Oh yes, and, as a headline from a piece by Knight Ridder’s Tom Lasseter and Jonathan S. Landay (who have been doing fine reporting over the last year from Iraq and Washington) puts it: “Iraqi insurgency growing larger, more effective.” They write, in part:

“The United States is steadily losing ground to the Iraqi insurgency, according to every key military yardstick.… ‘All the trend lines we can identify are all in the wrong direction,’ said Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, a Washington policy research organization. ‘We are not winning, and the security trend lines could almost lead you to believe that we are losing.’”

Panic over ineffective Iraqi forces has led to headlines that come right out of the early years of the Vietnam War – as in the following subhead on the front page of the New York Times, “Plan Calls for Thousands of Additional American Military Advisers” that went with the head, “General Seeking Faster Training of Iraq Soldiers” – and a plaint that could have come out of almost any year of the Vietnam War: Why do “their” Iraqis fight so much better and more fiercely than “ours”? ~Tom Engelhardt

Dismal failure also greeted – and continues to greet – Washington’s claims about the successful Iraqification of local security forces. Six months of relentless efforts and constant announcements of further intensification, further speeding up of the process have so far produced only 5,000 trained and dependable Iraqi soldiers for a prospective 120,000-strong army. In the meantime, a third of the 135,000 policemen on the payrolls never even report for duty. Of those who do, only half are properly trained or armed. Time and again, instead of fighting the guerrillas, most police officers either defected or fled. ~Dilip Hiro

My father once recounted to me something that one of his college history professors had told him about military effectiveness and motivation. The subject was the much-maligned Italian fighting man of the 20th century, whose effectiveness had not been very great at all during the Second World War and was even relatively unimpressive during WWI. The professor, Gunther Rothenburg, a military historian and military man himself, knew perfectly well from that modern soldiers from the Italian peninsula had been among some of the most effective fighters and some of the more ingenious generals under Austrian or other regimes. What was lacking, on the whole, in modern Italian armies was the complete lack of motivation, the lack of any reason to be fighting and a lack of any identity with the regime or system under which they were fighting.

There is, of course, nothing innate in any nation that predisposes them to be effective or ineffective soldiers as such, though cultural priorities determine whether any society at a given moment is well-suited for organising for and prosecuting war. But having disreputable or unworthy commanders, or serving a system to which one feels no affinity whatsoever, invariably saps the motivation of conscripts and even that of volunteers. Therein lies a principal difference between the relatively more effective insurgents and the fairly ineffective insurgents: the insurgents are strongly motivated, and the Iraqi volunteers seem to enter this service as much out of need and fear of continuing violence as out of any clear sense of what the regime they are defending represents. We are pitting a force made up of people who, however much they may sincerely desire to create some security for their country, apparently have no confidence in their organisation or their leadership and, at best, are only vaguely committed to what are still complete abstractions for them, and they are being asked to stand up under what must be intense anxiety and pressure rather than stay at home and tend to their primary loyalties and concerns. On the other side, we have people with, to their minds, a very clear goal and very strong convictions–however appalling in their realisation–for whom there is very little to lose and every self-interested reason to continue in their attacks.

All things being equal, normal people could not be highly motivated to prosecute a war for abstractions, such as we are today nominally waging in Iraq, but our military has been able to motivate American soldiers to the extent that they have because the entire society has been conditioned to have an intense attachment to those abstractions, because they have come to associate them with those things for which normal people are much more naturally willing to fight: home, family, hearth, country and faith. The interim government’s troops have not connected these natural loyalties with the entirely artificial loyalties for which they are risking their lives, and it is unlikely they will ever do so in large numbers.

It is, in all honesty, quite irrational for the ordinary Iraqi soldier to risk his life defending a government and nation-state that do not command any of his primary loyalties. In fact, it makes as much sense as a boy from small town Tennessee or Michigan fighting on the other side of the world to enable other people to vote (which is what it has come down to in the end)–what are they to him, and what does Arab democracy have to do with keeping his hometown safe? Nothing is the answer to both questions. He might wonder, if he stopped to think about it, how he became the legionary of global revolution, when that revolution will not make his home any more secure or free than it was when he left, and at the rate we have been going it is very likely to make it less of both. The Iraqi soldier and the American soldier have no more reason to die for Allawi and Bush than Italian men had to die for Mussolini, and indeed perhaps much less reason.

By the same token, it actually makes little sense for someone entirely unaccustomed to voting to risk the lives of his entire family to participate in a rather shabby political process. For that matter, it doesn’t make much sense for someone accustomed to voting to do that, either. Undoubtedly, those who do must be very brave in a way, but I suspect that they are only risking so much because they do not comprehend how mediocre and uninspiring the results will be.