If ever proof was needed that the president's
plan in Iraq is actually a ruse, a guise for
else, it came yesterday.
Five American soldiers were killed when a group of
Iraqis dressed in American army uniforms penetrated
secure government compound in the Baghdad suburb of
Karbala. The insurgents drove an armored GMC SUV -
standard US government issue - through multiple
checkpoints to enter the compound, one of the most
protected areas in Iraq.
Once inside, they drove directly to a building
security officials planning counter-insurgency
activity. They opened fire on a meeting in
targeting only Americans. After 20 minutes of
exchanged gunfire, the attackers got back in their
and drove away. Iraqi officials noted that the
was striking for the sophistication of its planning
Amid all the carnage and chaos that is Iraq, why is
this attack noteworthy? And what does it say about
the plausibility of the president's "surge"
The attack is noteworthy because it mirrors some of
the reasons for failure of the American war in
Vietnam. Simply put, the US could never get the
of South Vietnam (ARVN) to carry the burden in
fighting the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese
That is why in 1965 Lyndon Johnson decided that if
war was to be won, he would have to pour in hundreds
of thousands of US troops to do the fighting
The reasons for ARVN's refusal to fight were
straightforward. They perfectly presage the
with the Iraqi army today.
First, many of the soldiers in the South Vietnamese
Army were themselves either indifferent or even
hostile to the U.S. presence in Vietnam. They saw
damage the war inflicted on their country and wanted
the U.S. to leave. They took every opportunity -
sometimes passive, sometimes active - to sabotage
their government's cooperation with the Americans.
Second, because promotion in the army was based not
experience or leadership but rather on loyalty,
corruption, or family connections, the quality of
officer corps was exceptionally poor. Soldiers
refused to put their lives at risk under the
of inexperienced, cowardly, or corrupt officers.
routinely failed to show up for important missions
showed no initiative in the field, holding back
fire to avoid injury or death.
Finally and most importantly, the whole of the army
(and the civilian bureaucracy as well) had been
infiltrated by the Viet Cong. As a consequence,
maneuvers were routinely disclosed to the enemy
they ever began. This made it a near certainty that aggressive
operations would be ambushed, that fighting
would be fierce, and that losses would be high.
The U.S. military understood this infiltration well.
Thus, whenever possible, to preserve its own element
of surprise and protect its own forces, the U.S kept
ARVN out of the loop of planning for field
All of these conditions apply literally unchanged in
Iraq. When over 80% of the population want the
Americans to leave, when more than 60% believe it is acceptable to
target Americans, it is quite literally
impossible to constitute an army that does not
much of the same poisoned sentiment.
And when jobs are obtained by tribal or sectarian connections, and
when the job is more a matter of a paycheck than of putting your life
on the line, it is
inevitable that discipline and ardor will be weak.
And the greatest vulnerability, of course, is
infiltration. When everything the U.S. does - from
getting food on the mess tables to the logistics of ammunition, fuel,
and weapons transport - depends on the goodwill and assistance of
Iraqis, the mission is
already lost. For it only takes one infiltrator to
doom a patrol, to sabotage a firefight, to pass
killers through checkpoints as friends.
All of this is very well known to commanding
in Iraq, all of whom have studied the reasons for
failure in Vietnam. This is why the U.S. army
to provide any more weapons to the Iraqi army: they
know they will just end up in the hands of hostile insurgents, the way
the uniforms and SUV did in the firefight yesterday. The same thing
happened in Vietnam. A 1967 study in the field revealed that
of weapons captured from Viet Cong soldiers were of
But if the U.S. cannot trust those it is training to
take over the fighting, if it will not provide them
the arms to take over the fighting, what are the
they will be able to, in fact, take over the
Of course, they are zero. For that is not really
The "surge" plan has always been a fraud. If, as
president Bush has claimed, loss in Iraq would be "catastrophic for
the U.S." does 21,000 troops begin to rise to the level of the
purported threat? Before
the war began, General Eric Shinseki told Donald
Rumsfeld it would take 500,000 to 600,000 troops to
secure the country. There are now 140,000 U.S.
in Iraq and the bedlam vastly exceeds what it was
going in. Can raising the troop level to 161,000
possibly make any difference? It is patently a
Whatever the "surge" is really for - whether it's to
support an attack on Iran or just a cynical ploy to
not "lose" the war on Bush's watch - it is clearly
about winning. We need to end the charade and
an immediate reversal before the escalation becomes
Robert Freeman writes about economics, history, and education. Email
to: email@example.com. His earlier piece, "Is Iraq Another
Vietnam? It is Already Lost" also appeared on CommonDreams.org.