Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Our Complex Problem 2 - Foreign Troops

“Bringing in more and more varied foreign troops couldn’t hurt. I mean, Iraq needs as many troops as possible to stabilize the situation. And we need more foreign troops to take the heat off of us.” Let’s work with this.

Would more troops make Iraq safer or would they provide the Islamists with more targets? In places where we are confronting a large organized force (Najaf or Fallujah) it seems like the more troops the better. But what about the suicide bomber I wrote about earlier. How do more troops stop him, short of a real police state? More check points? Besides pissing off your average Iraqis and slowing everything down, how does this make Iraq safer? Soldiers at checkpoints do two things: they stop and inspect vehicles and they shoot vehicles that down stop. More checkpoints means more places for a bomber to blow himself up and kill foreign soldiers. And more checkpoints means more opportunities for nervous soldiers to shoot civilians who don’t stop, don’t stop fast enough, behave erratically. Also remember that US troops are the best trained in the world. Would Russian troops do any better? Or Vietnamese? Care to wager on that?

What if we got some Arabic speaking troops into Iraq? Couldn’t they help us get better information from the local people? Arab troops in Iraq? What are you smoking?

It’s certainly possible that more foreign troops in Iraq, courtesy of a fancy UN Security Council resolution, could enhance security. But there’s three issues with this no one talks about:

1] Realistically, the vast majority of any UN sanctioned mission would still be American, The Brits and Italians are already there. Everyone else would provide a token handful of troops.

2] The more governments that are ‘on the ground’ the harder it is to arrange any kind of concerted effort. Wesley Clark writes about this from when he was leading the Kosovo bombing, Each target had to be approved by each member of the coalition. Each target. And that was a bombing campaign. There were no troops on the ground. How do you think such a convoluted command structure would respond to the mutilations in Fallujah? Or the al-Sadr taking over Najaf?

3] Some foreign troops may cause more trouble than they are worth. Much more trouble. First, Iraqis would refuse any troops from Iraq’s traditional enemies, Turkey and Iran. Second, Iraqis, as Muslims, may resist troops seen as anti-Islamic, such as Russia (because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the ongoing Russian war on Chechnya).

Third, some troops may reduce violence in Iraq by ‘exporting’ the violence elsewhere. Hypothetical example: troops from Nigeria or India manning a checkpoint I mentioned earlier, shoot and kill a car filled with Iraqi women who did not stop at the checkpoint (the US shot some women in the last days of the war in this same scenario). News of the accidental shooting spreads around the globe. Both Nigeria and India have restless Muslim minorities. Riots break out in those nations, killing several people. Things can easily spiral out of control. Is it worth destabilizing other nations just to get 1000 soldiers in Iraq and another name in the coalition? (If you think I’m exaggerating remember that there was a riot in Nigeria over a newspaper article about a beauty pageant. You don’t think there would be a riot over Muslim women killed by Nigerian troops. Do a Google search on Muslim Riot India and see what you get. Point being that there are a lot of people looking for an excuse to incite religious riots. And these riots have a way of sparking reprisals. ) In short, foreign troops, just like American troops, will make mistakes and occasionally civilians will get hurt. Imagine Abu Ghraib if the perpetrators were French. How do you think the Muslims in France would react?

Fourth, there’s the possibility of troop on troop violence. Not friendly fire but purposeful killing of one coalition member by another. Think I’m joking? It happened in Kosovo recently. On April 18 a Jordanian peacekeeper killed 3 Americans and wounded 10 others. "He just opened fire on them," Napolitano said in a telephone interview. "It lasted about 10 minutes." Jordan has 120 officers in Kosovo. ” the dead assailant, Ali, is being investigated for connections with Hamas.”

Fifth, there’s the distinct possibility that troops from certain countries may actually sympathize with the Islamist fighter and help them, as illustrated above. Would we actually trust Indonesian troops to help us hunt down jihad warriors? Would you trust Pakistanis to watch the backs of our boys in Najaf? Would you trust them to guard a UN compound? (You may remember how efficient and reliable Pakistanis troops are from watching Black Hawk Down. They brought in the tanks to rescue our Rangers. Didn’t see any tanks did you? Exactly.)

More troops may help but they certainly bring with them a set of risks and they will create problems that we don’t currently face. Remember that when you hear people praising “the multilateral approach” or “consensus building.” Foreign troops are not the panacea that some people make them out to be.


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