The first question to ask is, why has it taken so long to train these troops when American soldiers leave for boot camp and are ready to ship out to Iraq in less than 20 weeks? In a recent column, even Bill O'Reilly expressed exasperation with the schedule, saying, "It's been two years. Even Gomer Pyle would have been ready by now." What many of us in America don't seem to grasp is that we aren't simply dealing with a group of dedicated foot soldiers who simply needed better weapons and armor and a few lessons about how to march in a straight line. All the best equipment and battlefield theory classes in the world aren't going to make much progress when you are dealing with a totally foreign people who grew up in a society that was rife with corruption and internecine fighting.
For a sense of what I'm talking about, take a look at this article by Lt. Col. Scott Barker. He's stationed in Iraq and has been working as the sole liaison between the coalition forces and the Iraq Minister of Defense, and an advisor to the Iraqi Army Commander. Keep in mind that this is a man who is writing an article to try to convince Americans of the progress we are making. But he's learned some difficult lessons about the way of life in Iraq.
We, as Americans, are used to things happening quickly and expect change to take affect just as quickly in other parts of the world. One has to understand that the governmental mechanisms and ways that we are trying to get the Iraqis to pursue are mostly completely foreign to them.The Iraqi army isn't still lacking in a lot of military equipment because we didn't supply them with money to purchase it, or the materials themselves. We did. The problem is that their own leaders funneled money out in massive amounts for their own profit, purchased ancient, useless equipment at high costs from friends and business associates, and paid bribes right and left. These people grew up having to get along by making horse trader deals as best they could in an environment predominantly ruled (outside of Baghdad) by the present day equivalent of feudal lords.
When we talk about weeding out corruption, it is hard for the Iraqis to comprehend exactly what we are trying to get at; the definition of corruption to most Westerners is simply not the same to Iraqis. What we define as cheating, stealing and bribing to benefit oneÂs financial status has been a normal way of doing business to most Iraqis ever since any of them have been alive.
There has never been anything seen as inherently wrong with conducting one's business this way.
Corruption doesn't just apply to the flow of money, though. It looks as if that could eventually be overcome, were enough cash to be thrown at the problem. There is also the issue of loyalty. How will you declare the Iraqi military "ready" when its own leadership, as well as elements of the civilian governmental leaders who control it, are suspect? Each week it seems as if they turn up yet another member of their government or general in their army who turns out to at least by sympathetic to the cause of the insurgents and/or foreign mercenaries, if not directly in league with them.
The internecine fighting hasn't abated significantly either, according to recent media reports. After spending years and massive funds to train some of these troops, they have turned around and begun marching into neighborhoods of opposing faction civilians and harassing or even killing them, rather than going after the enemy we want them to defeat.
We can line up ten battalions of Iraqi troops in shiny blast resistant vests, holding brand new assault rifles, but that doesn't change a thing. When we pull out - as we most certainly have to - there seems little to no incentive for these people not to immediately fall back into the same old power struggle and battles for cash and influence which have constituted the course of their entire lives to date. This only goes to further prove how very little this administration knew - not just about the state of Iraq's military and Saddam's WMD programs, but about the culture and the society of the country itself. Had anyone possessed a full understanding of the social mixture that would be left exposed once the vacuum of Saddam's removal set in, even the most hawkish neocons in the Cheney administration may have thought twice about going in.
The country is a mess, and while we created that mess (and would therefore be morally responsible for cleaning it up) it appears to be the type of mess that is beyond our ability to scrub up. However much we're spending on the war today, we could probably cut it by 90% by simply pulling out all of the troops and sending trucks in to the government's leaders filled with cash equal to the remaining 10%. Then nature could take its course as it likely will anyway and the rules of their culture will determine who comes out in charge.
If nothing else, the insurgents and foreign terrorists wouldn't have anyone left to shoot at and would probably go home. Is that such a bad result, all things considered?