“Lost on a Couch” – Psychological Reasons for the US Defeat in Iraq
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In many ways the decisive factors which have lost the war in Iraq are the moral and psychological questions. How long will
When faced with an enemy's fanatical self-belief and the opposition to their presence by the majority of the population, the modern soldier's appetite for fighting for the ideals of "freedom and democracy" can't linger very long. This is especially so when Iraqis seem to no longer care about it, and support at home has evaporated, and while one's President appears to be in a state of clinical delusion, rather than simple denial over it.
In truth, within a very short period of time, the war's moral foundations and
potential for victory were already undone when it became clear that it was based on barefaced lies and deception. It is crucial to the morale of a fighting soldier is that they can look up to their Commander-in-Chief as a man of integrity. Instead, once the weapons of mass destruction 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
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 began warning publicly that the U.S. Army was at "breaking point."
The insurgents, who on paper are no match for the world's greatest super power, began to grow in morale partly for the very same reasons why the Americans' were deteriorating. Moreover, they viewed their cause as being morally superior to their enemy's, be that an American or Iraqi foe. 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 colossal advantage. And in
war Napoleon Bonaparte once said, "The moral is to the physical as four is to one."
However, morals are always a question of the psychological angle and perspective from which one views them. It may be repugnant to suggest that terrorist, tortures and supports of dictatorship have the moral high ground, but that is the reality of the moral dynamic in this war, and this is the crucial reason why they cannot be beaten by the Americans. 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, his unit." Such a situation isn't sustainable for any length of time. On the psychological timeline, the advantage lays with the insurgents.
In general, be it the Sunni insurgents, al Qaeda or the Iraqi Mehdi Army they combine military know-how, terrorist expertise and guerrilla ingenuity with determination and tenacity. They are superior fighters to the Americans because they are fuelled by blind fanaticism, hatred, feelings of injustice, revengefulness and bloodthirstiness that reach barbaric levels, and making them a fierce and formidable enemy. They are unhampered by convention and unrestricted by law or censure. Nor are they affected by international public opinion or the need to be seen to act justly. They see themselves
as the victims, with whatever rights of retribution. They are"moral-less" and yet "morally" stronger than their American opponents.
As a "movement" they are contradictory, often 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 dynamic and quick-witted. They are paradoxical and disordered and, yet, they thrive upon chaos and complexity.
This is the reason why the current 2007
The Army, next to the Church, is traditionally the most conservative of institutions in society. Its conservatism is necessary for it brings consistency, discipline, reliability and loyalty. But, unfortunately, it also means an almost organic incapacity to make fundamental changes in modes of thinking, and from that ways of behaving. This is the Iraqi guerrillas real trump card - the innate, wooden thinking and cognitive rigidity of the American military command, especially when it comes to innovative strategies 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 four 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 lays the reason why the U.S. Army is impotent against a foe which is its logical inferior.
So what can 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 U.S. Army going to set off roadside bombs, take sniper shots at an invisible enemy, put adverts in the
In military terms, a more effective attack upon the enemy would be to substitute the current approach for "scorched-earth" policy, depriving the insurgents of anything to actually fight from or come back to. If the Americans razed
But that, too, holds no guarantee of success. Why? Because, in the long term, even the desert recovers. People come back, grass grows, buildings re-arise and weeds flourish with a double vengeance. And, unless the entire socio-political situation is changed, the Americans have to start all over again with a new counter-insurgency. Again the discussion becomes ludicrous. However ruthless the Americans are, the terrorists would pursue their same favourite policy. Faced with a 'scorched earth' policy they would just move to another country, until the conditions were right to return. Jihad would be exported and then re-imported. Similar types of approach have totally failed for the Russians in
Indeed the most experienced forces with regard to counter-terrorism and urban counter-insurgency are the Israelis. Yet, one only has to look at their record and the intensity of their efforts to see how everything has been in vain. The
colossal repression, the insurgency shows no sign of stopping 6 years on. Were the Americans to employ the same intensity of counter insurgency in
involving thousands, if not millions. Numbers of U.S. casualties would be exploded geometrically. Hundreds of thousands of troops could loose their lives. Moreover, in comparison with the Israelis they are doing a much worse at the job already, let alone faced with its escalation.
If the example of Palestine were not enough for the Americans, then the ignominious and humiliating defeat for Israel in Lebanon should serve as a fresh reminder of what can happen when the an inferior military force like Hezbollah has the balance of moral and psychological forces weighted decisively in its favour.
Perhaps the psychological factor that could tip the balance towards the Americans, would be at least ‘being wanted'. And they most certainly are not. Regardless of White House propaganda, this is not true in
Consequently, there isn't sufficient positive support for the
The reason for the military failure in
militarily. Strategic and tactical matters are inextricably interlinked with moral and psychological issues. Many other factors, such as the mode of thinking in the White House and the Pentagon, the opinion changes among the people of
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
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Highly dangerous cults of hate like Al Qaeda are social mutations that grow virulently and seem unstoppable. But they are not invincible and are bedeviled with contradictions that can eventually consume them. Much depends on them having the right conditions to flourish. To live they must kill, to survive others must die. But still they are ultimately doomed by the futility of their very existence.
Helicopters falling from the skies, cult uprisings, "Mission Impossible" adventures and "Grozny"-style battles all make this surge different. Already in preparation the insurgency is showing itself ready and prepared to fight back. The madness of war is everywhere in a reckless, belligerency, mixed with new found professionalism that threatens a great conflagaration.
They say that whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. It is also said that madness can be defined by doing the same thing again and again and getting the same wrong result, without ever changing. Sisyphus was one such poor soul in question. Condemned by the Gods to roll a rock up and hill and watch it fall down again, and then continue to repeat the hopeless process for the rest of eternity. His crime had been to try to cheat the Gods, by cheating death and becoming one of them. Likewise the US is now condemned for trying to cheat defeat in Iraq, to repeating the same old mad policies over and over again. If once there was method in the madness, there is now madness in the method. This dysfunctional behaviour can only finally result in some unspeakable abomination.