Monday, October 29, 2007

Few Options, None Good

An old friend asked my assessment of morale among the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and my thoughts on the war, based on four embeds. I replied:

Depends on who you're talking with, and at what point in their deployment. At first, in most first deployments, there's a strong sense of purpose and mission; experience tends to erode that. In the words of one sergeant: "When you first get over here, you want to get it on; after a few contacts, you just want to do the job and go home."
Now that many of the troops are in their second or third deployment, there's a sense of futility: They clear the same ground, over and over, hand it to the Iraqis, and watch the insurgents return.
In some cases, the Iraqi security forces are the insurgency, or are as bad as the insurgency, pursuing vicious sectarian aims that amount to murder or genocide or ethnic cleansing.
Imagine a country that's totally different from the cultural experience of Americans, where people know whose grandfather betrayed whom - but won't tell outsiders, and where there's no real way for troops to get inside the heads of everyone around them.
Plus, the insurgents regularly kill the interpreters - effectively blinding the military, and adding a layer of impenetrability that makes the U.S. role extremely difficult.
Additionally, by my fourth go-round I felt like I was in "Groundhog Day" and living the same experience over and over. New commanders were saying the same things the old commanders had said about rebuilding infrastructure and restoring Iraqi society and rebuilding the Iraqi security forces, but each time the situation had grown worse.
This was particularly true in Baghdad.
I don't see a good end there - we're faced with few options, and none of them are great.

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