The Iraqi Army cut and ran. There are no reports of any strategic initiatives, tactical maneuvers, mobile reserves, or anything other than a rout. Iraq has an “Armed Service and Supply Institute”, a.k.a. a war college, but Maliki runs the war personally from his presidential compound, which has both civilian and military sides. Such is his trust in whatever military expertise may be available.
At D-Day, the German forces at the beachhead were designated by the Wehrmacht as “static divisions”, a special class of substandard soldiers equipped with substandard equipment, incapable of organized movement. Hence the term, “static.” Yet they fought.
Napoleon’s Army at Waterloo was composed of three tiers of elite beyond the common soldier, the Old Guard, the Middle Guard, and the Young Guard. At the critical moment, Napoleon committed the Old Guard, nicknamed the “Immortals.” But the immortality of the Old Guard was not corporeal, but a myth of invincibility. When the Old Guard began to retreat, the myth died, the Middle Guard broke, and most of the Young Guard fled.
The emotional quotient of an army, though hidden, is huge. When it is destroyed, only a hero can restore it. You may wish to listen to a short speech of Churchill, rallying Britain from defeat in France. When the movie “Young Winston” was screened in London, moviegoers would, at the end, stand and solemnly applaud, just as if the great man could hear them. The 20th was not a particularly good century from the moral perspective, yet we can at least cherish the memory of a few people who tried to do the right thing.
Can you imagine Maliki rousing his “nation”, or delegating responsibility to those more capable than himself? There must be some, if Iraq is not a uniquely untalented place.
From what kind of society does a good army spring? The common element is hard to find. Do authoritarian societies produce the best soldiers? The Germany principalities, and Bismarck’s Germany, had a strong hierarchical social order. The U.S. army estimate of the combat effectiveness of a German soldier in World War II is 1.3 times that of a U.S. soldier. But the Western armies continued to improve the art of creating the soldier, so a Spartan mentality is no longer a requirement.
Do violent societies produce the best soldiers? Countries where people shoot guns in the air, and where soldiers festooned with bandoliers and menacing expressions, are not noted for their soldiering. They are noted, instead, for “militia.” The excellence of the Indian Army further destroys the idea.
What about the power of myth? At the close of the Vietnam War, in a situation with some parallels to the current one, North Vietnam triumphed. Yet not too many years later, they became enthusiastically corrupt capitalists. Whatever drove North Vietnam to victory survives primarily as a Ho Chi Minh personality cult. Ho’s writings are insubstantial compared to the great ideologues. Yet the North Vietnamese had an idée fixe when they needed it; perhaps it qualifies as a myth.
What about land? Do people fight for it? Perhaps land-bound peasants fight for their land, but not beyond? But North Vietnam was a nation of peasants; they went south and fought.
For every demonstration of pattern, there seems to be a contradiction. This can happen if we are trying to define something in terms of what we think are elemental attributes, when the something is itself elemental. But perhaps an equivalence is possible. Perhaps the potential for a good army is equivalent to a strong national myth, which, being insubstantial, is elemental. Perhaps Iraq’s rousingly bad army is because of the absence of a national myth.
The tensions in the region are religious, so we cannot avoid the subject. The British had no confidence in the Shiite ability to rule. They chose, instead, the Sunnis, whose more subdued demeanor encouraged hopes of Western style rationalism. The mythic space of the Iraqi religious landscape may leave no room for a national myth. Iran has one, but with the benefit of a national culture that predates the current religion.
In Syria, the Alawite minority, with a religion concisely described as a blend of Shi’ism with syncretistic elements, has prevailed over Sunni extremists. So analysis particular to a specific religion is inconclusive. But one idea that remains intact is that Iraq lacks a national myth, and that there may not be enough head-space to inject one.
Now we come to the conclusion, the generation of intelligence from all the open source input, stirred together by philosophical speculation. With reports that Sunni figures from the Saddam era have made common cause with the ISIS, the Iraqi Army cannot regain the Sunni heartland. Driven by ties to the land, with American air support, and stiffened by Iran’s Republican Guard, the Shiites will hold the south.
Partition has occurred.