?

As I expect any even occasional visitor has noticed, I didn't write anything about the ostensible "end to combat operations" in Iraq. There was a reason for that, one which many have mentioned but which I think the New York Times, of all places, actually put the best:
The withdrawal ... is a feat of logistics that has been called the biggest movement of matériel since World War II. It is also an exercise in semantics.
Yes. Perfect. Semantics. So it really didn't seem worth a comment. But since I've just posted a couple of things about Iraq, a subject I've neglected of late, I figured I'd say something here.

The fact is, there will still be 50,000 US troops in Iraq - not to mention the 11,000 armed private security contractors employed by the DOD in Iraq - troops which will, in the words of Gen. Ray Odierno, US commander in Iraq,
certainly have the ability to protect themselves, and if necessary, to conduct combat operations if it was required.
All of which means that, as the NYT put it,
[w]hat soldiers today would call combat operations - hunting insurgents, joint raids between Iraqi security forces and United States Special Forces to kill or arrest militants - will be called “stability operations.” ...

“In practical terms, nothing will change,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, the top American military spokesman in Iraq. “We are already doing stability operations.”
Add to that the fact that
the State Department is planning to more than double its private security guards, up to as many as 7,000,
private guards who will be expected to defend five fortified compounds, operate radar to warn of rocket attacks, search for IEDs, fly reconnaissance drones, and even form "quick reaction forces" supposedly to rescue civilians in trouble, and well, I can't say I'm really impressed with this withdrawal.

And speaking of those State Department contractors,
[t]o move around Iraq without United States troops, the State Department plans to acquire 60 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, called MRAPs, from the Pentagon; expand its inventory of armored cars to 1,320; and create a mini-air fleet by buying three planes to add to its lone aircraft. Its helicopter fleet, which will be piloted by contractors, will grow to 29 choppers from 17.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon will, at least initially, maintain at least 12 large bases in Iraq, bases in the military continues to make investments, a fact which is not at all surprising when you consider that Odierno himself raised the possibility of US troops remaining beyond the supposedly-firm 2011 deadline.

Although he insisted that would only be in a technical support role,
[t]he conventional wisdom among military officers, diplomats and Iraqi officials is that after a new government is formed, talks will begin about a longer-term American troop presence.
Indeed, Hugh Sykes of the BBC's bureau in Baghdad says it's "probable, even" that the deadline will be renegotiated - that is, extended if not dropped altogether.

So no, again, I'm not really impressed with this "end to combat operations."

On the other hand, something that was impressive - hardly new but still impressive - was the ability of US media to ignore the history and romanticize the US role in the whole sordid mess. Where coverage was not marked with lies about the war's origins or with delusional views of the role US troops played - I twice heard Richard Engel, NBC News's chief foreign correspondent, refer to those soldiers as going into Iraq "to topple a dictator" and then "to end a civil war" - it was getting all teary-eyed about how the Iraqis really don't want us to leave. That coverage never seemed to mention what the IWPR reported, which was that reactions to the withdrawal "generally divided along partisan lines," so that the concerns (which are real enough) are not the result of any love for the US or its military forces but are found primarily among Sunnis who fear their future at the hands of the majority Shiites. That is, what those mainstream media reports really do, although they never acknowledge it, is to point up the fractured state of Iraqi society.

Oh, and of course there was the comic relief of the GOPpers, forever trapped in 2003, this time featuring Rep. John Boner (R-Orange), a man always willing to display how tough he can be so long as others bear the cost, whining about how
"Over the past several months, we've often heard about ending the war in Iraq, but not much about winning the war in Iraq."
Well, boys will be boys. And satanically-spawned blood-thirsty cretins will be satanically-spawned blood-thirsty cretins. At least Obama had the grace to not pump his fist, chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!"

Two Footnotes to the Footnote: First is that I know you've heard about the size of the Green Zone and all, but if you really want to get a sense of what it's like, read this. And two, when Engel talked about the US "ending a civil war" I wondered if he ever referred to it as "a civil war" at the time, rather than as something that forever "could happen" or "Iraq might experience."

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