Thursday, February 08, 2007

Microcosm of Iraq: Giving flat soccer balls

Salon has a story written by Mark Benjamin that serves as a microcosm of the American quagmire in Iraq.

Soccer is huge in Iraq. A unit of Americans stationed in a forward operating base was tasked with a mission to win the hearts and minds of the local populace by handing out soccerballs. However, when the soccerballs arrived they were not accompanied with any means where by they could be inflated.

After casting about for possible solutions the base commander eventually washed his hands of the affair, declared that the locals would have to be greatful for what they got, and ordered the balls distributed uninflated.
It seemed crazy. "We were so pissed," said [sniper, Garett] Reppenhagen. But orders are orders. When you are told to hand out flat soccer balls, you hand out flat soccer balls. So the soldiers who served in 2nd Battalion, 63rd Armored Regiment piled the flat soccer balls into their Humvees. Driving through the Sunni Triangle's war-torn towns, they tossed the deflated balls to children, who crowded the sides of the roads, running beside the canals and lush greenery that lined the banks of the Diyala River. "Kids were swarming us," Reppenhagen said. "We went to a couple of schools and delivered stacks of them. Everybody we saw got a flat soccer ball."


When the Humvees began to retrace their route back to the base, the futility of the operation was becoming painfully clear. "Kids were wearing these soccer balls as hats," Reppenhagen said. "They were kicking them around. They were in trees. They were floating in canals. They were everywhere. There were so many soccer balls."

Today, Reppenhagen still cringes when he recalls the soccer ball operation, which to him says so much about the entire U.S. occupation in Iraq.
Here we have some brainiac administrator hitting upon a good idea to help win the populace over, who while planning the operation does not consider the most fundamental components needed for success. The result is an embarrasment for the military and frustrated, hostile locals. No one wins...

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