Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

John Brown Headshot

We're Gonna Train 'Em: The Fallacy of American Total Make-Over in Iraq

Posted: Updated:

As one of three U.S. Foreign Service officers who left his FSO posting at the State Department in order to express his dissent to the planned invasion of Iraq, I don't have much more to add to the current inside-the-beltway commentary on the situation in that tormented part of the world. (Let's face it: Most Americans, worried about their bills -- and I have no reliable polling "data" to prove this -- think Iraq, wherever it may be, can simply go to hell).

I hope I made my point about the madness of wasting our human and economic resources on a "country" we knew little, if nothing about, by asking, as simply as I could, about a decade ago, for an answer to a fundamental question: Why are we invading Iraq?

My message, provided to the public, never got a response from the State Department.

And now I've got another question, which I (doubtless, among others) asked from the very beginning of the Iraq fiasco:

What were/are we "training" Iraqis for?  

Put another way, should not the training, for a country we knew nothing about but were trying to "save," have been the other way around?

No prophet, may I cite from a piece I had the privilege of co-authoring with an analyst, far more knowledgeable than I, nearly 10 years ago:

Training Iraqi troops to replace American ones has long been touted by the administration and the Pentagon as key to success in Iraq, a view reiterated last week by General John Abizaid in his testimony before Congress. On the surface, U.S. training of Iraqi soldiers and police seems like a viable option: It takes Americans out of the line of fire, it "softens" the impact of the U.S. occupation, making American soldiers appear to be instructors rather than aggressors, and, most importantly, it ideally gives Iraqis themselves responsibility for safety and order in their own country

But there are many reasons to be skeptical about the effectiveness of U.S. training. First, report after report indicates the limited success -- and notable failures -- of U.S. training, including a recent article by Michael Scherer in Salon and yesterday's Washington Post report by Thomas E. Ricks.

Second, it is doubtful that American forces, the object of much hostility in Iraq, are sufficiently familiar with local conditions and traditions (not to mention the language) to impart even specialized military knowledge to Iraqi counterparts.

Third, U.S. military training itself is by no means perfect or necessarily applicable, as a recent article in The Weekly Standard by Eric Egland, "Six Steps to Victory: The bottom-up plan to defeat the insurgency" suggests. Egland writes that:

"According to one soldier in Iraq, his unit spent days going over how to clear a foxhole, something many had already trained to do numerous times in their careers. The problem is that the enemy we face in Iraq is not entrenched in foxholes, but moves fluidly and blends into the civilian population."

Of course, the key issue regarding creating a reliable home security force in Iraq is not "training" but -- as neoconservative pundit Charles Krauthammer points out in one of his rare insightful moments -- allegiance.

The chances of members of the various Iraqis under arms giving genuine allegiance to a central Iraqi government -- or to any likely Iraqi government in the foreseeable future -- range from slim to non-existent.

Indeed, ethnic and religious differences and widespread infiltration of the army -- not to mention the police -- by sectarian forces are so pervasive that it is debatable whether one can accurately speak of an "Iraqi Army."