Rich Lowry

BAGHDAD -- A war has probably never been so debated and so little understood as the one in Iraq. "The domestic political debate has nothing to do with what we're doing here," says one U.S. officer, in a representative comment offered not in a spirit of bitterness, but of cold fact.

This is the lonely war. No one cares about it as much or understands it as well as the men and women here on the ground, who feel -- understandably -- that they are the only ones even remotely engaged in the fight.

The U.S. government has never brought to bear its resources in a truly national effort to win; the State Department has left almost the entire nonmilitary aspect of the war to the military; the Pentagon's slow-moving procurement program has an internal clock still set to peacetime; the top brass worry more about relieving the strain on the ground forces than achieving success on the ground; and the Bush administration hasn't been willing -- until too late -- to begin to provide a bigger force that would relieve that strain.

On top of this are the members of Congress and senators who show up for visits that seem more about saying they have been to Iraq than truly grappling with the war; the journalists whose reports tend to reflect whatever is the conventional wisdom about the war back in their newsrooms; and supporters and opponents of the war who support their clashing narratives of victory and defeat with the gross simplifications.

The word that one hears again and again here, but is so rare in the domestic political debate, is "complex." The war is changing at least every six months, and every area of the country -- even every neighborhood in Baghdad -- has a different dynamic. An officer at Forward Operating Base Justice in northwestern Baghdad explains that one translator who works there has to take three or four different taxis to get to the base, with a different faction ready to kill him from neighborhood to neighborhood.

Sometimes our supposed allies in the Iraqi National Police work against us, and sometimes our enemies can be leveraged against our even-more-lethal enemies. Navigating this multidimensional, ever-shifting chessboard are the leaders of U.S. combat brigades who have to run local governments, train Iraqi forces, manage relations with Baghdad and engage in graduate-level anthropology -- all while fighting a war.


Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
 
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