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How to win friends and influence people, in Iraq
November 17, 2007 5:57 PM   Subscribe

The American military finds new allies, but at what cost? One afternoon, sitting with Captain Brooks in Thrasher’s rooftop gym, I asked if he felt that what he was doing in Iraq was appreciated by the people back home. “Oh, yeah,” he said. Turning to one of his N.C.O.s, who was seated nearby, smoking a cigar, he asked, “What do you think, Sergeant Cochran?” Lowering his voice, Cochran replied, “When that bullet goes by my head, all the politics goes right out the window. My only thought is to get my men out of there alive.” “Thanks for quoting ‘Black Hawk Down,’ Sergeant Cochran,” Brooks drawled. Turning back to me, he said, “When I went home the last time, we went skiing in Colorado. Everywhere we went, people thanked me. One man said, ‘I don’t support the war but I support the soldiers.’ I can accept that. We have a system that allows freedom of speech. Hell, I put on the uniform to defend that.”
posted by caddis (34 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
So let me get this straight; you can make more progress by *talking* to people than *shooting* at them?
posted by Slothrup at 6:56 PM on November 17, 2007


One hour, no comments. Well, this is a tough one isn't it?

All us lefties have been committed to the position that Iraq was an irreconcilable mess, the only solution - get out now, do not delay, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Now, there really is progress. It is through no fault of the US military, with the exception that they agreed to partner with people who used to shoot at them, which is actually pretty big. Anyway, we have no forum to discuss this politically as positions have become so balkanized that discussion seems all but impossible, but even here...? That surprises me.
posted by caddis at 6:57 PM on November 17, 2007


No disrespect intended, but I'm still waiting for someone to explain, exactly, how member of the military currently serving in Iraq are defending our constitutional right to free speech? WWII, versus the Nazis, sure. But I wasn't aware that Saddam & Co. were trying to take that right from us.
posted by 4midori at 7:04 PM on November 17, 2007 [6 favorites]


Also at the New Yorker, George Packer has posted updates to his article "Betrayed", which was discussed here.
posted by homunculus at 7:19 PM on November 17, 2007


great read. thanks.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 7:27 PM on November 17, 2007


All us lefties have been committed to the position that Iraq was an irreconcilable mess, the only solution - get out now, do not delay, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Er... personally, I'm in the "you broke it, you fix it" camp. Trashing a country then heading home for a victory parade seems a bit... gauche.
posted by Leon at 7:33 PM on November 17, 2007


Insanely, they may have hit on something that works (or perhaps finally absorbed some lessons from Zamboanga and elsewhere). The WH still seems to be using the "we're fighting Al Qaeda" line, but the troops in country are dropping any pretense of ideology (and perhaps any pretense of working toward purple-fingered democracy, in the process).

One of the things that killed the British (literally) was being blissfully unaware of and unconcerned with the tribal structures, intrigues, and vendettas. It doesn't appear that the Americans are any more aware of that, but they may be surfing the wave instead of getting overwhelmed by it.
posted by dhartung at 7:43 PM on November 17, 2007


4midori - I beleive the answer is "something something 9/11".
posted by Artw at 8:41 PM on November 17, 2007


Given Sadr’s alleged close links to Iranian hard-liners, and the growing hostility between Iran and the United States, his future moves are virtually impossible to predict.

virtually impossible? As in the author thinks it just seems like a difficult thing to do?

The whole Iraq war has been built on bad predictions. It's actually a lot more difficult to predict what people will do then a lot of people seem to think!
posted by delmoi at 8:49 PM on November 17, 2007


Eh, I don't know. I predicted it would be a disaster, and I didn't even have to think that hard about it.
posted by cytherea at 8:53 PM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


Er... personally, I'm in the "you broke it, you fix it" camp. Trashing a country then heading home for a victory parade seems a bit... gauche.

Gauche? Are you fucking kidding? Do you think the Iraqis want us there? Our strategy is more "you break it, you stay in the store until it's fixed, and smashing more and more stuff, cutting your fingers on the broken ceramic shards as you desperately try to fit them back together. It's more you crawl on your hands and knees, knocking over stands and pots and break over your head and you stay. It's more your knees are cut and you stay and break more pots untill the floor is covered in bloody fragments."

If someone doesn't want you to do something then doing it will never be a favor. The Iraqi's are not asking us to say, they are telling us to leave. Majorities of Sunnis and Shia's both want us to leave. Some more vehemently then others, but they want us gone.

(Kurdistan is a little different, most Kurds want us to stay, and there is little violence there. I wouldn't have a problem with our troops staying there in a support role for the Kurdish democracy)

Look, people are dying over there, this is litterally a life or death issue for thousands of american families, and millions of Iraqi families, and not you. Gauche is the lease of our worries.
posted by delmoi at 9:02 PM on November 17, 2007


Gauche? Are you fucking kidding?

Um. Yes?

(Too deadpan? I'll add a smiley next time.)
posted by Leon at 9:41 PM on November 17, 2007


(Too deadpan? I'll add a smiley next time.)

Hah. Well it was a good joke then.
posted by delmoi at 10:04 PM on November 17, 2007


Now, there really is progress.

I'm not seeing any. The reduction in violence can be attributed to the fact that ethnic cleansing was successful in many neighborhoods in Baghdad, obviously not a good thing and because of the surge of American troops which is unsustainable. The insurgents have shown that they pay attention to what the American say they are going to do and tend to lie low when the pressure is on.

Unless The U.S. brings back the draft, American troops levels in Iraq will have to be reduced because there are simply not enough men. With not real political progress going on who knows what will happen.

This section from the article was most telling:

With the surge, the Americans became a permanent presence in the neighborhood. After they moved in, the U.S. Army erected twenty miles of concrete walls in Ghazaliya, both to separate Shiite and Sunni residents from each other and to establish secure perimeters. Brooks said that his unit’s success had been made possible by his colleagues at J.S.S. Casino, who kept Shiite militiamen from Shulla out of the neighborhood.

Turning Iraq into Palestine or Lebanon isn't progress in my book.
posted by afu at 11:12 PM on November 17, 2007


Turning Iraq into Palestine or Lebanon isn't progress in my book.

Actually, Palestine and Lebanon are both much nicer places than Iraq right now. What I meant was that as far as "winning" in Iraq is concerned, if Iraq ends up looking like Palestine or Lebanon, I wouldn't consider that a successful outcome, though it probably is one of the most likely ones.
posted by afu at 11:19 PM on November 17, 2007




All us lefties have been committed to the position that Iraq was an irreconcilable mess, the only solution - get out now, do not delay, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Now, there really is progress.

I'm not sure we read the same article. The Mahdi Army is laying low and American forces, as so vividly shown in the article, can be sometimes be nothing but pawns in revenge killings. Things still hang by thinnest of threads and there isn't exactly a hopeful future, as witnessed by the end of the quote that started this post:
"Until Iraqis work out the Sunni-Shia sectarian issues, they’re going to have a very tough time making meaningful or lasting progress."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:14 AM on November 18, 2007


President Bush's National Strategy for Victory in Iraq defines victory as:
  • In the short term:
    • An Iraq that is making steady progress in fighting terrorists and neutralizing the insurgency, meeting political milestones; building democratic institutions; standing up robust security forces to gather intelligence, destroy terrorist networks, and maintain security; and tackling key economic reforms to lay the foundation for a sound economy.
  • In the medium term:
    • An Iraq that is in the lead defeating terrorists and insurgents and providing its own security, with a constitutional, elected government in place, providing an inspiring example to reformers in the region, and well on its way to achieving its economic potential.
  • In the longer term:
    • An Iraq that has defeated the terrorists and neutralized the insurgency.
    • An Iraq that is peaceful, united, stable, democratic, and secure, where Iraqis have the institutions and resources they need to govern themselves justly and provide security for their country.
    • An Iraq that is a partner in the global war on terror and the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, integrated into the international community, an engine for regional economic growth, and proving the fruits of democratic governance to the region.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:07 AM on November 18, 2007 [1 favorite]




That was a great article.

I've never been one of the "TROOPS HOME NOW" folks, and feel frustrated with their assumed preeminence in the war debate. I'm curious about how things will change once Bush is out—my main problem with the war was that it was prosecuted in absolutely the worst and most incompetent way imaginable, and I hope that the wave of leftist pull-out sentiment (which I don't think is unjustified, just not necessarily the right course) doesn't make it impossible to have a real debate on how to proceed in Iraq.
posted by klangklangston at 11:54 AM on November 18, 2007


Interesting piece.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:52 PM on November 19, 2007


President Bush's National Strategy for Victory in Iraq defines victory as:

...while saving definitions of things like "terrorists", "insurgency" and "terrorist networks" until after the latest wedding bombing or friendly-fire balls-up.
posted by pompomtom at 8:16 PM on November 19, 2007


Iraqis return home 'in thousands'
posted by homunculus at 4:07 PM on November 21, 2007




Wishful Thinking and Iraq
posted by homunculus at 10:45 AM on November 26, 2007




















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