One of the many unfortunate things about the current debate over Iraq is how divorced it seems from the particulars of what actually appears to be happening on the ground. Many of you will already have read them, but let me point out two articles in the current Atlantic that get into some of that nitty-gritty.
One is the already much-discussed piece by James Fallows, "Why Iraq Has No Army". Unfortunately, at the moment, it's locked behind their subscription wall. But it's worth picking up a copy of the hardcopy to read. It's one of those masterful Fallows' pieces, just at the level of execution. As one who's tried, it's terribly difficult to keep one of these articles aloft page after page, especially when there's no conventional narrative arc to give form to the effort.
The topic is as the title suggests: why doesn't Iraq have its own security forces, despite more than two years of efforts to build them up. My one slight criticism of Fallows piece (though he's certainly aware of the issue) is that I didn't feel he gave quite enough emphasis to the political dimension of the question rather than the training dimension. Again, not that he ignores the point, I just would have made the emphasis a touch different.
Building a modern professional army is a really tough enterprise, one that involves far more than just having a bunch of men who know how to fire weapons and are willing to risk their lives. But an effective army grows from an effective state, or rather a government which commands loyalty and can exercise power. At some fundamental level, I wonder if we haven't been working this state/army calculus backwards from the beginning.
In any case, Fallows' article is one of that deserves the endlessly overused description of must-read. And the picture he paints is extremely bleak.
Less noticed has been another shorter piece in the same issue by Nir Rosen. He makes the positive case for withdrawal. Not just that things aren't going well and that we should leave, but that our best chance of securing at least some of our aims is to remove our troops.
In his effort to make his case, I have the sense that Rosen slightly overstates his case, sometimes appearing to imply that the natural center of gravity in Iraq -- absent our presence -- is one where the parties themselves would be able to work things out on their own. But the basic strategic insight to his piece sounds right -- that the extended presence of American troops in Iraq is the cause of the insurgency rather than the solution to it.