'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Going to War with the Army You Have 

This piece by Michael Schwartz on TomDispatch expresses my thoughts on the nature of the insurgency in Iraq better than I would have been able to express them.

Schwartz argues that US planners mistakenly characterize the Iraqi insurgents as a traditional military force with a command-and-control structure because this is the sort of opponent that the US is best prepared to fight -- kind of like the old joke about the drunk guy looking for his lost keys under the street lamp because that's where the light is.

Schwartz flags a recent instance of this sort of mischaracterization: "a detailed account of current theorizing among American and Iraqi officials about the structure of the Iraqi resistance" as compiled by a team of Newsweek journalists. The Newsweek team concluded that according to military planners the insurgency has a hierarchical structure with its leaders based in Syria, or more colorfully, it is "a monster with its head in Syria and its body in Iraq," which explains the number of sabers that have been rattled in Syria's direction lately.

But as Schwartz points out, despite the popularity of such characterizations even the most cursory inspection of the facts on the ground indicates that to the extent that there is a command-and-control structure at work in groups such as the ex-Baathists, Zarqawi's terrorists, or for that matter the now nearly-forgotten Sadrists, the actions of such groups are clearly a minor part of the insurgency as a whole. Pretty much all the first-hand accounts from the second Battle of Fallujah supported the notion that the Fallujan insurgents were primarily just pissed-off Fallujans (take a look at some of my old coverage last November: here and here). He also cites a recent CIA report that directly contradicts Newsweek's consensus:

This is most easily seen by consulting -- of all sources -- the CIA, which issued a contrary report about the time the Newsweek article appeared. According to the CIA, the Zarqawi faction and his Saddamist allies were "lesser elements" in the resistance, which was increasingly dominated by "newly radicalized Sunni Iraqis, nationalists offended by the occupying force, and others disenchanted by the economic turmoil and destruction caused by the fighting." There is, in fact, a vast body of publicly available evidence in support of the CIA's perspective, including, for example, most first-hand accounts of the resistance in Falluja and other cities in the Sunni triangle.

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