The Coming Normalcy
Robert Kaplan, writing in the Atlantic, has an interesting overview of the Iraq situation called The Coming Normalcy (PDF link). He offers some optimism, some reflections on the impact of international media on the insurgent's strategies, plenty of criticism of the US for not providing enough money for job-creating projects, and much more.
When the 1-25 "Lancers” arrived in Mosul, in September of 2004, the city and its environs were a violent no-go zone, having seen several thousand insurgent attacks, not to mention more than a thousand explosions from improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. The local police had largely deserted, dropping from an on-paper force of 10,000 to an irrelevance of 300. But by the time 1-25 left Mosul, a year later, mortar attacks alone had fallen from 300 a month to fewer than ten. Other forms of insurgent activity dropped to the point where international journalists no longer considered Mosul an important part of the ongoing Iraq story—a fact evidenced by their thin presence in the city. Meanwhile, the local police force was now back up to 9,000, and the number of police stations had expanded from five to twenty-four. More important, the number of intelligence tips called in by the local population had risen from essentially zero to some 400 per month.Go read it all, if Iraq's your thing.
Norris offered a reflection on the Iraqis he deals with. "Some love us. Some hate us because we've accidentally killed their relatives. Others would rather we just leave. But whenever we kill a terror hideout and return an area to some semblance of normalcy, people come out and say thank you. A big problem is the daily, low-level kidnappings of professionals that don't make news but help provide a cash flow for the insurgents.
"On the other hand,” he went on, "we benefit because the international media doesn't want to leave the greater Baghdad area. With no international media in Mosul on a regular basis, there's been less of an incentive [for the insurgents] to do car bombings.”
A Sunni Arab shopkeeper said to me: "When American troops patrol the streets with the Iraqi army, it is so awful and humiliating for us, because we know those Iraqi soldiers are really Kurds. Your occupation has strengthened our enemies.” This young man, the son of a former general in Saddam Hussein's army, engaged me in conversation for more than half an hour. I liked him. He turned out to be uncannily objective in his own way. He had just come back from Syria, upon which he heaped praise. "Syria now is so much better than Iraq,” he said. "It is under tight control, so people there feel safe and can go about their lives with dignity. You Americans think you have brought freedom; you have just allowed the thugs from the villages to kill and rob from the educated people whom Saddam had protected.”
"Your father liked Saddam?” I probed.
"My father hated Saddam,” he replied. "He spit on him—in the home, that is. As long as you obeyed the rules by not criticizing the regime outside of your home, you were fine. With Saddam, there were clear rules; now there are none. Now we are caught between the Americans and the insurgents. Everybody hates terrorism, but we're more vulnerable than you.”
"Should the Americans leave?” I asked.
"No,” he said. "That would only make things worse.” He told me that he was impressed with the American military, as long as it was alone and not with the Iraqi army. But he admitted that the Iraqi police had improved, and that Mosul was no longer the battle zone it had been the year before. "Your soldiers are disciplined. They don't scare people by shooting their guns in the air, like ours.”
"But that discipline,” I argued, "is an indirect effect of a free society, which allows the military to constantly criticize itself.”
"No, no,” he said. "What good is voting if the Shiites and Kurds will vote, too? Elections are useless without water, sewage, electricity, and safety.”
"So you won't vote on December 15?”
"Maybe I will vote. What else is there to do?”
He was a mass of understandable contradictions.
More confusing was that another shopkeeper recommended the opposite: that U.S. soldiers should always patrol with the Iraqi army. If you applied every recommendation you got talking to Iraqis on just one street, you'd wind up doing exactly what you were doing before.
But it is simply impossible for the soldiers to be wholly liked. There is no nice way to barge into people's houses, bristling with weapons, stomping your dusty boots on their Oriental rugs, and expect it to be a pleasant experience for them, even if you hand out candy to their kids and replace a lock you had to break with a new one.
Great numbers of such seemingly ineffectual searches did work, to the extent that they kept terrorists on the run (or at least inconvenienced), forcing the insurgents to hide their guns and bomb-making paraphernalia outside their homes. But it was an inefficient way to make progress, and it bred hostility. If this keeps up, I thought, the Americans will end up being as hated in Iraq as the Israelis are in the West Bank. But it will be worse for the Americans, because they will be hated even as they are not feared.
The U.S. military was attempting to plug a dike holding back an ocean of potential unrest, and was deeply handicapped by the fact that it had no visible large-scale public-works projects to soak up crime and mass unemployment. Only such projects could show Sunni Arabs—politically weaker than ever in Iraq—the tangible benefits of democracy.
"We can race around the battlefield and fix little problems,” one Army major complained to me, "but where is the State Department and USAID to solve the big problems?” Whereas commentators in Washington tend to blame the machinations of Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon for keeping the State Department out of Iraq, all of the mid-level military officers I spoke with—each of whom desperately wanted to see civilian aid and reconstruction workers here—said that if the State Department got the requisite funding, it could be as bureaucratically dynamic as their own battalions, and infrastructure-rebuilding would not be where it appeared to be: at the zero point.