TCS Daily

The "Training Iraqis" Diversion: A Dangerous Idea

By Uriah Kriegel - December 28, 2004 12:00 AM

It appears to have become a consensus among congressmen, opinionados, and the like chatterers that the training of Iraqi soldiers is the key to victory in Iraq. What started as a harmless idea to create the seeds of an exit strategy while giving Iraqis a sense of empowerment has morphed, at least in the public perception, into a central strategic plank of the actual waging of war in Iraq.

This newfound significance of the otherwise nice idea of training Iraqis is both silly and dangerous.

It is silly inasmuch as the trained Iraqis are not going to be a replacement for the American military. If our military has not been able to crush the insurgency as yet -- though doubtless great strides have been taken - it's unlikely a late-fangled Iraqi contingent will not do the trick.

At the moment, we offer a three-week training program for those brave Iraqis willing to join our effort. I am a thirty years old male in good health; but if you started training me on New Year's Day, I will not make the most impressive soldier by January 22nd. Certainly not impressive enough to reestablish law and order in Iraq.

At this stage in the game, what we need to train is not an Iraqi army, but an Iraqi police force. The Iraqis we train could not conceivably take on the hodgepodge of angry militants in Mosul, Fallujah, and half a dozen other soft targets. Not if we cannot.

Nor does the Iraqi nation need the United States to create its army. In fact, such a US-created army is bound to lack legitimacy in Iraqi eyes. The new Iraqi army will have to be created by the Iraqi nation when the Iraqi state regains stability. But bringing the Iraqi state to stability is our own mission. Nobody can do it but the United States Armed Forces.

The danger is that we start thinking of those trained Iraqis as our ticket out of Iraq, as many among us appear to have already done. The trained Iraqis can battle petty thievery and, on a day of glamour, armed robbery. They cannot finish the job the American military is struggling to accomplish. The American military will have to finish that job, whether or not there is an alternative Iraqi force in its wing, and then we can leave Iraq.

So our ticket out of Iraq is simply the completion of the mission we have taken upon us: to replace the murderous despotism of Saddam Hussein with a democratic government (or at least a government that is otherwise answerable to the governed) that rules over a relatively stable Iraq. That is our ticket out and the only honorable way we can bring our troops back home.

As American casualties mount, and the American public starts wondering why we are doing this, there is a temptation to sell to the public a fairytale about an American-trained Iraqi military that will soon take over, replacing American casualties with Iraqi ones.

To the extent that this is sheer deceit, it is wrong. But it is even more dangerous if it is meant in earnest. For it may lead eventually to a public upheaval that culminates in a demand to act on such a plan, with disastrous implications for Iraq and consequently American credibility.

If we get out of Iraq before the job is done because we cannot accept the death toll, we will have confirmed Bin Laden's diagnosis that we don't have what it takes to take on such grand projects as we have initiated in Iraq. And we can forget about reforming and reshaping the Middle East, the sort of reshaping that is the only genuine cure for the malady of terrorism.

It is time for the nation's leaders, starting with the President, to say so clearly and unambiguously. We must accept the possibility that by the time we leave Iraq 5,000 of our best compatriots will have died; that we cannot leave before we ourselves restore law, order, and stability to the reemerging Iraqi state; and that no collection of hurriedly trained Iraqi soldiers, however courageous and devoted, can complete that task in our stead.

Rather than indulge in the fantasy of seeing our troops soon replaced by non-American soldiers, one would do better this holiday season to make a donation to Operation Gratitude, the Wounded Warrior Project, USO, and other organizations devoted to supporting our troops in battle and beyond -- with a clear-headed determination to stay the course.

The author teaches philosophy at the University of Arizona.


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