Phil Carter is back from Iraq, and has an op-ed in the New York Times that you can read here. Any supporter of the war needs to read it. Carter says:
The war I knew was infinitely more complex, contradictory and elusive than the one described in the network news broadcasts or envisioned in the new field manual. When I finally left Baquba, the violent capital of Iraq’s Diyala Province, I found myself questioning many aspects of our mission and our accomplishments, both in a personal search for meaning and a quest to gather lessons that might help those soldiers who will follow me.
Carter says that “[t]he vibrancy and vitality of Iraqi society was the norm,” yet violence “was not a figment of reporters’ imaginations” and worsened as time went on. Carter says that we accomplished much by taking out Saddam, but this is now Iraq’s war:
Despite these successes, I still left Iraq feeling uncertain about what we had accomplished. In theory, security should have improved with the development of capable Iraqi Army and police units. That did not happen. This is the central paradox of the Iraq war in fall 2006: we are making progress in developing the Iraqi Army and police, yet the violence gripping the country continues to worsen.
This paradox raises fundamental questions about the wisdom and efficacy of our strategy, which is to “stand up” Iraqi security forces so we can “stand down” American forces. Put simply, this plan is a blueprint for withdrawal, not for victory. Improving the Iraqi Army and police is necessary to prevail in Iraq; it is not sufficient.
Carter explains that it takes very few people to sustain an insurgency; therefore, we must convince “virtually everyone” to choose the current government over the alternatives. He says:
At this point, and with this strategy, it may not be possible to win in Iraq. America gained a spectacular victory in 2003, toppling the brutal Saddam Hussein regime. But there are limits to what military force can accomplish. You cannot plant democracy with a bayonet, nor can you force Iraqis to choose a particular path if their democracy is to mean anything at all.
Carter says he is still wrestling with these issues, and invites comments in this blog post.
I don’t trust James Baker and his commission, which is planning to issue a report recommending a course change. And I don’t trust the media. But, while I believe in civilian control of the military, I also think it makes sense to pay attention to the folks who have had their boots on the ground.
Phil Carter is one of those people. So is a guy I spoke with the other day — a guy who patrolled Baghdad for 2 years. He used to be a Special Forces guy and fought in Mogadishu during the Black Hawk Down debacle. What he told me about Iraq was sobering, and dovetails in disturbing ways with Phil Carter’s piece.