“Rule of Law” Operations in Iraq

Like I imagine most of the folks reading the blog, I read the comments of Brookings Institute’s Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack’s A War We Might Just Win (NYT, Jul 31) with a grain of salt. Some say they saw a Potemkin village (Irrelevant Exuberance – Phil Carter) while others are quoting them extensively as the “war” is being won, while the authors backtrack slightly from the items being attributed to them. Reality is that any visitor to Iraq (or Munich, or Beijing, or NYC) never sees the entire picture, and they focus on what they want to see.

The Fort Lewis (WA) non-official paper, The Fort Lewis Ranger (in business about 50 years, also the publisher of the Tacoma alternative entertainment paper), as opposed to the official NW Guardian (from the Public Affairs Office (PAO) of the Fort), sometimes has some interesting details that just don’t quite make the news. In this case they have a milblog that includes regular reports from soldiers serving “in the sandbox.” And while this is anecdotal from a soldier serving in Iraq, I think this shows things are changing in Iraq (and they can change back in the other direction too)

As I sat there, my buddy Daniel and I discussed how things have changed on this deployment. “We go from getting shot at every day and getting to shoot our guns as well as having one of our trucks get blown up to now the Haifa Project,” I said with a laugh. Standing beside me puffing on a cigarette, Daniel replied, “Next thing you know we will be in our overalls painting the Haifa apartments red and white.” Everyone just started laughing. He was referring to the colors of the Cav unit we are under. They are all about making sure red and white are everywhere the eye can see, so it’s an infantry joke. Daniel flicked his cigarette butt, stepped on it with a look of disgust and then walked away with his head down. Davie, who had been sitting nearby, got up and came over. “Wait, Iraq doesn’t even have traffic laws, so what’s our arrow exactly supposed to do. They’re still going to drive on the wrong side of the street.” I shook my head in agreement and finished off, “Instead of combat patrols, we’ll throw some sirens on the Stryker and start handing out traffic tickets.”

Before we loaded the truck, Staff Sgt. Rine gave us the brief and the plan. “OK, Delfeld, you’re going to paint the arrow on the street while we pull security. Try to make it quick. No one wants to get sniped painting the ground.” Everyone had straight faces agreeing on that issue completely. Staff Sgt. Rine looked around at us waiting for the smiles to break, and sure enough, I couldn’t hold it anymore. “We are really doing this?” Staff Sgt. Rine laughed and then replied, “Yes, we are.” Then he turned around and went into the truck. It was weird; everyone was silent. It was like everyone was trying to process the situation.

What, the US Army is now painting traffic signals on the streets? Yep. If you read the full link, he compares this to CALTRANS (California Transportation) doing the same thing, lots of folks watching one worker.

The night progressed, and Delfeld painted seven or eight more arrows. The last arrow was by far the funniest scene. There in the middle of the street were nine Iraqi guys standing in a half-moon circle while Delfeld was on his knees with sweat coming down his brow and paint all over his hands going at the last arrow. I said to myself, “Why don’t we just give the guys watching brushes and five buckets so they can paint their own street.”

Anecdotal, but progress, next step is getting the Iraqis to paint their own miserable street markers. Iraq is still dangerous, and could turn worse tomorrow, but I hope this trend continues.


Well, we drove down that road the other day, and guess what? Every single arrow is gone. Was it a waste of time? No, we got a good laugh out of it, and everyone came home safe.

FILED UNDER: Guns and Gun Control, Iraq War, , , , , , , ,
Richard Gardner
About Richard Gardner
Richard Gardner is a “retired” Navy Submarine Officer with military policy, arms control, and budgeting experience. He contributed over 100 pieces to OTB between January 2004 and August 2008, covering special events. He has a BS in Engineering from the University of California, Irvine.


  1. Andy says:

    Anecdotal, but progress

    If there is any one thing that represents the intellectual bankruptcy of the pro-war/surge/whatever crowd, it is confusing anecdotes with progress.

    McCain, Lieberman, O’Hanlon/Pollack, et al. are extremely guilty of this sort of absurdity.

  2. Cernig says:

    Sure, the soldiers didn’t get shot at this time (although they obviously expected to be). But what does it say about Iraqi attitudes to the US occupation that Iraqis are willing to expend time and effort on eradicating American street signs, just because they are American?

    Not good.

    Regards, C