Iraq, the mission, and the media
Tuesday's big news story from Iraq is about the interview provided by Major General Richard Zelmer, commander of US forces in western Iraq.
I find it fascinating on several levels.
1) Given the General's statement that his primary mission is to train Iraqi soldiers, the clear corrolary is that our main goal in the very violent and primarily Sunni Anbar province is not to defeat the insurgency. As is often said, Marines are essentially trained to kill people and break things. Any time we are using them for a primary mission that does not do those things, I have to question it. I am not saying that training Iraqis is not an important task, but if our Marines are going to risk their lives simply by being in Anbar, they should make sure the bad guys are risking their lives too. By not doing that, Anbar becomes even more of a terrorist haven than it already is.
2) From the beginning, the biggest mistake in this war was the obvious Vietnam-like influence of politics on military decisions. General Shinseki told Congress that we would need at least double and maybe triple the number of troops which Donald Rumsfeld had been talking about, so he was quietly fired. Even in a mission to train Iraqis without focusing on killing insurgents, it seems clear from General Zelmer's interview that we need more troops. If we want to kill the terrorists, we need a lot more. It has been clear since shortly after the initial military offensive that we were in a no-man's-land of troop count: enough to take substantial pain and injury but not enough to accomplish our missions. If there is any reason to support Rumsfeld's firing, this is it.
3) It is interesting to see the biases (sometimes slight, sometimes not so slight) in the media which are visible in things as simple as the headlines given to a story. Compare these headlines from major news organizations about the Zelmer interview and the implications of each:
"General: Troops Sufficient, for Training" (AP, via Forbes...can you believe this one is AP?)
"US Marines deny losing Iraq's biggest province" (Reuters)
"Commander Downplays Gloomy Report on Anbar Province" (Fox News)
"Top Marine officer warns of Iraq crisis" (Los Angeles Daily News)
In a sense, they're all right, but what one takes away from reading just the headline makes a big difference in perceptions among the public...many of whom just see the headlines if they read any news at all.
At the end of the day, Zelmer's statements are disheartening on many levels, particularly for those of us who supported the war in Iraq only to see it near failure in large part because of a lack of political will to do what was necessary to win...a lesson which our leaders should have learned from Vietnam and been able to avoid repeating. While the mainstream media is almost always against war (particularly any war where we actually have a strategic interest), Rumsfeld and friends are giving them intellectual ammunition while denying Iraq the real firepower it needs. As I've said before, the US should either get out of Iraq (except for protecting the oil fields) or increase our troop levels. The current situation is a recipe for continuing disaster.
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