Letters to the editor

Iraq and the Insurgency

The main premise of James Fallows’s article “Why Iraq Has No Army” (December Atlantic) is that “America’s hopes today for an orderly exit from Iraq depend completely on the emergence of a viable Iraqi security force.” Fallows proceeds to present a tightly argued case for why this force has not come into being and details the policy changes that would be required to achieve such a force.

The premise itself is never defended even though a compelling counter-premise has been put forth by highly knowledgeable individuals and appears to be built into the new Iraqi constitution, which Fallows does not discuss at all. The counter-premise is that security and the avoidance of civil war have a much better chance of being achieved through the continued development of largely autonomous regions with virtually independent militias. This alternative was discussed very cogently in an article by Ambassador Peter Galbraith in The Washington Post on November 7.

In actuality Fallows’s article indirectly gives weight to the counter-premise of regional militias because he shows clearly the overwhelming risks, costs, and time required “to bring an Iraqi army to maturity.”

Robert W. Raynsford, Ph.D.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Retired)
Washington, D.C.

James Fallows writes, “In Japan, Germany, and South Korea … none had an insurgency aimed at Americans.” This may be true for Japan and Germany (although the German case is somewhat ambiguous), but post–World War II South Korea most definitely had “an insurgency aimed at Americans.” Partly but not entirely backed by North Korea after 1946, the anti-American insurgency began in the fall of 1945 and continued until the North Korean invasion of June 1950. Assassinations, ambushes, and armed clashes cost the lives of thousands of Americans and their South Korean supporters, and countervailing attacks by the emerging Syngman Rhee government could be extremely brutal. The worst violence occurred in April of 1948, when some 10,000 suspected Communist insurgents were killed on Cheju Island, one-third of the island’s entire population.

In many ways the U.S. occupation of South Korea from 1945 to 1948—poorly planned, incompetently executed, underequipped, and lacking long-term resolve—was much more like the current Iraq imbroglio than the occupations of Germany and Japan.

Charles K. Armstrong
Director, Center for Korean Research
Columbia University
New York, N.Y.

I  picked up the December issue at the   airport because the article “Why Iraq Has No Army” by James Fallows caught my eye. Before I got to it, however, I read the Wall Street Journal editorial that mentioned the article and asserted that Mr. Fallows had not only never visited Iraq but had never interviewed anybody in either the U.S. or the Iraqi governments prior to writing it. After reading that, I decided not to invest the time in reading the article. If I want unknowledgeable anti-American propaganda, I can watch the network news.

Bob Bronson
Naperville, Ill.

James Fallows replies:

Regarding Robert Raynsford’s discussion of regional autonomy: Whether Iraq should emerge as three functionally independent regions, or even as three separate countries, was one of many topics I deliberately omitted from this article, so as to concentrate on America’s announced goal of creating an Iraqi security force representing all regions and all religious and ethnic groups. Personally, I view de facto regional independence as nearly inevitable, with both good and bad consequences. But the explicit policy of the United States is to foster the growth of a government that claims the loyalty of all Iraqis, and a military loyal to that government. That ambition is what I examined in my article.

Charles Armstrong is right to point out that the situation in Korea after World War II was very different from those in Germany and Japan. Germany and Japan mounted no serious resistance to their American occupiers, principally because they were utterly defeated socie- ties after many years of all-out war. Koreans suffered violent conflict for eight more years—from September of 1945, when the Soviet Union and the United States divided the Korean Peninsula into spheres of influence north and south of the 38th parallel, through the end of the Korean War, in the summer of 1953. During the first few years of that time, as Armstrong writes, American forces were engaged in what could be called either civil war or counterinsurgent warfare, born mainly of their effort to prop up the Syngman Rhee regime in the South. The reason I mentioned Germany, Japan, and South Korea as a group is that in all of them the United States has maintained a large military presence for many decades, which it would not have done if its troops had been the objects of continuing attacks.

About The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page: the allegation that Bob Bronson mentions was and is preposterous. The Journal’s editorial cited an unnamed source in the Multinational Security Training Command in Iraq—the organization responsible for training Iraqi troops—and claimed that I “didn’t even contact them while reporting the article or at anytime during at least the past nine months.” That is flatly untrue. I interviewed many members of that organization (among other civilian and military officials I spoke with), including its then commander, Lieutenant General Dave Petraeus, and his deputy. The Journal’s editorial writers would have known this claim was false had they checked with me or this magazine before publishing, which they did not do. Indeed, they would have known this if they had even looked at my article before criticizing it, since it contained lengthy quotes from Petraeus and an explanation of which interview requests the Pentagon press office had approved and denied. Mr. Bronson would have known all this if he had seen the next day’s issue of The Journal, which published a retraction of the false claim.

Is God an Accident?

It is gratifying to have as esteemed a   scholar as Paul Bloom approvingly refer to my research, as he did in “Is God an Accident?” (December Atlantic). But the provocative title and a number of remarks in the essay might lead readers to believe that scientific accounts of religious beliefs, such as the sort he and I both embrace, undermine the truth of religious belief. I would hate for readers to misunderstand the relationship between the science of belief and belief itself.

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