You know, somebody should write a dissertation about cooperative training between military organizations. In fact, somebody should pay some enterprising young scholar to write a book about it…
That seems about right. The most highly skilled military trainers in the world can’t conjure up a sense of national identity, loyalty, patriotism and a widespread belief in the legitimacy of a given government. That’s not a knock against the Americans doing the training, it’s recognition of the limits of training as such. In light of the fact that sectarian militias seem better able to field able fighting forces than does the Iraqi government, it should be no surprise that insofar as the Iraqi Army is an effective fighting force it’s also a sectarian militia not a professional, non-partisan, national force.
My concerns about the training of the Iraqi Army are a little bit different than those of either Yglesias or Halperin. I’m concerned that the US Army may be inadequate to the task of training the Iraqi Army to do what it needs to do, which is fight a counter-insurgency war. It has been noted in a few places that the problem with the US military effort in Iraq involves doctrine as much as numbers. The Army, and to a lesser extent the Marine Corps, don’t care for counter-insurgency and don’t do it particularly well.
Military doctrine consists of an extraordinarily complicated body of knowledge, much of which is bound up in the personnel of the military organization in question. Long story short, knowing and doing are tightly tied together in questions of organizational doctrine. Militaries know what they do and teach what they know. In the context of the US Army in Iraq, this produces some obvious problems. If we don’t really know what we’re doing in terms of counter-insurgency, then the Iraqis we train aren’t really going to know, either. Worse, to the extent that we teach what we know, we may be imparting onto the Iraqis a series of lessons that we would rather they not learn. I doubt this latter is happening; it seems to me (from a distance) that the Iraqi Army is not being trained as a clone of the US Army, but rather as something entirely different. That’s fine if you can pull it off, but I’m very, very skeptical that you can.
This is one of the reasons that coalition building still matters. The British and the French know how to fight counter-insurgency wars. It follows that they know how to train others to do the same. This makes them appropriate partners for the kind of reconstruction we want to do in Iraq. Previous US efforts to train large foreign military organizations have turned out poorly. Although Halperin blames recruiting for much of the difficulty in South Vietnam, it is also the case that the US Army just wasn’t very interested in training the ARVN, and displayed particularly little interest in training it to fight a counter-insurgency conflict. So, while the concerns of Halperin and Yglesias are well founded, I suspect that the problem may be deeper and more intractable than even they believe.