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"Lost on the Couch" - the psychological reasons for US defeat in Iraq - by stephenj.morgan

  Lost on a Couch – the psychological reasons for the US defeat in Iraq

In many ways the decisive factors which lost the war in Iraq for the US are the moral and psychological questions. This has two dimensions – firstly the cause for which the American troops believe they are fighting and the manner in which it has been transmitted; and the way in which the insurgents view their cause against that of their internal rivals, as well as the aims of America. Secondly, is the impasse arising from conservatism of thought on the part of the political and military leaaders.

The Iraqi insurgents are fighting for their homeland, people or religious group, with little regard to the issue of political system. Democratic guerrillas have never been in found in over abundance. Conversely, when much of the population is also against you, the appetite of the modern soldier for fighting the ideals of “freedom and democracy” doesn’t stay in the mouth very long, especially if at home support wanes and one’s commander-in-chief makes fundamental errors in launching, sustaining and attempting to prolong a war, which is increasing, obviously lost.

Within a very short period of prosecuting the war, its moral foundations and potential for victory was already undone when it became clear that it had been based on barefaced lies and deception. One of the most important things for the morale of a fighting soldier is that they are able to look up to their Commander-in Chief as a man of integrity. Instead, once the WOMDs were never found and Hussein’s links to Al Qaeda disproved, the soldiers were left fighting for a liar and a cheat.

Furthermore, as it became increasingly clearer that they were unwelcome on Iraqi soil and that the vision of “freedom and democracy” withered, they began wondering just for what and for whom they were laying down their lives. To make matters worse, support for the war at home in the US was crumbling, which all added together to create a sense of meaningless and futility as far their involvement was concerned. With it the prospect of winning became increasingly untenable, the sectarian strife unbearable and the demands on their physical commitment unsupportable.

St. Thomas Aquinas made the famous point that “For a war to be just three conditions are necessary - public authority, just cause, right motive.” Clearly, the war was exposed as having none of the three, and demoralization began to reach such levels that even commanders in the field were taking the unprecedented step of warning publicly that the US Army could “break.”

The insurgents, who on paper are no match for the world’s greatest super power, began to grow in morale partly because of the very same reasons that the Americans’ was deteriorating and secondly, because they viewed their cause from many different angles as being morally superior to their enemies, be they American or sectarian.

Morals are always a question of the angle and perspective from which one views them. It may be repugnant to suggest that suicide bombers, terrorist, tortures and supports of dictatorship have the moral high ground, but that is the reality of the moral dynamic in this war and the this is the crucial reason why they cannot be beaten by the Americans. For the insurgents of whatever hue, they are fighting for their right to self-determination, to national liberation, for the defence of their religion, sect, ethnic minority or cult-like, messianic ideology.

In the sphere of psychological combat this gives them a fourfold advantage over their common American enemy. They are fighting for causes which are both concrete and visionary, while if one asks the average American soldier what he is fighting for, the overwhelming reply will be just for “his buddies, in his unit.” Such a situation is not sustainable for any length of time. On the psychological timeline, the advantage also lays with the insurgents.

In general, be it the Sunni insurgents, al Qaeda or the Mehdi Army they combine military know-how, terrorist expertise and guerrilla ingenuity with determination and tenacity, all fuelled by blind fanaticism, feelings of hatred, injustice, revengefulness and bloodthirstiness that reaches levels of barbarism and makes for a fierce and formidable enemy. They are unhampered by convention and unrestricted by law or censure. They suit and they make the conditions. They are born out it, they are in their element, while the US Army is out of its skin. As a “movement” they are contradictory, counterpoised and still highly effective. As smart as a fox, dogged as bears, patient as vultures, swift as a snake and as pitiless as hyenas. They are courageous and cowardly, wild and yet disciplined, they are paradoxical, dynamic and quick-witted. They are complex and chaotic and they thrive upon chaos and complexity.

On the other hand, traditionally, next to the Church, the Army is the most conservative of institutions. Conservatism is necessary for it brings consistency, discipline, reliability and loyalty. But, unfortunately, it also means, despite all the Herculean efforts of its more forward-looking strategist, an almost organic incapacity to make fundamental changes in modes of thinking and from that in ways of behaving.

The Iraqi insurgents may already enjoy advantages like time, information and morale, but their real trump card is America’s “internal” Achilles’ heal, in the form of the innate, wooden thinking and cognitive rigidity of the American military command, when it comes to innovative strategy for effective counter-insurgency. Only by understanding this is it possible to answer the question of just why the most powerful army the world has ever seen is unable to defeat a force often less well-equipped than members of the Russian mafia.

If Napoleon observed that “in war the moral is to physical as for is to one,” then in asymmetrical war, suppleness and agility of the mind is to fanaticism and visceral belligerency as a hundred is to one. Herein lies the reason why the US Army is impotent against a foe which is its logical inferior. This is also the reason why the 2007 offensive to retake Baghdad was also doomed to failure from the start. In reality, it is not just that they are essentially doing the same thing with more people. And then leaving behind a logistically inferior force to maintain the peace in the form of the Iraqi Army.

The essence of the problem is that they are stuck in a mode of urban combat that stems from 2nd World war thinking and practice. They are applying the same strategy and tactics to an urban guerrilla-terrorist force, as they would to a traditional army in any metropolitan setting. Yet to their amazement and annoyance the enemy refuses to fight in the same way. It won’t react, it won’t fight back, it won’t surrender in the same ways, and, worse still, unlike a traditional army following occupation, it comes back! And still the US Chiefs of Staff (or at lest many of them) are bewildered by the fact that they have to start again. God damn it!

So what do they do. Ah! Fight fire with fire! Use the same successful tactics of the enemy against the enemy in order to defeat them. But is the US Army going to do set of roadside bombs, take sniper shots at an invisible enemy, put adverts in the Washington Post for suicide bombers? The fact that the discussion becomes ludicrous so quickly speaks for itself. The fact is, militarily they cannot win. Or rather they cannot win militarily for socio-political reasons. On military terms, a more effective attack upon the enemy would be to substitute the current approach for “scorched-earth” policy, depriving them of anything to come back to. If you raised Baghdad to the ground (and in fact necessarily all other urban centres – villages included), then any guerrillas left would have to fight you by conventional means in open combat.

But that too holds no guarantee of success. Why? Because, in the long term even the desert recovers. People come back, grass grows, building re-arise and weeds flourish with a double vengeance. And, unless the entire socio-political situation is changed, you have to start again. Again the discussion becomes ludicrous. However ruthless the Americans were the terrorists would pursue their same favourite policy. They would just move to another place, until the conditions were right to return. Jihad would be exported and then re-imported.

The only real military chance the Americans have of winning, is « being wanted ». And they most certainly aren’t. The difference between Iraq and the few successful counter-insurgency wars there have been, such as Malaysia and Indonesia, is largely due to the fact that, there, despite much opposition, the national government and army, plus the foreign troops, had, at least, some important basis of support within the population, especially in urban areas. Regardless of White House propaganda, this is not true in Iraq. Despite some reluctant support in some sections of the population, and despite some measure of hostility or antipathy toward the insurgents, the majority of people oppose the US presence and have little confidence in either the Iraqi national government, Army or police. At the same time, there is substantial support and toleration of the militias and insurgents.

Consequently, there is insufficient positive support for the US to win and enough for the insurgents to be able to function very effectively. This is the key reason they are able to return to areas that have been cleared or withdrawn from. If the US troops get as far as clearing area and handing them over to the Iraqi Army, they will never be held. If the US cannot do it with all military might, the poorly trained and equipped Iraqi troops stand no chance. The attitude towards them will be exactly the same as it is to the Americans – “for God’s sake get out, your making matters worse!” And there is real truth in that.

The reason for the military failure in Iraq exists on many levels, and not just militarily, but primarily at the socio-political level, with which it is inescapably fused. Many factors, such as the mode of thinking in the White House and the Pentagon, the opinion changes among the people of Iraq and in the US and world opinion in general all play an important role. The fact that the situation changed so dramatically within three years belies how complex the interaction of these factors are. Complexity is not something which conservative thought deals with easily both for the military and political leadership of a country. And if that is not enough, the next thing which conservative thought finds bewildering and abhors is chaos – precisely the two phenomena governing the essence of the Iraqi situation and a crucial reason why the current US leadership is simply incapable of dealing with it.


 

Stephen John Morgan is a former member of the British Labour Party Exectutive Committee. He is a political psychologist, researcher into Chaos/Complexity Theory and lives in Brussels (Old Europe) http://morgansreview.tripod.com/ Contact morganreply@yahoo.com



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