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When Will The Iraqi Air Force Take Off?

[ Posted Tuesday, August 28th, 2007 – 13:01 UTC ]

There are some important questions which need to be addressed in the upcoming Iraq debate in September, but they seem to be flying under everyone's radar (so to speak): When will the Iraq Army get the heavy weaponry it will need to defend the country against its neighbors? When will Iraq get tanks, helicopters, and airplanes? Which advanced models should they have? And how many of each should they have?

These are important questions, and they are ones which nobody seems to be asking, at least no one that I am aware of. What is striking about this omission is that this subject is one of the few rare issues about Iraq that is not time-dependent, and non-partisan. It does not matter whether you think the "surge" is the greatest thing since sliced bread, or (conversely) whether you think our President is a complete moron who can't tie his own shoes right -- because the question remains the same: When we leave Iraq (whether that is next month, next year, or ten years from now), what equipment should we leave behind for the Iraqi military to use?

Because this is the rarest of the rare in the Iraq debate -- an issue which has no real partisan slant to it -- you would think that both parties would be loudly talking about it in an effort to divert attention from the rest of the Iraq mess. But either the question has just not been considered by politicians and military leaders, or they're doing a bang-up job of not telling us about it. I honestly don't know which scares me more.

Any discussion of the issue needs to start with the phrase "At some point, when we begin to leave Iraq..." -- which acknowledges that precisely when "at some point" will happen is a completely separate debate. Hopefully, if both sides can get past that first phrase, then we can have some intelligent discussion about the level of military strength Iraq should have after we leave. And such intelligent discussion about the future of Iraq needs to happen, no matter when you think we should bug out.

I have to admit that since I am not a military expert, I do not have the answers. But it doesn't take a military expert to define the questions.

At some point, when we begin to leave Iraq, we will have to decide how fast we want to get out. Currently in Iraq, there are 160,000 military personnel, over 100,000 security contractors, countless civilian personnel doing reconstruction, and lots and lots of hardware lying around. Some of this hardware is very sophisticated, high-tech weaponry, like attack helicopters. Some is not, like trucks and cars.

The speed of the withdrawal may be a big deciding factor in how much of this stuff we leave behind for the Iraqis to use. Military experts have already publicly stated that if we planned a withdrawal around the idea that we are taking all our equipment home with us, it would delay our eventual total withdrawal -- possibly by 6 to 12 months. In other words, the Pentagon may present these options: (A) withdraw over a six month period, and leave most equipment behind, or (B) withdraw over 12 to 18 months, and take most of our stuff with us.

But no matter which option we choose, what we are really talking about here is mostly the "trucks and cars" part of the equation. Imagine a scale of military usefulness (of the hardware in Iraq). At one end would be something like a shovel, or a hammer. At the other end would be a Stealth fighter, or an atom bomb. Now, obviously we're not going to leave A-bombs or Stealth fighters lying around for the Iraqis to play with when we withdraw. And, at the other end, it's not going to be a big deal if we leave a bunch of shovels and hammers behind.

But two lines must be consciously drawn on this scale. The first is "anything below this line doesn't matter much militarily -- say, if Iraq and Iran ever had another war." Everything which falls into this category can be left behind without any impact on Iraq's military might, and therefore becomes a question of: "Is it worth it to take this stuff with us?" If the price of rounding up all the U.S. shovels and hammers in Iraq is higher than just leaving it behind, then we should obviously leave it behind.

But figuring that price is tricky. It's not just a straight equation of "the cost of a shovel" versus "the cost of having someone go around, pick it up, put it in a crate, drive it to the base, and fly (or ship) it home." It also includes "The cost of lives, since some insurgent along the way may kill a soldier who is busy picking up shovels instead of carrying a gun." Which makes the cost of bringing hardware home a lot higher. Especially since the time involved going around and picking up all the shovels is going to extend the time U.S. forces are in Iraq.

As hard as that calculation is, the second line which must be drawn on the military hardware scale is even harder to figure. At some point, the United States has to decide: "We will allow the Iraqis to have X number of tanks, Y number of helicopters, and Z number of military airplanes." And within that distinction, a further limit: "We will allow the Iraqis to have precisely this level of technological military advancement." This is more a geopolitical question than whether we pick up the shovels or not.

Iraq is someday going to truly be both sovereign and independent of the United States military. When that happens, they not only have to deal with security within their country (which they haven't even been able to handle yet, obviously), but they will also have to deal with their country's regional security. Iraq is next door to some neighboring countries which already have some sophisticated military equipment, so they're going to have to have some level of parity -- or else they're likely going to get wiped out when we leave. Instead of Iraq taking over Kuwait, maybe Kuwait will take over Iraq (for instance).

Now, it may be argued that since Iraq is sovereign, they will be the ones to decide this, and when they get their oil revenues flowing in, they can buy anything they want on the world arms market. While this is to some degree true (it becomes more a question of what the world arms market is willing to let them have, at that point), the reality on the ground right now is that they are going to have to be armed in some way by the United States as we leave. Which is all we can control, and what we should be talking about.

And a big part of the equation is not just planes, choppers, and tanks -- but also all the military infrastructure to support them. To have planes, choppers, and tanks, you have to have (1) a supply line of spare parts (remember Iran/Contra?) from whoever makes the hardware, (2) a supply line of ammunition, (3) mechanics trained to keep the war engines humming along successfully, and (4) pilots and soldiers who know how to operate such machinery. To back up your armored cavalry and air force, it's also a good idea to have some radar installations, some anti-aircraft missiles and guns, and command-and-control centers to direct the armed forces in combat.

If we truly have a moral imperative to give Iraq any chance of success as a nation, we have to talk about what level of technological support we're going to give them, and how big their advanced military forces should be. Because otherwise -- no matter when we leave and no matter how we leave -- we are setting Iraq up for failure, and dooming its prospects as a viable nation.

What's astonishing is that this debate is not even happening. I have never heard these issues brought up by anyone in Washington. President Bush blew a great opportunity to at least begin this debate, when he recently announced he was going to ask for a huge regional military arms sales package, but somehow forgot Iraq. Israel was mentioned, Saudi Arabia was mentioned, other allies in the region were mentioned, but Iraq was not mentioned. Which is a shame, because this would have been the proper vehicle for this debate. If Bush is pushing for regional stability in the Middle East and he believes that selling millions of dollars of high-tech weapons to countries in the region is going to achieve that goal, why wouldn't he include the future of Iraq's military? Congressional leaders of both parties are no better, it should be noted -- as there has been resounding silence from everyone on this critical issue.

As I stated, I cannot claim to have the answers to the questions I have posed here. But it wasn't all that hard to ask the questions. All you have to do is put on a pair of thick-rimmed glasses, and pretend you're Henry Kissinger.

Ahem. OK, I apologize for that. Pretending you're Henry Kissinger is not for the faint of heart.

All kidding aside, though, with all the thousands and thousands of words the politicians and the media have used in talking about the war, why won't someone ask: When will the Iraqi Air Force take off?


[On a related note, why hasn't anyone asked the question: "Why are we providing the Iraqis with Soviet weapons? Why are we giving them AK-47s and not M-16s (or whatever)?" Seems like the American war profiteers feeding at the Pentagon trough missed some millions of dollars to be made in Iraq -- which is astonishing in and of itself.]

-- Chris Weigant


5 Comments on “When Will The Iraqi Air Force Take Off?”

  1. [1] 
    fstanley wrote:

    I think one reason why this issue is not being addressed is that the US government is having a hard enough time manufacturing the basic equipment required by the troops and does not want more stories about how weak the supply lines really are.


  2. [2] 
    Michael Gass wrote:


    There are a few possible answers ranking from bad to worse.

    The first is that Iraq will not get any armament from the United States until we are sure that the puppet leader of Iraq is firmly under our control. Would you want to give F-16's, F-18's, "smart" bombs, M1 Abrams tanks, etc, to a country that in 6 months to a year could be, politically, our enemy?

    The second is that, like Panama, we have no intention of allowing Iraq to ever have its own military. I say "like Panama", because if you watch `The Panama Deception`, part of Bush 41's strategy was to remove the Panamanian defense forces totally in order to justify America's continued military presence in order to "protect" the Panama Canal. In Iraq, it will be to justify our continued military presence to "protect" the oil.

  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    >our continued military presence
    >to "protect" the oil.

    And why is that a bad thing??

    Hell, forget Iran as a Nuclear Power...

    What's even MORE frightening is Iran in control of Iraq's oil..


  4. [4] 
    Michael Gass wrote:


    WHY is that a bad thing???? Oh... gee... why don't we let Russia invade us, topple our government and install whatever they want, steal OUR resources while killing or imprisoning anyone who feels it was wrong for them to do so. Let's see just how much you feel THAT would be a "bad thing".

    76% of America identifies themselves as Christian. 98% of France identifies themselves as Christian's.

    By your logic, we should be deathly afraid of France owning all of our resources!!!!

    in other words... you are too stupid to even get the talking points right.

    Iran WON'T be in control of Iraq's oil. Obviously, you've bought into the whole right-wing propaganda blitz hook-line-and-sinker.

    Beware Michale!!!! The French are coming!!!

  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    >Iran WON'T be in control of Iraq's oil.

    Yer right.. That's because the US is there to prevent it...

    >98% of France identifies
    >themselves as Christian's.

    What does France being Christian have to do with anything??

    >you are too stupid to even
    >get the talking points right

    I'll let this bit of immaturity stand on it's own merit.. Or in this case, lack thereof...


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