April 13, 2006

The Fallacy of Dependency Theory

From a Greg Jaffe piece in yesterday's Wall Street Journal:

Though political gridlock and waves of sectarian violence continue to afflict Iraq, clear signs are emerging that the U.S. is gearing up plans to reduce the number of its troops in the country. No firm decisions or formal announcements on a reduction are likely before Iraqi leaders form a government -- a process that has already taken several months and stoked civil disorder. Moreover, military officials in Iraq and Washington worry that pulling U.S. troops back from Iraqi cities or bringing them home could further escalate sectarian fighting that Iraqi forces would be unable to quell on their own.

Nevertheless, U.S. commanders, involved in a conflict increasingly unpopular at home, are moving ahead with steps that are necessary before beginning to draw down the 132,000 U.S. troops in the country by the end of this year. They have closed or turned over 30 smaller bases to Iraqi forces and are turning to smaller units to support Iraqi police and military forces...

...Once U.S. troops are consolidated on half a dozen big bases, much American military work will be done by small teams working with Iraqis. U.S. forces will provide logistical support and air power, and serve as a quick-reaction force if the Iraqis need help. The shift in U.S. responsibilities should enable significant numbers of soldiers to head home...

...Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others argue that if U.S. troops stay too long, Iraqi forces won't become capable of fending for themselves. Senior U.S. military officials, including Gen. Abizaid, also worry that the large U.S. presence in the country could be fueling the insurgency, which draws on the rallying cry that the U.S. is an occupying force. Also, as the American public's support for the war has diminished, U.S. commanders feel pressure to cut troop levels and reduce fatalities...

The reduced U.S. presence in Iraqi cities will mean less interaction among American officers and local Iraqi leaders -- ties that so far have provided valuable intelligence to U.S. forces and a check on abuses by Iraqi authorities. The impact could be great in places like Samarra and Tikrit, cities that U.S. military forces turned over last week to Iraqi forces, who, with U.S. support, will take the lead in providing security, gathering intelligence and executing raids and patrols.

Off and on since 2004, Samarra has been a flash point for violence and a haven for jihadists and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq group. The mixed Sunni and Shiite city is one of the most restive in Iraq, U.S. military officials say.

In recent months, Iraqi police and army forces have shown more willingness to fight when attacked by insurgents. U.S. commanders point to a strike last month on an Iraqi police station in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad. As many as 20 police officers were killed, but in contrast with past attacks, the police stood and fought. At the same time, some Iraqi police forces have participated in human-rights abuses that have pushed Iraq closer to civil war...

...The current U.S. strategy seeks to hedge against the negative effects of a drawdown by placing small teams of U.S. soldiers and Marines with Iraqi army and police forces. These 10-man teams, composed primarily of officers and senior enlisted soldiers, can help enforce human-rights standards and call for help from larger U.S. units. All Iraqi-army units already have teams with them, and the U.S. is putting teams with more police units. Senior Army officials say that even as the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq drops, the number of officers and senior enlisted soldiers manning these teams will increase.

A brigade of U.S. troops also is being held in Kuwait in case they are needed to swoop in and buttress Iraqi security forces or control sectarian strife. Recently, about 700 of those soldiers were brought in to provide security during a major Shiite holiday.

But as U.S. troops consolidate on bases or are held in Kuwait, their effectiveness drops sharply, according to counterinsurgency experts. "The deficiency is that if you are not already in the area, you don't know anybody. You don't know the political or military leadership," says Kalev Sepp, who helped to plan strategy for U.S. commanders in Iraq and teaches counterinsurgency at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey, Calif. "If that is the case, how much of an impact can you have?"

First Rumsfeld bungled with imposing his fantastical transformationalist nostrums on the Iraq war theater. Instead of Overwhelming Force, we got Troop Lite. Troop Lite led to Stuff Happens. Now Rumsfeld is all caught up on "dependency" theory. The Iraqis will become dependent, you see, if we actually were to have a more proactive force posture and attempted to create conditions of order in Iraq. Hogwash, at least at this juncture. Rather than artificially inflate the numbers of trained and equipped Iraqi Forces, and be concerned about fostering too much "dependency", we should be re-doubling efforts to control the battle-space, not least in Baghdad, but of course in key areas like Anbar too. It's far too early to be fretting about dependency, as this war could still be lost, especially if we retrench too much into big bases and leave the battle-space to ineffective Iraq forces that may not prove a real match to the insurgents or, equally important, the militias. Rumsfeld's (and so Bush's) legacy in Iraq may well be chaotic civil war or large-scale inter-communal friction or whatever euphemism we want to use to describe the bloody emergence of three para-states, but there is still hope to stave off this horrific outcome. Fresh leadership, of course, would help--that isn't beholden to dependency theory nostrums, and the like, but rather sees clearly how immensely turbulent the current situation remains, and therefore the attendant continuing need for major American involvement. But I'm sounding like a broken record, aren't I?

P.S. In fairness to Rumsfeld, and to state the obvious, it bears noting that the retrenchments and more conservative force posture are not only a result of his personal concerns about dependency, but also a recognition of political realities at home. There is, of course, major political pressure to reduce casualties, and bring U.S. forces home. All these varied variables are conspiring together to make our presence in Iraq less effective, and risk the outcome of the war. A strong President who understood this risk, and could use the bully pulpit to rally the American public to his side, by stressing the need for real sacrifice (for instance, a war tax would remind people, you know, that we are at war), could make a difference. But we don't have such leadership. We are still trying to do it on the cheap. And so risking failure.

Posted by Gregory at April 13, 2006 04:51 AM | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Someone has to beat the drum. I beat my little drum in 03 when I was shocked to encounter the CPA-Iraq; perhaps your larger drum may yet have an effect on the quasi Bolshevism (with respect to party and the like) that seems to have infected the US right wing.

Posted by: The Lounsbury at April 13, 2006 07:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, it appears that U.S. forces are again making more frequent and vigorous patrols in western and southern Baghdad. So I don't think that the folks at Centcom buy this nonsense that the Iraqi army should just be left to sink or swim.

Posted by: Andrew Reeves at April 13, 2006 12:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, it appears that U.S. forces are again making more frequent and vigorous patrols in western and southern Baghdad. So I don't think that the folks at Centcom buy this nonsense that the Iraqi army should just be left to sink or swim.

Posted by: Andrew Reeves at April 13, 2006 12:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

just want to point out that as the knives come out for Rummy one should not forget that it's flawed leadership that made him possible and that the most interesting dynamic history's muse may pull from the Bush administration is what happens in/to a democracy when a weak president falls prey to his not so weak underlings. Remember, Rummy was wrong, not incompetent - when it came to getting what he wanted he was acutely competent: it just so happens that what he wanted was ill conceived. Bush on the other hand I believe deserves to be called incompetent - and possibly Rice too depending on how one views her actions or lack thereof since it's reasonable to speculate she was just as conniving a player as Rumsfeld and Cheney.

Posted by: saintsimon at April 13, 2006 12:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The train has left the station on war taxes and beefing up the troops and doing anything involving sacrifice with respect to Iraq. The nation has lost any sense of purpose with respect to that mission. And how could they not? There were supposed to be WMDs. There weren't. The war was supposed to make Iraq look better. It hasn't. The Iraqis were supposed to be grateful for the Democracy that was about to be bestowed on them. They can't get a government together, and seem to be more interested in tribal inter-religious revenge matters than solving anything. And the lights still don't work, and the oil still does not flow.

Well, maybe we did attract the terrorists to Iraq, per the flypaper theory. We haven't exactly annihilated them, but no plan survives contact with the enemy, eh?

The reason to stay in Iraq, at this point, is the Pottery Barn theory. That's not going to keep us there past this President's term. And, hey, Dependency Theory may get us out earlier.

What this administration, and neo-conservatives, and Bush apostates, and even appalled moderates failed to do was assess the real costs of Iraq going in and get some sense that the American people were willing to pay those costs for the objectives. So, we did war on the cheap, still got people killed, and hav met few, if any objectives. Saying Bush is incompetent is true, but perhaps a convenient half truth. The philosophy behind Bush -- this neo-Wilsonian the US will make the world safe for Democracy -- is flawed. Not all the world wants US style Democracy. The US citizen does not want to pay the taxes to support the effort. The US college student does not want to dodge bullets in middle east to support it.

Greg, with respect, I think you are looking at the results in Iraq and are correctly judging what manner of men created them. But you may need to look at the philosophical base of it all, and the practicality of getting people on board with a proper execution of that philosophy. You are starting to look like the Marxian professor of the 80s yelping that the only trouble with Socialism is that it's never really been tried.

As usual, I got no answers. that's the perogative of a blog commenter. To carp. But this nation is due for a serious self-assessment of what it is willing to do in this world, and what it is willing to pay for. It's easy to note that our course is not sustainable, that Bush is the worst president since the 1850s. But the discussion, that needs to start now, is what course we are willing to sustain.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at April 13, 2006 02:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If Rumsfeld is really arguing for the troops to come home than the war is basically lost. Is there anyone in the Administration at this point who is arguing for us to fight this to the end? There are plenty of of mid-level officers who seem to have the stomach for it, but it sounds like the politicians and top brass have already thrown in the towel. And if the Dems take Congress than count on the troops coming home. For Bush pulling out the troops makes the most sense politically - maybe the Iraqis get it together and after a short bloody civil war a shi'ite state emerges with which we can work. That sounds pretty unlikely, but on the other hand if Iraq dissolves into chaos the Administration can always blame the Iraqi people for being too ungrateful and barbaric or the media for not reporting enough good news, or both. The important thing for spin purposes is that if our troops aren't getting killed most Americans will simply stop paying attention. And, cynically, if southern Iraq turns into an Iranian client state, which seems likely, than we will have that much more justification for attacking Iran later on.

Posted by: Vanya at April 13, 2006 03:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg:

I've been 75% unfair to you, based on comments below, where you address recent rethink among the neocons. (Though I stand by my comments, otherwise). Sorry.

But I still think the spirit of Woodrow Wilson is animating your thoughts on Iraq. And you seriously misjudge the American people's tolerance for a war tax or sacrifice on a war based on bad intelligence and a desire to shake things up. And Bush, who has the shade of his Katrina performance always with him, can't become, in the American mind, a credible voice on Iraq urging sacrifice.

So what do we do, withdraw? Honestly, I don't know. Though, if civil war breaks out in full, what else can we do. There is a point where the end of the road is reached.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at April 13, 2006 03:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Afghanistan war was war on the cheap, and it was successful.

Well, at least it appeared successful, and still does, more so if you don't look too closely. We drove the Taleban out of power (although I concede they've still got influence, from Pakestan to Afghanistan). We almost captured Osama. We kind of decapitated "Al Quaeda". We kind of established a democracy. We kind of crushed the drug flow (although, I guess it's back). We lost the oil pipeline project (at least, I assume the BTC pipeline killed the one we wanted to get by regime change in Afghanistan -- how's our hope on that pipeline to Pakistan nowadays?).

The Iraq war was war on the cheap, and it looked successful at first.

It doesn't look as successful any more, after it turns out to have been based on so many lies, and after it turns out to have created a seething nest of terrorists, and terrorist training, and a groundswell of hatred of the US across not only Arabia, but also North Africa, south Asia, and even much of the rest of the world. Also, it turned out not to be cheap after all.

Perhaps a new war on the cheap, against Iran, made with only bombers this time, could obscure that last failure in Iraq, to help Bush end with not such a blot of failure on his record.

Posted by: tdalton at April 13, 2006 10:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Afghanistan war was war on the cheap, and it was successful.

Well, at least it appeared successful, and still does, more so if you don't look too closely. We drove the Taleban out of power (although I concede they've still got influence, from Pakestan to Afghanistan). We almost captured Osama. We kind of decapitated "Al Quaeda". We kind of established a democracy. We kind of crushed the drug flow (although, I guess it's back). We lost the oil pipeline project (at least, I assume the BTC pipeline killed the one we wanted to get by regime change in Afghanistan -- how's our hope on that pipeline to Pakistan nowadays?).

The Iraq war was war on the cheap, and it looked successful at first.

It doesn't look as successful any more, after it turns out to have been based on so many lies, and after it turns out to have created a seething nest of terrorists, and terrorist training, and a groundswell of hatred of the US across not only Arabia, but also North Africa, south Asia, and even much of the rest of the world. Also, it turned out not to be cheap after all.

Perhaps a new war on the cheap, against Iran, made with only bombers this time, could obscure that last failure in Iraq, to help Bush end with not such a blot of failure on his record.

Posted by: tdalton at April 13, 2006 10:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Is the fear of "dependency" just the excuse?

They have always said when Iraq stands up or steps out or whatever, we will stand down. Obviously that is not the case and yet, troop numbers will likely be reduced. They needed a somewhat believable excuse to counter the fact that they seem to backtracking from their own statements, without looking like the are joining the "cutting and running" crowd.

Posted by: ET at April 14, 2006 01:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.


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