The Sisyphean Surge - A Greek Tragedy in Iraq.

by Stephen J. Morgan - Date: 2007-03-06 - Word Count: 2015 Share This!

"A hundred thousand men were led. By one calf near three centuries dead...For thus such reverence is lent to well-established precedent...For men are prone to go it blind among the calf-paths of the mind, and work away from sun to sun to do what other men have done."
Sam Walter Foss

The Sisyphean Surge* - You can't defeat the rock, you can't overcome the mountain.

(*Sisyphus was a mythical Greek figure, condemned for playing god, to have to to roll a rock up a mountain and watch it roll back down again, and to have to repreat that process without stopping, for eternity.)

Moderate modes of thinking and fixed forms of behaviour in conditions of deep chaos and disorder, might appear sound judgment, but, in truth, it is so incongruous and inadequate that US strategy almost begins to look more insane and irresponsible than that of the terrorists and insurgents. In truth, its conservative rigidity is total folly, because of its blatant inappropriateness and inefficacy in the face of reality's demands. Repeating the same behaviour over and over and keeping getting the same results is often said to be the first sign of madness. And, what's crazier is that the US policy makers and all of us know that this is exactly what the US is doing - it's the same old failed policy being repeated over and over again.

Denial always leads to repetitive, self-destructive behaviour. But there comes a point when that denial also becomes delusional. Then we are really on the road to madness. The wooden heads in Washington have devised little more than a Sisyphean strategy for defeat. They push the rock up to the top of the hill and it falls back down. And like Sisyphus they repeat the pointless process over and over again. The problem now is; they rarely reach half-way to the top, before they have to go back down and start again.

Faced with one of most complex counter-insurgency situations in history, all that they can come up with is sending 21,000 extra troops to secure Baghdad. This myopic, straight-jacketed, linear thinking by the rulers of the world's greatest superpower beggars belief. Moreover, the notion that the Iraqi Army is going to be able take over the security of the country -within a few months - can only be entertained by those suffering from clinical delusion or practicing criminal deception.

The speculation that the insurgents will "fade away", or rather hide their arms and disengage for some months now looks increasingly unlikely . The fact that they have time on their side, while the US doesn't, makes it an attractive option and would be in line with typical guerrilla tactics. However, there are a number of factors working against this.

While for guerrillas retreat under fire is not considered anything shameful, giving up hard-won control of whole swaths of Baghdad and the countryside is probably too hard a pill to swallow. It's not even really necessary, since the US could never actually re-secure Baghdad, let alone the whole of the country. Furthermore, it is not certain that such a tactic could be sold to the young, combative rank and file. A split or internal revolt might ensue. There are already indications of this among the Shias, one because they are being goaded into actions by terrorist sectarian attacks from the Sunnis, who want to spread US forces more thinly; and two because they feel humiliated standing by while the Sunnis take all the "glory" in attacking the US.

The surge began with what looked like promising progress up the mountain. For nearly a whole week insurgent activity and sectarian murders fell dramatically. Yet to the surprise of the Army, the counter-surge developed more quickly and diversified more widely than was expected. In the words of one CNN corresponded it keeps "morphing." By applying different or tactics or adjusting others to wrong foot or go through the legs of the advancing military, the army looks more and more impotent. Asymmetrical warfare means that, the more we try to control our enemy, the less it comes under our sphere of influence.

The problem with asymmetrical warfare is that the opponent does not play to the rules of the game, but changes them as it goes along, and the army is simply not the institution capable of transforming itself quickly enough to cope. Its essential rigidity and woodenness is exposed with every new bomb blast or assault. The enemy is proving to be far more flexible, adroit and daring than was expected, and the army simply has no answers. Its tactics are no longer tactics, when they count for nothing. Its strategy is empty, when it can accomplish nothing.The army finds it can't defeat the rock and it can't overcome the mountain.

The Noise before Defeat

Sun Tsu warned, "Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."

Sun Tsu could have ever even envisaged the complications of today's Iraq. This is because Iraq is largely an urban country and the modern city is a beehive of walled cities within walled cities. Every street, every high rise block or administrative centre becomes a smaller walled city which can be defended and has to be taken. Besieging walled cities is withering. It wears down the nervous system of the attacker five times more than it does the defender. Moreover, it polarizes attitudes into a sense of futility for the aggressor and sense of determination and doggedness for the defender. Amongst the assailed civilian population there is a mental and social closing of ranks as the most basic, the fundamental and last line of defence, the home, the symbol of security and family, is assaulted.

Fighting in such proximity to this especially in modern warfare and the growth of animosity and contempt for the aggressor is draining on the spirit and purposefulness of the troops. In fact, it is this, and not the physical tours of duty, which is bringing the US Army to "breaking point," as their Generals have warned. The current strategy and tactics of the US is toward a pointless and worthless end goal. There isn't the chance in hell of a "win-win" or even a "win-lose" outcome. There is nothing but "lose-lose" for the Americans and their soldiers know it. The situation for the Americans is an enigma of war. Formerly, they occupy the city, yet they have not conquered it. They patrol the streets, but cannot the scale the "walls." The US is an elephant with chicken's legs. They cannot run and they cannot standstill.

As the Battle for Baghdad begins in earnest, the Sunnis appear to have come out fighting daggers between their teeth, while for now main Shia militia, the Mehdi Army has turned out to be "Robbie Burns ' famous "wee cowering, timorous beastie" This, without doubt suits Bush and Maliki down the ground, but just how long it lasts is another thing. The current period is a time of sharp turns and sudden changes. And as the US has knows already "the best laid schemes of mice and men are apt to go astray." When they reach Sadr City, they may find that elements of the militia are refusing Muqtada al-Sdar call to stand down and they will be engaged in a fight with fighters in an environment full of local hostility. They may even end up engaging some of the civilians in armed skirmishes.

Moreover by arresting a layer of the leadership and second-in command of the insurgents and militias, the US shows it hasn't learned any of the lessons of the "Palestinian syndrome", where such actions by the Israelis have only served to enrage and embolden new more radical elements. New generation of leaders spring up in as rapid succession as they can be gaoled or killed. Anyhow arresting a few dozen or a few hundred of their leaders won't set back their operations for any serious amount of time. The Sunnis are well trained and experienced, and the Shias have been catching up with the aid of Iran.You can't defeat the rock, you can't overcome the mountain.

The Papier-mâché Government & Army

To make matters worse, the Iraqi government, the US Army is fighting on behalf of weak, unpopular, unreliable government likely to crumble at any moment. The governing exiles, like Maliki, are total novices when it comes to power politics and totally unreliable when it comes to personal interests over national ones. They are in way over their heads; they have no feel for the situation, no touch for the masses, nor finesse in anticipating and handling delicate and explosive issues. They lack any foresight as to the real situation and especially with regards to the consequences of their own actions. They are little more than narcissistic novices led by greed for personal power, prestige and the plundering of the state purses and lucrative kickbacks. They lack any moral ballast or integrity. In brief, the majority of Iraqi government ministers are inexperienced, irresponsible, myopic and thoroughly egotistic. Worse still, they show a sectarian mentality verging on humanitarian criminality.

Maliki and others, like the cleric Abdul-Aziz Al-Hakim, are hoping that the US will still continue to strike mostly at the Sunnis and also weaken Muqtada al-Sadr sufficiently to secure their government's future. They hope that by the end of the operation in the summer, when US troops will withdraw to barracks, the Iraqi Army can be systematically taken over by their own militias and will provide a force strong enough to concretise a Shia-led state.

While they espouse plans for the future, it is not at all sure they will last out in office till Spring, let alone summer. Indeed, only days before Maliki was demagogically committing himself to the iron fist of militia disbandment, he was publicly talking of resigning! In reality, it will take only one major mishap for Maliki to jump ship. It will not be long before the Iraqi government collapses in the coming situation. In truth, the government is simply a theatrical puppet show, a shadow court commanding a phantom army over the carcass of a country.

The Iraqi Army is generally an unreliable and contradictory force. From a purely military standpoint they are almost more of a liability than a support to the US. They are also poorly trained and poorly motivated. Desertion, absenteeism, apathy and unreliability are rife. They are quite capable of committing an atrocity that inflames the situation among the popluation. In truth, most units couldn't repulse an attack by the Swiss army on bicycles. The rank and file are obviously overwhelmingly Shia reservists. This has suited the US until know, because most of their efforts have been against the Sunni insurgents. But if they attempt to use the Iraqi Army against fellow Shias and especially the Mahdi Army, the Americans could quickly find the bulk would go over and turn their weapons against the US. This is even more so for the police, whose jobs are little more than a fresh change of clothes for the militiamen.

Soon, the US could find itself fighting an insurgency on behalf of nobody but themselves, with no elected government and no army or police. In essence, the Iraqi state is already just a rickety "Punch and Judy Show" held up the US Army. Within weeks there could be no state at all. Like the myth of Sisyphus, the US policy will become nothing more than a myth just a strategy to escape the mountain by the tactic of rolling a great rock up to its pinnacle, watching it roll down and keeping doing the same thing over and over again. You can't defeat the rock, you can't overcome the mountain.
Asymmetrical warfare means that, the more we try to control our enemy, the less it comes under our sphere of influence. Wooden and infexible the US army cannot defeat the insurgency or sectarian war. It is doomed like Sisyphus. You can't defeat the rock, you can't overcome the mountain. Soon with the fall of Maliki government it will fighting for nothing, for nobody, execept a mythical rock given it by Washington.

Related Tags: iraq, baghdad, surge

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