Monday, July 18, 2005

Phantom Army

I respect Austin Bay a great deal and his point about our ability to stay the course because of our home front politics is on the mark. We are winning in Iraq and only the shaky support at home raises the question of whether we will win this war. I think we will retain the will to win long enough to win but it should not have been allowed to reach this point where we question our will to win. In a long and relatively wide-ranging article, Bay makes many very good points. You should read it all, as the saying goes.

But I am not addressing this broad point. What I question is Bay's repeating of the charge that we made a mistake "disbanding" the Iraqi army after the major combat operations were over:

Yes, Iraqis and Americans are still paying for the biggest mistake we made in this war: disbanding the Iraqi Army.

Hogwash. Sometimes I think this criticism is the right's politically acceptable mistake they are allowed to point out in order to maintain street cred.

Let me say this again. There was no Iraqi army to disband in the summer of 2003. It was gone. Disbanding it was a legalistic action only. A mere formality. Indeed, prior to the invasion we tried to get Iraqi army units to defect. That was the point of our email contacts prior to the war. It didn't work. The Iraqi army just went home during the war. Or we destroyed units that got in our way.

And what if we did manage to keep it? It was--how shall I put this delicately--pure crap. That's why a single American heavy division--3rd ID--spearheaded the drive to Baghdad on the left flank in record time. The senior officers were Baathists and the conscripts were worthless, barely able to fire their Kalashnikovs. So retaining the regulars even if they hadn't disbanded would have kept a force only able to police in a very benign environment. Or were we to retain the militarily more capable Republican Guards?

And remember that in April 2004, the new Iraqi units we had set up folded and dissolved when attacked in strength by the Baathist insurgents. If we had kept the army intact, I could easily see the units defecting to the other side under officers of the old regime. That would have been infinitely worse.

We did make some mistakes in assuming no insurgency and planning for a mini-army of Iraqis able to oppose an Iranian invasion rather than building Iraqi light infantry units to fight the Baathists and terrorists. We are doing that now, but keeping the old regime army intact would not have solved the problems we faced over the last year.

That is, if we could even have retained a non-existent army. That basic fact really makes the whole discussion moot. Why it survives to be trotted out on occasion is beyond me.