Saturday, June 18, 2005

All you need ... is something worth fighting for. 

Much has been said about the Thomas Freidman column stating that the U.S. needs to double its number of troops in Iraq. The blogoshpere has excellent commentary on it that I can’t add much to.

But I do want to point out one particular section of the column that caught my attention:

Yes, yes, I know we are training Iraqi soldiers by the battalions, but I don't think this is the key. Who is training the insurgent-fascists? Nobody. And yet they are doing daily damage to U.S. and Iraqi forces. Training is overrated, in my book. Where you have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching above its weight. Where you don't have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching a clock.

I don’t care for Freidman much, but he is smart and once in a while he is insightful. And this is one of those times. In fact he has noticed something that apparently none of the other media hacks have. And that is which side in this war beliefs in what it is fighting for and which side doesn’t.

The endless propaganda coming from the U.S. government and other apologists for the war is that the fight is between the good guys who are fighting for freedom, democracy, and a better future and the bad guys who are fighting for ... no-one knows what. They are nihilists we are told. We are also told time and time again that the tide is turning in favor of the U.S. and its Iraqi puppets now that they have a “democratically elected” and “legitimate” government.

What Freidman points to above clearly shows what a lie that is, even though he can’t (or doesn’t want to) draw that conclusion himself. Lets look at what Freidman is really alluding to. The most powerful military in the world, that lacks for nothing in terms of resources and technology, and its Iraqi allies are getting fought to a standstill by a rag tag, un-unified force with little more than machine guns, RPGs, and jerry-rigged bombs. How is that possible? How is it that the Iraqis who are the “good” guys generally just run away at the first sign of a fight while the “bad” guys show extreme courage and tenacity in going toe to toe with the worlds ultimate war machine?

The answers are quite simple, if unpalatable to war apologists like Friedman. For all the claims that the insurgents are nihilists that is completely untrue. It is obvious that they have extremely strong convictions, an unwavering belief in what they are fighting for , and as a result high morale that allows them to “punch above their weight” as Friedman would say. It is only this extremely high moral and motivation that allows them to fight a vastly superior force to a draw despite the overwhelming odds against them. Whatever it is that the insurgents are fighting for – whether it is Islam or Iraqi nationalism and regardless of what any of us think of it – clearly the insurgents think it is something very much worth fighting and dieing for.

It is equally obvious that the forces of the Iraqi government have no core beliefs or convictions, no desire to fight for anything, and are almost certainly in the army simply to obtain a much needed paycheck. If the Iraqi government represented something that most Iraqis believed in and strongly supported then surely they would fight for it. Yet they don’t. It is this fact, more than anything else, that shows the Iraqi government is neither popular nor legitimate. It only exists because a foreign army sustains it. If that army were to leave it would collapse as almost no Iraqis consider it worth defending.

As a rather famous Chinese leader said – what is decisive in wars aren’t machines or technology but human beings. History is filled with endless examples of a weaker group defeating a much stronger military force – from the American Revolution through Vietnam, Algeria, Afghanistan, and Lebanon. It is very often not the side which has the best implements of war that wins but the side that truly, even fanatically, believes in what it is fighting for. And which side that is in this war should be coming into focus now. Even Thomas Friedman is starting to see it.


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