We talked today with Major General Stephen Lanza, USF-I (the successor to MNF-I). General Lanza is (Chuck Simmins tells us! UPDATE: Chuck Simmins tells us he was kidding!) the grandson of Hollywood actor Mario Lanza. This may seem a flippant detail, but remember how strongly Hollywood was tied in to the defense of the nation in its Golden era. Here is an echo of those days, and a good one.
Several of the early questions were about today's bombings in Baghdad. AQI scored a hit today, and it's natural enough that people would want to ask about it. However, my sense is: @#$@ AQI. If they couldn't win the war when they could kill a few hundred or a few thousand people, they aren't going to win by killing a few people. Their era has passed, and while the Kurdish issue remains latent in Iraq, these terrorist organizations are on a glide path to nowhere. It's time to turn our attention to the bigger -- and less interesting -- issues that really govern the day to day lives of the people of Iraq.
I asked about agriculture. This was something we spent a lot of time on when I was out Iraq way, and for good reason. It's the #2 industry in Iraq, but only because oil has such high profit potential. If you look at it from the perspective of how every tribesman outside the city makes his living, agriculture is king. The Iranians know this, which is why they've been dumping super-cheap produce on the Iraqi market for years. If they can hold down the Iraqi agricultural industry, they can keep average, tribal people from making a living. That's how you foster instability in a nation emerging from war, if instability is in your interest.
The general gave a good answer. The international water rights concerns he cites are very valid, and a key concern. Drip irrigation looks like this:
That's a photo I took out in Mahmudiyah qada, last spring, on a trip out to one of our drip irrigation projects. The big pipe leads to a water tank that's lifted off the ground about twelve feet; it's filled using a small, gasoline-powered pump. The tank then gravity feeds along the smaller hoses, which are pierced at intervals to provide dripping water that slowly, slightly dampens the earth.
Seems like a small thing, but it's not. The traditional method of irrigation in Iraq means digging huge trenches, and flooding them with water from the Euphrates or Tigris rivers. The problem is that this exposes a massive cross-section of the water to the sun, leading to a tremendous loss of water to evaporation in the desert heat. Drip irrigation means that water use enjoys maximum efficiency, so that more farmers can profit from the same amount of water.
It's not sexy, like fighting AQI. But AQI doesn't matter now. They've lost the war. What matters is helping the people of Iraq achieve their hopes, for themselves and their children. Victory is like that: you can start thinking about the best, and not merely about the worst.