Thursday, March 26, 2009

Odds and Ends on Iraq

I've come across two interesting news stories on Iraq that I think highlight some things, just as I posted the other highlight from ABC News on my blog.

According to a recent poll the majority of Americans are now at least somewhat optimistic about the effort to increase security and stability in Iraq (64%). The poll highlights the extreme fickleness of the public when it comes to fighting wars (particularly ones that last a long time, and the Iraq War is a long war).

The home-front has long been viewed from a military point of view as an important element of a nation's war-fighting capability. During World War II area bombing of enemy cities was used by both sides because of its perceived ability to weaken not only a country's industries (essential to carrying on the war), but also their national resolve. If anything, that thinking back-fired as it further united the civilian populations behind the government-just as 9/11 did not weaken American resolve, if anything it strengthened it.

The real method to weaken national resolve is through war weariness. In the Civil War the Union was ready to throw in the towel even with Atlanta and Richmond-St. Petersburg under siege, because the population in the Union was exhausted and wanted a negotiated settlement. It was only after the capture of Atlanta that Union opinion cemented around President Lincoln and the rest is history. The Japanese were counting on war weariness to lead to a negotiated settlement during a costly US amphibious invasion of the Home Islands; the Atomic Bombs in the end significantly changed that equation.

Now we find ourselves in Iraq and much the same situation. The public is tired of the war and as a result support for the mission has fallen. Regardless of the preferences for the invasion or the mission afterwards, it is a statement of fact that as the war dragged on, support fell. The terrorists and insurgents recognize they cannot defeat the United States militarily; however, they can drag the war on, weakening the national will to fight (this being an abstract statement rather than a statement on the relative rightness or wrongness of the war). The primary target of the insurgents is not the US military on the ground (they are the means), but the impact is designed to be felt in the kitchen and living rooms of Americans.

War weariness is the insurgent's greatest strength. The Vietnamese (the Communists at least) refer to their war against the French and Americans as the 10,000 Day War. They had the resolve to stick with a war for 10,000 days, a period of time that neither the French (not surprisingly there) nor the Americans could match. While it certainly speaks to a nation's strength of resolve, it isn't entirely surprising; it is a historical fact of life for many nations, particularly democracies and republics.

The second interesting article is from the "I Can't Believe It's True" category. Apparently foreign tourists from Western countries are now visiting Iraq. While the long-term goal of a safe and stable Iraq is one that the West can work with, I don't foresee tourism from the west as a major industry. Yet, this article highlights western tourists visiting Iraq. The travel was organized by a British Adventure Travel Agency (any tourist visiting Iraq today will have a lot of Adventure I imagine).

I'll admit my regret that in my two tours in Iraq so far (and this one isn't over yet), I haven't seen some of the great archaeological sites of this country. I was deployed in Mosul for six months and since I wasn't allowed to leave the wire (i.e., go off base), I never saw the walls of old Nineveh. I was only about 30 miles from the site of Alexander the Great's victory of Darius III at Gaugamela-Arbela and I too didn't see that. I was then in Baghdad, but never saw Old Babylon where the exiles wept tears for Old Jerusalem. And of course, this is the Cradle of Civilization: the iconic monument to those first cities of Ancient Sumer was the Ziggurat. While some of my friends here have visited them, I have not climbed the great Ziggurats that still dot parts of this country. When you think about it, historically Iraq is an archaeological destination. Maybe in 10 years, Adventure won't have to be in the name of the travel company that organizes the trips.

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