December 1, 2005
the Iraqi Army Won't Be Easy
If, as Thomas P. ``Tip" O'Neill once said, all politics is
local, I direct your attention from President Bush's speech on Iraq
Wednesday to the District of Columbia and its police department.
Back in 1989 and 1990, the city of Washington was under orders from
Congress to quickly hire 1,800 police officers or lose a substantial
amount of federal aid. The city did what it was told -- and crime
on the police force went way up.
years, the police academy classes of 1989 and 1990 comprised about
one-third of the police force. They also accounted for a disproportionate
share of rotten, corrupt and downright criminal cops. Astoundingly,
Washington had 185 police officers of such dubious character or
outright criminality that prosecutors would not put them on the
stand as witnesses. In Washington, for a time, the term ``crooked
cop" amounted to a redundancy.
lamentable experience may about to be duplicated in Iraq. The
results might be better, but nothing about human nature suggests
any cause for optimism. Just as Washington, D.C., hurried to sign
up new cops -- cutting all sorts of corners (psychological testing,
extensive background checks, etc.) -- so is the U.S. creating
an Iraqi security force, and doing so on the double. These are
the troops that constitute the entire exit strategy for America
in Iraq. As they get better and bigger, U.S. troop levels can
be drawn down. Such, as Bush made plain in his speech at Annapolis,
is the plan.
the president tell it, the plan is working splendidly. Should
you be so inclined, you can measure progress by logging on to
a government Web site (www.mnstci.iraq.centcom.mil)
and see for yourself. Everything is going swimmingly. ``Mechanized
Division puts T-72s, BMPs on parade,'' is one headline. It tells
the tale of one November day when the tanks and armored personnel
carriers were turned over to the 9th Iraqi Army Division, ``with
all the pomp and circumstance befitting the largest NATO-driven
equipment donation to date.''
story tells of basic training where, for some reason, ``the soldiers
here don't spend their time shining boots, singing cadences or
doing countless push-ups.'' Wonderful! But they do, however, shout
``Long live Iraq!'' in what is described as ``unison.'' No doubt.
site is a cheerful place of nothing but good news. But there was
less happy news recently about elements of the Iraqi army carrying
out abductions, torture and executions. This report, by The
New York Times and others, is a bit tough to read, describing
how bodies have been found with acid burns on the skin and holes
made by electric drills. It is not clear if these atrocities,
purportedly by Shiites against Sunnis, were carried out by regular
army units or whether Shiite militias have infiltrated the army.
In fact, very little is clear.
I am not
-- not yet, anyway -- a pulloutnick. In the apt Pottery Barn analogy,
we broke Iraq and we own it. The National Security Council's ``National
Strategy for Victory in Iraq'' -- a numbingly repetitive document
-- nevertheless makes a convincing case that chaos, a civil war,
a bloodbath and a precipitous loss of American prestige and influence
would follow an abrupt U.S. withdrawal. A repeat of the shameful
exit from Vietnam has to be avoided -- if only because Iraq is
in the center of the Middle East, not a small country on the periphery
hard thinking that was not done before the war -- or even during
it -- has to be done now. If, really, reliance on the Iraqi army
is just a fig leaf to cover what ultimately will be a sorry U.S.
withdrawal anyway, then it would be best to leave now rather than
later. Maybe the administration is justified in reporting some
progress in the war against the insurgents -- some journalists
are finding confirmation -- but this is an administration famous
for its happy talk and mindless optimism. It has shown itself
capable of becoming intoxicated on its own ideology and it has,
as a result, deservedly earned our deepest skepticism.
not Washington, D.C., I know. (It's probably better managed.)
But if the nation's capital did not know who was joining its police
force, if it was hiring criminals and psychopaths, giving them
a badge and gun, then what, really, can Americans know about the
Iraqi army? The barriers of language and culture, of religion
and custom, necessarily leave us in the dark. We will, I'm sure,
somehow reconstitute the Iraqi army. That will be good for us.
But whether it will be good for Iraq is something any Washingtonian
with a memory has reason to doubt.
2005, Washington Post Writers Group