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Today's Must-Read

Marines pissed off, confused in Iraq. There's lots of good anti-Bush fodder in the story, but I'd like to highlight a few things that speak to a broader point:

Perez added that he now believes the primary reason for the U.S. presence is to help the Iraqis. "But they don't seem like they want to be helped," he said. "I've only been here two months, but every time you go out, people give you bad looks and it just seems like everybody wants to shoot you." . . .

"I'll tell you why we're here," Kelly replied. "We're here to help these people."

Autin agreed and said he supported the mission.

He added later that it was difficult to wage the battle when American commanders were holding them back.

"We feel they care more about Iraqi civilians than they do American soldiers," he said.

We're there to help people who don't want to be helped by our Marines, while the Marines who are supposed to be doing the helping feel their orders place too much emphasis on helping others and not enough on preventing Marines from getting killed. You might say it's a bit of a paradox.

October 10, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

Oh ya, deja vu all over again. Back in my younger days (Viet Nam war; I served US Navy 1969-73), the story was that the politicians had tied the hands of the military so they couldn't go in and do the job--the job then being sometimes described as "having to destroy the village in order to save it."
I hear my younger counterparts expressing the same thing in these comments here. You send men into a hostile country without preparation for winning the peace, put an army into an unfamiliar policing role, and it immediately becomes a war of attrition. Given the local climate of opinion toward the U.S. over there now, and just as in Viet Nam, the U.S. military will at some point begin seeing the situation as having to "destroy the village to save it." It's a sad trap this president has led our nation into, and I pity our next president for the dirty mess he's going to be left with to "solve."

Posted by: Hokuto | Oct 10, 2004 11:51:54 AM

What Hokuto said. I was in the Army, 68-70. Only this time there is no George Aiken with the solution: declare victory and come home.

Posted by: masaccio | Oct 10, 2004 12:40:36 PM

You might say it's a bit of a paradox.

Funny, I'd call it a Catch-22, myself...

Posted by: Steve Brady | Oct 10, 2004 1:35:15 PM

Perhaps some of those with a military background can help me understand this.

Many soldiers in Iraq make statements similar to these quoted, that they cannot understand why the people they are supposed to be helping, give them dirty looks and want to shoot them. In the same breath, they complain that their superiors are not letting them kill more civilians, in the quest to "accomplish the mission".

Do they have a severe case of cognitive dissonance, or why is it not apparant that the military's disregard for the lives of civilians earns them the dirty looks and the animosity? If the roles were reversed, and foreign troops were killing your friends and family "accidentally", wouldn't you be a bit agressive towards them?

Posted by: netwerk01 | Oct 10, 2004 1:50:23 PM

Of course it's a paradox. But people can believe two opposite things, you just have to dig a little to understand their world view.

You see, in their view the US represents GOOD and anyone who opposes the US represents EVIL. (Overly simple, yes, but that's the view.) In their view "collateral damage" is acceptable cost in the fight to defeat EVIL. This is obvious to them: they think everyone should understand this, even the family members of innocents killed or maimed by the US invasion/occupation. Remember, they as soldiers are risking their lives to defeat EVIL. Death is a price they are willing to pay. Why then, they ask, aren't the Iraqis willing to accept a few civilian deaths in the battle to defeat EVIL? It doesn't make sense to them.

Posted by: Observer | Oct 10, 2004 2:02:21 PM

It's not just the deaths. It's breaking in doors and searching homes. It's arresting people on suspicion and holding them who knows where for who knows how long. It's ignorance, indifference, and disdain for their customs, and especially the modesty of their women. It's all the things they hoped would get better faster, like power and water and sewage and hospitals. Some reporters say many Iraqis literally don't believe Americans are so incompetent. They think it's a plot to keep them poor and weak and divided.

Posted by: David Tomlin | Oct 10, 2004 2:13:55 PM

Remember, they as soldiers are risking their lives to defeat EVIL. Death is a price they are willing to pay. Why then, they ask, aren't the Iraqis willing to accept a few civilian deaths in the battle to defeat EVIL? It doesn't make sense to them.

I think you've hit that nail on the head.

Posted by: David Tomlin | Oct 10, 2004 2:16:07 PM

A good chunk of it is probably because they're probably spending all their time doing their jobs and avoiding getting killed. It's not an ideal environment for introspection when you're being bombed and shot at. So you're basically left with what your superiors tell you (we're here to spread democracy, and shoot first and ask questions later). You only get to figure it out when you have some time away from the fire.

There's also the language barrier and cultural barrier. If you don't know the language and don't understand the culture to begin with, it's hard to get out of the feedback loop that you're in with your buddies. True, if the roles were reversed you might see some commonality between what you would do and what the insurgents are doing, but the situations are not quite comperable. When the former rulers are known to, for example, execute members of the soccer team for not winning, you expect a measure of gratitude, and you tend to interpret resistance as "dead-enders". If you don't know the language, and you aren't exposed to a different point of view, it's a hard rut to work yourself out of.

Posted by: ploeg | Oct 10, 2004 2:21:08 PM

While you're at the WaPo site, check out this flimflam from an editorial on the debate:

"Mr. Kerry seemed unable to articulate one clear position. "I do believe Saddam Hussein was a threat," he said, but only minutes later he criticized the president for being "preoccupied with Iraq, where there wasn't a threat.""

In the first statement, Kerry referred to Saddam Hussein as a threat in an overall sense, a judgement that all reasonable and informed people would support, given the invasion of Kuwait, the attempt to assasinate Bush the Acceptable, the Scud attcks on Israel.

In the second statement, he compared the Iranian nuclear weapons and missile programs to Saddam's nuclear and missile programs. And here he also states the consensus of reasonable observers: Iraq had no nuclear program to speak of, while Iran had, and has, a steadily advancing nuclear weapons effort. As of 2002, Iraq's missile program was very limited; Iran had, and in 2004 still has, the Sahab-3 missile.

Send smackdowns to letters@washpost.com. This post is a duplicate of a post I just made at Atrios, but given the potential use of this non-contradiction, as many people as possible should know about it.

DON"T LET THIS CRAP BECOME A MEME!!!

Posted by: Sean Flaherty | Oct 10, 2004 4:20:23 PM

No, you're wrong Matt. All of our troops believe in their mission and would have prevailed by now if not for the leftist media's persistence in spreading lies that undermine their safety. I don't know why you keep saying these things, when you know and everyone knows that they're not true. Liberals just brazenly lie about everything.

Posted by: Al | Oct 10, 2004 5:26:21 PM

Here is a link to an article (courtesy of Juan Cole's site) written by a an Iraqi-American who spent time in Iraq. He gives details that I haven't seen anywhere, especially regarding the status of hospitals and schools. More answers to the 'why do they hate us' refrain can be found here. And they are less about ideas than concrete day to day stuff - most importantly, of course, is the friggin electricity. Can you believe it is still so unreliable? According to a man the author of this article spoke with who had direct knowledge of the elctrical grids, etc., it is not so much the occaisional rpg round hitting equipment that is preventing improvements, it is lack of funds to replace parts. Same refrain we heard a year and half ago. Betchtel and all their subcontractors back out and the Bush gang can't bear to give the funds directly to the Iraqis to buy and install parts. Kind of ironic when you consider that the funds in question are often Iraqi money.

Posted by: Abigail | Oct 10, 2004 5:30:26 PM

Hah! Went on a rant and forgot to give the link.

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2004/711/feature.htm

Posted by: Abigail | Oct 10, 2004 5:31:29 PM

Some of the above commentors don't appear to be giving the young marines enough credit. The quotes I read didn't talk about some grand black and white deal about fighting evil. These kids, for the most part, seem to understand that Iraq was a diversion from chasing al Queda and bin Laden. The young firefighter volunteer grasps that he is not avenging 9/11 as he had hoped.

At the present time, the articulated Bush Administration mission in Iraq is to install a democracy. Yet, it seems as if ensuring that all Iraqi citizens not resent the US is one of the goals required to achieve the mission. Which, of course, is insane. You can't force people to like us, appreciate us, or whatever. We're in this situation where we can't know if we have succeeded or not unless we leave because so much of the violence is related to our presence. And we can't leave because we don't know if we've succeeded because some of the violence is fundamentalist Iraqi against Iraqi.

Posted by: altec | Oct 10, 2004 6:02:54 PM

"Every day you read the articles in the States where it's like, 'Oh, it's getting better and better,' " said Lance Cpl. Jonathan Snyder, 22, of Gettysburg, Pa. "But when you're here, you know it's worse every day."

Isn't this the complete oppossite of what we've been hearing from the right for months?
I'd like to know how representative these young marines are.

Posted by: WillieStyle | Oct 10, 2004 6:04:52 PM

The very last paragraph of the article is the best though.

Posted by: Arash | Oct 10, 2004 7:51:31 PM

It isn't a paradox. It's a crime.

Once Saddam fell, there was no justification for our continued presence. We'd liberated the Iraqis. Time to go.

What is paradoxical is our support of the latest Baathist strong man as Prime Minister. That's paradox like a collaboration between Oscar Wilde and Jack the Ripper.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis | Oct 10, 2004 8:58:29 PM

Hey, that post by Stalker Al was pretty good! He's actually getting pretty close to the truth.

And, of course, the truth is, this is just another left-wing MSM piece distorting what's going on in Iraq in order to elect Kerry. But the fact is that the military OVERWHELMINGLY supports Bush (by 73% - 18%, in the Army Times survey last week). Of course there are 18% who support Kerry, and if you write a story quoting only them, you can make t sound pretty bleak. Big deal.

Posted by: Al | Oct 11, 2004 12:00:36 AM

But the fact is that the military OVERWHELMINGLY supports Bush (by 73% - 18%, in the Army Times survey last week).

Which reflects the fact that people of conservative views are more likely to join the military. In itself it doesn't tell us much about how well things are going in Iraq.

Posted by: David Tomlin | Oct 11, 2004 1:44:39 AM

I agree completely, David Tomlin. But that fact merely proves the mendacity and bias of the WaPo's story. Matthew is right to say that There's lots of good anti-Bush fodder in the story. Fortunately, we know that anti-Bushism is confined to a very narrow segment of the military, thus makes the story typical left-wing propaganda.

Posted by: Al | Oct 11, 2004 10:50:20 AM

Hokuto is right. The various stages of this psychological drama are sickeningly familiar, from Vietnam, and indeed from every war Americans have fought on enemy soil.

Initially, you are taught that the goal is to help some vaguely identified beneficiaries. You are thus supposed to differentiate the beneficiaries from the enemy. You have to distinguish between the widow Murphy and her children on the one side and Black Bart and his evil henchmen on the other.

But in practice, who is the enemy? The enemy is obviously whoever opposes your effort. It's thus whoever "hates you" or "is against you" or "gives you dirty looks."

But wait. Everywhere you go, all you see is lots of enemies, and very few of the non-enemy beneficiaries who are supposed to be there. You'd better kill all these enemies, so the beneficiaries can come out into the light.

But wait again. It now seems as though a whole lot of the widow's children are *also* some of Black Bart's henchmen. Many civilians are both the beneficiaries and the enemy at the same time. Confusing! What to do? Well, if someone is both beneficiary and enemy, both good and evil, you have to kill him to save him from himself. But that doesn't work for long as a psychological crutch, since it is too irrational.

Ultimately, since accomplishing your mission is going to require killing a lot of civilians, some resisting, some not resisting, you need to find something of which they are guity, so that you can morally accept your own actions. And indeed they are guilty of something! They are guilty of the crime of ingratitude, and the crime of being too stupid to receive help when it is forthcoming: "Poor stupid fuck. I had to grease him. Doesn't he know we're here to help him?" And once they have turned violent, they are of course guilty of the crime of trying to kill you. Ultimately, they are all enemies, and all that is left is the goal of "cleansing" the land itself of these filthy people. Time to "exterminate the brutes".

US soldiers, it seems, are always given some humanitarian agenda to carry out. Why not just emphasize the truth?: That they are there to defend US interests. That's because warfare, especially of the modern American kind, involves causing the deaths of large numbers of innocent civilians. Most Americans, including the ones who join our military, are too decent to kill lots of innocent people who quite evidently have not attacked them, just in order to protect some "interest" not related to saving their own lives of themselves and people they love. The pool of ruthless psycopaths is always quite small, so you have to trick a bunch of other, more normal people into doing the job by giving them a more "idealistic" mission.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Oct 11, 2004 11:15:44 AM

After Abu Graib, 'precision' bombing in residential neighorhoods, failure of basic services restoration, and installation of ex-CIA stooge/thug Allawi, our troops bear the brunt, face-to-face, of failed policy.

Posted by: ww | Oct 12, 2004 10:12:31 PM

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