While most Westerners have no difficulty applying sober skepticism to Russian President Vladimir Putin's repeated pledges to "turn over" security in Chechnya to local puppet forces - for the obvious reason that Chechen forces could never be relied on to secure the Kremlin's proxy regime - most American pundits and politicians suspend their skepticism in the case of Iraq.
If Putin's strategy is to suppress all talk about Chechnya, the American strategy is quite the opposite: non-stop chatter about how success is right around the corner. Let's go, pump those arms guyz 'n gals! Roo-roo-rooh! Yeah, if you just believe, you can make it happen!
The other strategy is to confuse Americans with numbers. Big numbers. Numbers with commas in them, too big for the average Joe to grasp. So one day, say you have 100,000 Iraqis fighting for the Coalition, the next day say it's 200,000, then the next it's down to 8,000, and the next...well, you get the picture. It's just so confusing and freaky that you gotta figure these people know what they're talking about, so best to leave it up to the experts. And in the meantime, just keep hoping.
In order to see how this hope-strategy actually works, we at the eXile tracked the reactions and opinions of a 30-something Phoenix professional, Rob McKenna, while subjecting him to the freaky-deaky official statements of numbers of friendly Iraqi forces ready to take over their country. Rob is pretty much your average middle American professional: a successful real estate agent, a fan of fast cars and classic rock, a self-described "independent" and "serious beer fan." Rob admits he still "bakes" once in awhile, but generally supports the War on Drugs, "except against organic drugs like pot and shrooms."
So join Rob as he steps into the scariest ride in Saddamland, the hair-raising Tunnel Of Hope, taking you from the early days of "Mission Accomplished" to the present "Mission Almost Accomplished, Any Day Now" - narrated by the Hope-Mongers themselves, in their very own words! With commentary from Rob McKenna, in real time too, so you can see just how well hope works! For extra laughs, you math whizzes out there, see if you can keep track of the actual numbers of Iraqis America has trained up and ready to take over, numbers which even have commas in them (seriously!)...See if your faith can stomp that pesky common sense and KEEP HOPE ALIVE!
July 23, 2003: "Our goal is to turn over authority to Iraqis as quickly as possible. Coalition authorities are training Iraqi police forces to help patrol Iraqi cities and villages."
[Rob McKenna: So far, sounds pretty cool to me.]
Rob McKenna, real estate guy
August 13, 2003: The Americans would like to create a new division of labor on security, with the Iraqi police and internal security forces assuming more responsibility for keeping order at home...The goal is to "put an Iraqi face on security," as one senior American officer put it.
"Baghdad on the Hudson," New York Times.
[Rob: You gotta admit, it sounds like America's got a plan here, and that alone makes me feel like things are gonna work out. It's almost like you can see the PowerPoint presentation, you know? And I like how the senior American officer really means that the goal is to "put an Iraqi face on the severed heads of insurgency victims," which is a strategy that I can get behind.]
Sept. 17, 2003: "In four months we brought back 40,000 police officers, 400 cars in Baghdad, 35 stations, communications all over the country...I couldn't have done that in New York City as the police commissioner in five years. So I'm not really sure what the critics are talking about when they're saying it's taking too long."
Bernard Kerik, interim minister of the interior in Iraq and former New York City police commissioner, interviewed on NewsHour.
[Hey, awesome round numbers there! As Peter Griffin would say, "Go on..." You know Peter Griffin, right? Family Guy? Awesome show. If anyone wants to join me for a brew and talk about that show, I'm game.]
Oct 24, 2003: "[T]here has been a lot of progress made already. I think it very significant [that] more than 80,000 - the numbers I read say 86,000 - but I'll just say more than 80,000 Iraqis [are] in the field fighting for their country...It makes the Iraqi security forces the second largest member of the coalition. Measured not only by the numbers in the field, but also by the numbers who are fighting and dying. Their casualties since June 1st are, I guess I should get you an exact number, I think I have it here. Let me pull it out, so I don't guess at it. They have lost 82 killed in action just since June 1st."
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz
[Dude, did you see how those numbers just fuckin' doubled? Cool! This is like a hot Tempe property. I'd be advising all my clients to load in on this Iraqi forces investment, big-time!]
Oct 25, 2003: Nationwide, Iraq's Civil Defense Corps stands at about 4,700 trained soldiers. Wolfowitz told the House Armed Services Committee in late September that plans call for expanding the force to 15,000 by January. The deputy secretary called this standing up of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps "a wonderful success story" that represents a major step toward Iraq's ability to assume full responsibility for its own security. "These are young Iraqis stepping forward to fight for their country alongside our people," he said.
American Forces Press Service
[Wait, what? Iraqi forces went from 86,000 to a generous 80,000, then way down to 4,700, then going up to 15,000, all in a matter of days. Well, shit, he must know what he's talking about. He reminds me of my regional sales manager Larry Chase - the guy can whip out escrow numbers so fast your head spins, but in the end, everyone's happy.]
Nov 2, 2003: "What's changed is the Iraqi forces. The Iraqi forces have gone from zero on May 1st up to over 100,000 today. And our plan calls for them to go to something in excess of 200,000. So the total number of security forces in the country has been going up steadily."
Rumsfeld, ABC This Week
[Whoa, daddy! So it went from 80k to 4700 and up to 100k in just one week! It's like, these guys can do fuckin' ANYTHING! The old rules about numbers just don't apply anymore, man! We're talking total paradigm shift, dude!]
December 6, 2003: "Something in excess of 140,000 Iraqis...are engaged in providing security..."
[Dang! I usually don't say that word "dang," but in this case, "Dang!" These guys are fuckin' gods! The sky's the limit (either that, or some really, really big number)!]
Jan 31, 2004: "There are almost 200,000 Iraqis now in the police and the Facilities Protection Service and the army the border guard, and a fifth force which I think is maybe the most important one, called the Civil Defense Corps."
[200,000! A-ha-hal-right! Now that is fuckin' awesome! Do I hear 300,000? Anyone?]
March 14, 2004: "We're making very good progress. We're up to over 200,000 Iraqis that have been trained and equipped."
Rumsfeld, CBS' Face The Nation.
[Okay, that's cool. I'll be happy with 200k, for now. It's like when the market takes a breather, you know? It's actually a good sign, shows that the Iraqi forces are maturing.]
April 13, 2004: "I was disappointed in the performance of some of the [Iraqi] troops... If there needs to be more intense training, we'll get more intense training."
[This was after the battle in Fallujah and Najaf. Nice to know that Bush was "disappointed." It's like how you feel about your son if he gets a C on his test. You're disappointed, but you're not giving up on him. He'll feel totally guilty and ashamed, and so next time, if you give him a second chance, he'll totally improve. Or you'll ground him after school.]
May 25, 2004: "At my direction and with the support of Iraqi authorities, we are accelerating our program to help train Iraqis to defend their country."
[Yep, they're totally grounded.]
June 9, 2004: "There are currently well over 200,000 Iraqis on duty or in training in the five branches of the Iraqi security forces...Over the next few months, our aim is to prepare Iraqi security forces to...take local control of the cities, even as coalition forces move into a supporting role and provide forces only as needed."
Wolfowitz, Wall Street Journal, "The Road Map for A Sovereign Iraq."
[All right, the 200,000 number is back, so we're back in business and feeling much better. See, grounding them worked. It's called "Tough Love," and the Iraqis are responding. And 200,000 is such an awesome number!]
June 10, 2004: "Misguided U.S. training of Iraqi police contributed to the country's instability and has delayed getting enough qualified Iraqis on the streets to ease the burden on American forces, the head of armed forces training said Wednesday.
?It hasn't gone well. We've had almost one year of no progress,' said Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, who departs Iraq next week after spending a year assembling and training the country's 200,000 army, police and civil defense troops."
Associated Press, "Security training was botched, general says."
[H'm. This is kind of a bummer. Well, whatever, let's just forget that I heard this and move on. No point crying over spilled milk. What's done is done. Just water under the bridge.]
July 23, 2004: "I think the measure of success is when Iraqis are bearing most or all of the fight. Though it's hard to predict, I think that we're on a very fast track toward having that happen."
[I like hearing shit like this. We're on the "fast track." It's like a career ladder thing: the Iraqi forces are working extra hard to advance their careers, and that hard work means they're all going to be white collar managers soon! They're gonna drive Blazers and wear Banana Republic khakis and...oops, wait, heh-heh. That was an unintended pun. Sorry.]
September 23, 2004: "The Iraqi government now commands almost 50,000 armed and combat- ready Iraqis. By January it will be some 145,000. And by the end of next year, some 250,000 Iraqis."
Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, speaking to US Congress.
[I don't know much about military stuff, but I do know one thing: 50,000 is a shitty number. It's like the Iraqis are shrinking or something But at least this Arab guy "Aya-whatever" is showing progress: First, a shitty number. Then, a bigger number. Then...a really, really huge number! That's why he started with a shitty number like 50,000. And did he say "250,000"? Dude, okay, this Aya-whatever-guy kicks ass!]
September 27, 2004: The Pentagon documents show that of the nearly 90,000 people now in the police force, only 8,169 have had the full eight-week academy training. ...22,700 Iraqi personnel have received enough training to make them "minimally effective at their tasks."
Seattle Times, "Bush claim on training of Iraqis disputed."
[Wait, this isn't cool, man. In fact, this is kind of a bummer. Could I have some bigger numbers, please? And make them the kinda numbers that keep doubling and shit, okay?]
October 25, 2004: "Along with Iraqi forces, we're on the offensive in Fallujah and north Babil. We've restored government control in Samarra and Tal Afar and Najaf. More than 100,000 Iraqi soldiers, police and border guards are already trained and equipped and bravely serving their country. And more than 200,000 will be in place at the end of next year."
[Du-hu-hude, score! High fives all around! In just one month we went from Aya-whatever's 50,000 to Bush's 100,000! It's like old times again, man. And Bush is saying we're gonna have 200,000 soon. It's totally working out again! Fuck yeah, I feel fuckin great! If I had a red wheat microbrewed ale right now, everything would be fuckin' perfect!]
November 1, 2004: Reaching down to the table and knocking wood, Wolfowitz mentioned recent progress in regard to the National Guard, noting the Iraqis' participation in the wresting of Samarra from the insurgents' control.
New Yorker, "The Believer: Paul Wolfowitz Defends His War."
(In early November (2004)...Iraqi police in the contested city of Samarra "dissolved" under insurgent attacks, according to 42nd Infantry Division Capt. Robert Giordano.)
Salon.com, "Down and out with Iraqi forces.")
[Gee thanks, I feel really great reading this. Who wrote this shit? Whatever, man. Next!]
Nov 24, 2004: As insurgents intensify attacks on members of Iraq's fledgling security forces, U.S. authorities have concluded that plans to provide new police officers with a two-month introductory course followed by some on-the-job mentoring will not be enough to ensure their effectiveness.
With many police officers intimidated by killings and threats, some U.S. officials have even begun questioning the notion of trying to establish a system of local policing at this time.
Washington Post, "U.S. Says Police in Iraq Need Bolstering."
[Wait... What's this? I don't...get the fuck outta here. Who are these fuckin' liberals who wrote this shit, man?]
January 19, 2005: "We think the number [of fully-trained Iraqi forces] right now is somewhere over 120,000."
Condoleezza Rice, Confirmation Hearings, Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
[Oh, phew! Nothing, I just thought I heard...nope, nothing, forget it. 120,000's cool, I'll settle for that for now.]
Jan 19, 2005: MARGARET WARNER: How many of the 120,000 do you really think are ready to step into the place of U.S. forces when it comes to fighting the insurgency?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Well, that's a very high standard. I mean, although I would note that generally speaking their Arabic is better than ours, generally speaking their knowledge of neighborhoods is better than ours, and generally speaking if they go and search a house, they're probably less likely, at least inadvertently, to violate local customs than we will, so you can't do a one-for-one comparison...There's probably been a tendency sometimes to take the raw numbers a little too literally because the quality varies enormously... But they've put together, for example, something called the special police battalions, which have been doing some very effective counterinsurgency fighting in Mosul.
(In early November (2004), Q-West [in Mosul], which had been pretty peaceful to that point, "fell apart," in the words of US officers. Rather than stand and fight, most police in Q-West dropped their weapons and ran. They never came back.
By mid-November, an American commander in Mosul says, "I went from 2,000 police to 50." There was a similar exodus in the Iraqi army. "Let me tell you, there were some sleepless nights.")
Salon.com, "Down and out with Iraqi forces.")
[Okay, that was a fuckin' bummer. It's like Wolfowitz could use some fuckin' pumpin up, man.]
January 19, 2005: MARGARET WARNER: So what do you think, if you had to give an assessment of when there will be sufficient, competent Iraqi forces that the U.S. can leave in large numbers?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: That's a bit too high a bar to clear in terms of - you're asking a prediction that, you know, it's a very wide range.
[Paul, Paulmeister! You're not giving yourself credit. Cheer up, man. Who says you can't raise the bar high and make a bold prediction, huh? You can do it man, I believe in you!]
February 3, 2005: "[Some of our commanders] believe that over the course of the next six months you will see whole areas of Iraq successfully handed over to the Iraqi army and Iraqi police."
Wolfowitz, testifying before Congress
[Give me five, dude! The way he came back from the bummer-Paul to the optimistic-Paulmeister, it's like fuckin Miracle On Ice dude, seriously!]
February 4, 2005: "We're increasing international military participation in Iraq. We have accelerated the training of Iraqi security forces, now more than 200,000 strong."
Rumsfeld testifying before Congress.
[Dude, didja hear that?! They've gone from 120,000 to 200,000 in less than two weeks again! Rawwwwq!!!]
February 4, 2005: Less than a third of the 136,000 members of Iraqi security forces that the Pentagon says are trained and equipped can be sent to tackle the most challenging missions in the country, and Iraqi Army units are suffering severe troop shortages...
New York Times, "Many Iraqi troops not fully trained, U.S. officials say"
[Zzzzzzzz. Huh? What? Was somebody being negative here? Oh, it's just the liberals at the New York Times. Duh! You know, the thing about these liberal media guys is, would you ever want to have a beer with them? I sure as hell wouldn't, and neither would any of my friends.]
February 5, 2005: The US General in charge of building up Iraqi security forces has conceded that the program was behind schedule and that the beheading of recruits by insurgents was causing retention problems.
Reuters, "Beheadings slow Iraqi security force build-up."
[Bla-bla-bla. So what we learn is that the Iraqis are a bunch of fags who can't deal with a couple of beheadings. Bring back Rumsfeld, he'll make me feel better.]
February 5, 2005: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said during a visit to Iraq last October that he expected to have 150,000 Iraqi security forces by the end of January, and the Pentagon has set an ultimate goal of training a force of 271,000.
[Duuuude, did I fuckin' tell you or what?! 271,000! This is like the biggest fuckin' rawq concert ever!!! It's like bigger than if, like, Zep were to do another reunion. But wait, yesterday Rumsfeld said there were 200,000 Iraqis, so how did the Iraqi forces fall 50,000 in four days, and in time-reverse? Whatever, who cares.]
March 1, 2005: "I believe that in 2005, the most important statement that we should be able to make is that in the majority of the country, Iraqi security forces will take the lead in fighting the counterinsurgency... I think in 2005 they'll take on the majority of the tasks necessary to be done."
General Abizaid, Commander of the U.S. Central Command
[This works for me. It's like waiting for a property to sell, not losing heart. Or like what Jim Morrison told Wayne Campbell: "If you book them, they will come." Aerosmith came. So will those Iraqi forces. In 2005. No lie, guy.]
March 14, 2005: "The number of security forces overstates the number actually serving. [Iraqi] Ministry of Interior reports, for example, include police who are absent without leave in its totals. ...According to DOD officials, the number of absentees is in the tens of thousands. The reported number of Iraqi police [55,274 cops, out of a target number of 135,000] is unreliable. ...[The U.S. military command] does not know how many Iraqi police are on duty at any given point because the Ministry of Interior does not receive consistent and accurate reporting from police stations across Iraq....
Joseph A. Christoff, director of the Government Accountability Office's international affairs and trade division, testifying in Congress
[Fag alert! Next!]
March 27, 2005: "By this time next year...Assuming that the political process continues to go positively...and the Iraqi army continues to progress and develop as we think it will, we should be able to take some fairly substantial reductions in the size of our forces."
General George W. Casey, Commanding General of the Multi-National Force in Iraq
[Hey man, are you a General or are you a fag? You oughtta be telling me, "By this time next year, an Iraqi force of eleven million highly-trained security forces, all of whom are professed Seinfeld fans, will be deployed not only to take control of Iraq, but to invade, occupy, and Americanize every neighboring country, including, if necessary, Russia and China. God bless these men, and God Bless America!"]
May 10, 2005: The Iraqi army is said to have 73,450 "trained and equipped" personnel, but a report earlier this year by the U.S. Defense Department - whose armed forces live or die by how well-prepared the Iraqi army really is - noted that all but a few thousand of Iraq's troops are only lightly equipped and not at all prepared for mobile warfare.
Slate.com, "Over There: Why U.S. troops won't be coming home from Iraq anytime soon."
["Flintstones/Meet the Flintstones/They're a modern stone age fa-mi-ly!" Huh? Hold on, I'll turn the TV down. This Slate.com guy is trying to tell me something? Oh gee, I'm sorry, I wasn't listening. You know why? I don't listen to fags.]
May 23, 2005: According to the Pentagon, Iraqi forces - police, army, border patrol and an independent oil-security force - now total more than 150,000 men and women. Over the past several months, Pentagon officials have maintained that the Iraqi forces are steadily improving and growing in numbers - and the top brass has talked up the prospect of drawing down U.S. troops in significant numbers by this summer, after handing off much of the responsibility for securing the country to the Iraqis.
Salon.com, "Down and Out with Iraqi forces."
[Okay, not sure why we're stuck at 150,000 here. It's like, Rumsfeld said we'd be at 150,000 in January, and usually the way it works is that we double their size every week or two. It's this kind of thing that makes me bummed out on Iraq. If someone were to poll me here on this date, I'd be all, "Yeah, I'm starting to bum out on Iraq."]
June 8, 2005: Nearly three-quarters of Americans say the number of casualties in Iraq is unacceptable, while two-thirds say the U.S. military there is bogged down and nearly 6 in 10 say the war was not worth fighting - in all three cases matching or exceeding the highest levels of pessimism yet recorded.
Washington Post, "Poll Finds Dimmer View of Iraq War."
June 10, 2005: "I know the party line. You know, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army, five-star generals, four-star generals, President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld: The Iraqis will be ready in whatever time period," said 1st Lt. Kenrick Cato, 34, of Long Island, N.Y., who sold his share in a database firm to join the military full time after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "But from the ground, I can say with certainty they won't be ready before I leave. And I know I'll be back in Iraq, probably in three or four years. And I don't think they'll be ready then."
Washington Post, "Building Iraq's Army: Mission Improbable."
[Dude, what the fuck. Can you stop it? Seriously, this is totally... Give him some fuckin Prozac or something, you know?]
June 10, 2005: An hour before dawn, the sky still clouded by a dust storm, the soldiers of the Iraqi army's Charlie Company began their mission with a ballad to ousted president Saddam Hussein. "We have lived in humiliation since you left," one sang in Arabic, out of earshot of his U.S. counterparts. "We had hoped to spend our life with you."
..."We can't tell these guys about a lot of this stuff, because we're not really sure who's good and who isn't," said Rick McGovern, a tough-talking 37-year-old platoon sergeant from Hershey, Pa., who heads the military training for Charlie Company.
Overall, the number of Iraqi military and police trained and equipped is more than 169,000, according to the U.S. military, which has also said there are 107 operational military and special police battalions. As of last month, however, U.S. and Iraqi commanders had rated only 3 battalions capable of operating independently.
[Dude, I just read that, and you know what I realized? The point of that article is that there are 169,000 Iraqis on our side. Hoo-ah!]
June 13, 2005: "I just wish they'd start to pull their own weight without us having to come out and baby-sit them all the time," said Sgt. Joshua Lower, a scout in the Third Brigade of the First Armored Division who has worked with the Iraqis.
New York Times, "The Struggle for Iraq: Insurgency; As Iraqi Army Trains, Word in the Field is it May Take Years."
[Okay, this Lower guy's totally bummin' me out. Couldn't the Army release medical records showing that Lower's, like, clinically depressed, or gay, or something like that? With a name like Lower, it can't be hard.]
July 21, 2005: About half of Iraq's new police battalions are still being established and cannot conduct operations, while the other half of the police units and two-thirds of the new army battalions are only "partially capable" of carrying out counterinsurgency missions, and only with American help, according to a newly declassified Pentagon assessment.
New York Times, "Iraqis Not Ready to Fight Rebels on Own, U.S. Says"
[Enough, man! Seriously. I want a big fuckin number, alright? Where's that big fuckin number?!]
July 21, 2005: From a single American-trained Iraqi battalion a year ago, the Pentagon says there are now more than 100 battalions of Iraqi troops and paramilitary police units, totaling 171,500 men. Of that total, about 77,700 are military troops and 93,800 are police and paramilitary police officers. The total is to rise to 270,000 by next summer, when 10 fully equipped, 14,000-member Iraqi Army divisions are to be operational.
[Ah...sweet. Everything's cool again. 270,000. 270,000. 270,000...]