The Washington Post has a must-read critique of the Iraq War written by veterans of the mission, similar to one written for the New York Times earlier this year. The twelve former captains of the Army write about their personal experiences and frustrations with force levels and the lack of progress. They make some good points, but the best point comes from the Post itself at the end of the piece:
This column was written by 12 former Army captains: Jason Blindauer served in Babil and Baghdad in 2003 and 2005. Elizabeth Bostwick served in Salah Ad Din and An Najaf in 2004. Jeffrey Bouldin served in Al Anbar, Baghdad and Ninevah in 2006. Jason Bugajski served in Diyala in 2004. Anton Kemps served in Babil and Baghdad in 2003 and 2005. Kristy (Luken) McCormick served in Ninevah in 2003. Luis Carlos Montalván served in Anbar, Baghdad and Nineveh in 2003 and 2005. William Murphy served in Babil and Baghdad in 2003 and 2005. Josh Rizzo served in Baghdad in 2006. William "Jamie" Ruehl served in Nineveh in 2004. Gregg Tharp served in Babil and Baghdad in 2003 and 2005. Gary Williams served in Baghdad in 2003.
Of the twelve captains that wrote this article, not one of them has served in Iraq since General David Petraeus took over command of the mission. Not one of them served with the higher force levels that have been deployed to Iraq. None of them served during the Anbar Awakening. Most of them last served in 2005, two years ago.
That doesn't mean that their input has no value, of course, but it does make them less than informed of what has happened in Iraq since the surge started. Fortunately, we have data on the effects of the surge that we can use instead. Violence has sharply decreased since the full deployment of the surge even with the aggressive tactics used to confront the terrorists. Iraqis have not only turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Shi'ites have begun turning against the thugs of the Mahdi Army. Political progress has not come as quickly as we had hoped, but in the past two months Maliki has reached out to Sunnis and isolated Moqtada al-Sadr, two important prerequisites for reform.
The 12 make a good point about Iraqi infrastructure:
Many roads, bridges, schools and hospitals are in deplorable condition. Fewer people have access to drinking water or sewage systems than before the war. And Baghdad is averaging less than eight hours of electricity a day.
Iraq's institutional infrastructure, too, is sorely wanting. Even if the Iraqis wanted to work together and accept the national identity foisted upon them in 1920s, the ministries do not have enough trained administrators or technicians to coordinate themselves. At the local level, most communities are still controlled by the same autocratic sheiks that ruled under Saddam. There is no reliable postal system. No effective banking system. No registration system to monitor the population and its needs.
Unfortunately, this is one of those catch-22 situations that brings paralysis. One can't have rebuilding without establishing security, and security seems very difficult to establish when no one has drinking water, electricity, and sewage control. The US tried rebuilding immediately after the invasion, and had success with it outside of Sunni-controlled areas and Baghdad. However, they could not build infrastructure where it was most needed because of the failing security situation. The surge has given the US a window of opportunity to start addressing infrastructure needs, and they have already begun addressing the municipal infrastructure needs outlined in the essay.
Again, these twelve honestly reported what they saw, not what's been happening since they left. They haven't seen the efforts made in the wake of the defeat of AQI in western Iraq.
The essay ends with a call for a draft or a complete retreat from Iraq. That's simply nonsense. The US, as Jules Crittenden notes, has other means to increase the armed forces. We can increase recruitment by increasing the compensation for enlistments and re-enlistments. We can also start recruiting in more places -- like universities and colleges that now refuse such recruitment efforts. A draft army would take months to be effective, and would be less so than the current, professional volunteer forces that have performed so magnificently.
The twelve captains have written an indictment of the effort in Iraq, but the indictment only runs to 2006. It's incisive and intriguing, but not necessarily determinative to what is happening today.