Talisman Gate

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Cognitive Dissonance on Iraq

December 6, 2006 Edition > Section: Opinion >

Cognitive Dissonance on Iraq


December 6, 2006
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/44701

The Iraq Study Group report is due out today, serving to focus minds and sharpen talking points about what to do in Iraq. And yet, for all the time spent talking about this urgent matter, and with all the political and security ramifications at stake, the level of the debate has been intellectually mediocre and muddled with hysterics.

Many commentators are herding into three "exit plan" categories: (1) the counterinsurgency cannot win militarily and we must grant political concessions to the insurgents, (2) America cannot afford to be embroiled in a sectarian civil war with regional implications, and (3) even if there were a chance for victory, the long-term effect would damage America's soul.

The last group — that argues an American win would be a Pyrrhic victory — belongs to a subgenre of leftist politics that has consistently maintained that using American might is wrong. This group should be ignored outright. The term is borrowed from classical times when King Pyrrhus won a victory over the Romans, but this win was devastating to the victor. The reasoning is that the cost of winning is so high that it would have been better not to enter a war in the first place. Those making this argument seize upon the numbers of American and Iraqi casualties and brandish that national pain against wartime leaders, disregarding the leaders' original intent in fighting the enemy. "Why should soldiers die in lieu of generals?" they ask, forgetting that there is an enemy intent on killing. Gullible, they are susceptible to bogus and manipulated reports of civilian casualties. The cynics among them would peg Saddam Hussein as the lesser evil to a chaotic Iraq.

Then there are those who are eager to declare that Iraq has entered its civil war phase. This intellectual stampede began when Senator Warner suggested that America's involvement in tamping down the flames of a sectarian conflict would require a renewed — and impossible to get — congressional mandate. The cynics wanted to call what is happening in Iraq a "civil war" in order to put Mr. Warner's threat of an immediate pullback into play.

Civil war experts, who know little about Iraq's history and society, suddenly appeared to claim the press's attention, with some presumably eyeing book deals down the road. Such is the market quality of intellectualism. Others, influenced by the "Pyrrhic victory" crowd, tend to see the trees for the forest: the number of bodies piling up at Baghdad's morgue. But in the cycle of sectarian-driven killings and reprisals, one often forgets that the number of killers has not dramatically increased. Rather, the killers are simply killing more people to leave an impression of burgeoning sectarian strife.

The most rational camp arguing for quitting Iraq comprises those who believe that a military win is impossible. But assuming that America can't win and is therefore losing, then who among its jihadist and Baathist enemies can claim victory on the ground? The answer is that no one can demonstrate that the insurgents are on the upswing. Insurgent activity may have increased, but its overall results, such as holding down territory, are meager. To further understand this disconnect between one side losing and the opposite side not winning, we need to take a fresh look at the insurgency — the original problem so often forgotten — and the flawed counterinsurgency effort that was supposed to quell it.

Let us start by asking: Have we done all that is operationally possible to win? The insurgents have made use of advances in technology to operate nimbly and propagate loudly, but has America's technological superiority been leveraged against them?

The blunt answer is no, and the reason is incompetence — by both the Iraqi and American sides. Is it possible that vehicles in Iraq are not properly registered even after the recurring car bomb nightmare over the last three and a half years? We still don't know which car belongs to whom. Permanent and advanced license plates with bar codes for easy scanning would streamline the work of roadblocks and provide the first lead after a car bombing.

Here are a couple more ideas where improvements can be made:

(1) Punish the insurgents more severely. Presently, there are few punitive measures taken against insurgents and their families. The authorities could impose financial penalties to offset the damage that insurgents inflict on other Iraqis. Once an insurgent is killed or arrested and then charged, authorities could, for example, freeze his assets and sell them at auction. The proceeds could go to a terror victims' fund or to the state treasury to compensate for the losses sustained by public property and services. Furthermore, family members, including women, should be treated as accomplices if they fail to report blatant criminal activity such as the use of homes as bomb-making factories or as detention cells holding abductees. Such arrests of women could be undertaken by the Iraqi police to avoid the stigma that "foreigners are touching up our women." Iraqi law already stipulates that accomplices should be held responsible. The financial and familial price for choosing to be an insurgent must get steeper. The existing consequences are too mild even by Western standards.

(2) Install GPS devices on police and government vehicles. Death squads almost invariably use police cars or government vehicles in carrying out false arrests and abductions. There is a unit selling in America for $600 that pinpoints stolen cars. Why can't we put this device inside every single police and government car? The next time Sunni residents report that policemen have abducted their young men, data can be pulled up to show what police cars were operating in that neighborhood and at that time. If these devices are tampered with or disabled, then this would also become apparent when the data goes off the network. Cars may also have fake police markings, but these can be distinguished from real police cars at checkpoints: If a police car doesn't have a GPS device, then it's a fraud.

There are tens of good ideas out there for winning this war that have not been implemented and have not been debated beyond wonky military journals. It's not the number of American or Iraqi boots on the ground that matters in winning this war but rather the number of microchips used to map out and combat the insurgency. Running patrols and shooting straight is only part of what is necessary in such a modern war. Americans and Iraqis must adapt their strategies to fit the battle before they can win the battle. This hasn't been done in earnest yet, and we need to ask "why?" rather than scream "flee, flee, the sky is falling" in panic.

Mr. Kazimi can be reached at nibraska@yahoo.com. For more counterinsurgency suggestions visit his blog at talismangate. blogspot.com

December 6, 2006 Edition > Section: Opinion >