Iraqi Civil War: Now With Better Drive Shafts

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"Iraqi Civil War: Now With Better Drive Shafts"

David Ignatius reaches a truly bizarre conclusion about Iraq:

This U.S. training mission in Iraq was the heart of the Baker-Hamilton report’s recommendation last December. And it still seems to me the right way forward. American troops cannot stop a civil war in Iraq, but they can teach soldiers how to fix drive shafts, maintain engines and order spare parts. That’s a basic mission that Congress should reaffirm, even as it questions the surge of more U.S. troops into Baghdad. Time is the strategic resource now; Congress and the administration need to agree on ways to add some minutes to the clock.

This is a kind of awesomely topsy-turvey inversion of the dictum that war is politics by other means. Here, somehow, the political objectives can be screwed up and military objectives can be non-existent and somehow that can all be made allright if only we really, really nail down the logistics. But whether or not it’s a good thing for any given group of soldiers to know how “to fix drive shafts, maintain engines and order spare parts” (or anything else) is entirely dependent on the political issues. The Iraqi Army circa 1990 was, despite its problems, much more functional than the 2006-vintage Iraqi Army and, indeed, was an unusually high-functioning military organization for the Arab world. But guess what? We turned out to be fighting against it and even later it was an instrument of Saddam Hussein’s will, used to crush Kurds and Shi’a insurgents.

Better training of Iraqi troops, in short, might be a good idea if it were a means of resolving Iraq’s political problems. But Ignatius doesn’t think it is. He thinks we “cannot stop a civil war in Iraq.” But so why do we want these highly trained Iraqi soldiers running around? What’s that supposed to accomplish?

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