Sunday, December 04, 2005

Iraq Tours of Duty are Too Short

Some weeks ago, in this blog, I commented on a radio interview of General David Petraus, who was overall responsible for training the Iraqi Army. His tour of duty was only eighteen months, though he did have previous service as a division commander. He has now been succeeded by a Lt. General Dietz (the spelling may be incorrect), who was interviewed about the readiness of Iraq’s army on NPR last week. Now that turning over responsibility to the Iraq security forces has become the centerpiece of President Bush’s victory program, programs to bring the force of a high level of readiness become critically important.

After reflecting on what the general said, I feel compelled to reiterate the point I made after General Pretraus’ interview. My years of experience in Sri Lanka, have sensitized me to how long in takes to even begin understanding a different culture than one’s own. Global South cultures, in particular, function on the basis of multiple personal networks. Because institutional mechanisms are much weaker, knowing whom you can trust, is critical. Your life may depend on it.

Personally, I do not support the precipitous withdrawal of US troops. Having made a commitment to stabilize the country, I believe we should honor that country. Were I to chose a timetable for, essentially, ending our intervention, I would estimate that five years is realistic. Politically infeasible thought this may be, I would mandate five years tours of duty for officers at least. And I would make it clear that a major part of the mission is to observe, to listen and to learn.


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