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A nation worthy of its army

By James Atticus Bowden
web posted December 5, 2005

Recently an article by Major General (Ret.) Robert Scales described the close personal bonding between Iraqi Army officers and their U.S. Army counterparts. His description of the relationships and shared dangers suggested something very significant. An Army is being built that will fight. From that army can come a nation. Or not, if one believes James Fallows' piece (The Atlantic, Dec 05) on training the Iraqi Army. The army can be a necessary, but not sufficient, base for a nation. The U.S. Army was absolutely necessary for our American nation.

The Continental Line, which became the U.S. Army, was fighting in the field in June 1775. The Declaration of Independence for these "United States" was a full year later. Our first President, George Washington, wasn't inaugurated until 1789 under the second, and current, Constitution. Conversely, the Iraqis are having elections upon elections early. That's good, but not good enough.

The elections will be important if the army can hold the nation of Iraq together. Until the force of arms issues are settled, the nation is in doubt. The elections are symbolic. The fighting and killing is substantive.

The people of Iraq need security for their persons, families and property more than the vote. Voting is very symbolic. But, votes could be held every week and they will mean nothing if local militias, gangs, clans, or terrorists have the guns and the guts to impose their will on people. Security will be imposed with guns, not ballots. Enter the Iraq Army.

A convoy of Iraqi troops prepares to join a military offensive in the northern Iraq city of Tal Afar in September 2005
A convoy of Iraqi troops prepares to join a military offensive in the northern Iraq city of Tal Afar in September 2005

The Iraqi Army will stand up more battalions capable of independent operations. The U.S. Forces will start to draw down in 2006. The Iraqi Army's task is to wipe out, suppress or reach an acquiescent accommodation for every armed opponent in every town and block. If any armed authority is allowed autonomy, that authority can contest the security, locally or nationally, of the government created by elections. Elections are binding only when people are obedient to the rule of law. Iraqis have never known the Western Civilization concept of the rule of law. They have never known even the modest limits on authority of a Magna Carta (1215).

The best of outcomes is an Iraqi Army creates the security environment of real safety for the Iraqi people. And maintains that security for decades in the future.

A worse case is that the army fails and the country devolves into a Lebanese-like civil war. Or, possibly, the army succeeds initially, but suffers from an internal coup by one person and faction or unreliable moles planted within the ranks from the start.

Perhaps the worst case for spoiled expectations is the Iraqi Army that fails to keep order ten or twenty years from now. Americans will despair of any 'permanent' solution in the Middle East, as if that actually could have been done in Iraq as it is in Turkey. The Turkish Army is the exception to maintain a more secular government in an Islamic society. The Iraqi Army must be extraordinary to reach the Turkish Army standard for internal stability.

The bonds between American and Iraqi brothers in arms are encouraging. Yet, great bonds were forged among American advisors and South Vietnamese soldiers and broken on the anvil of greater forces.

The Iraqi Army faces forces of unrestrained violence. Their families face death if the army fails - and while it pursues this campaign. It is a fight without compromise, civility, or constraint save one vital thing. Every fight has a narrative. That story of what the Iraqi Army is doing, or is willing to do, is more important than body count, IED count, hours of electricity, jobs, etc. The stories, like 'no sanctuary', 'the commander had his cousin's house raided', 'they won't take bribes', etc. will win or lose the Iraqi people, not the elections.

If the Iraqi Army wins, Iraq may or may not end up a 'democracy'. There are too many cards to fall just right for that house to be built in the sand of Islamic culture. The American Army can train, test and encourage the Iraqi Army only. Our Army can not build a nation other than our own. And in our history the U.S. Army only could build the conditions of freedom and independence. The nation had to choose its own destiny. The army acted as the national servant to help achieve that destiny through twists, turns and many key crossroads. The Iraqi Army can do no more. Let's hope and pray Iraqi soldiers do as well.

James Atticus Bowden has specialized in inter-disciplinary long range 'futures' studies for over a decade. He is employed by a Defense Department contractor. He is a retired United States Army Infantry Officer. He is a 1972 graduate of the United States Military Academy and earned graduate degrees from Harvard University and Columbia University. He holds two elected Republican Party offices in Virginia. Contact him at jatticus@aol.com.

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