September 15, 2005

What to Do In Iraq?

The Problem With Phased/Timed Withdrawal

A while back Kevin Drum wrote:'s also true that calling for immediate withdrawal would be a singularly gutsy move, and that's not the hallmark of most politicians. What surprises me, though, is that none of them even has the guts to break ranks and advocate the course that's probably the most sensible anyway: a gradual timed withdrawal. There are at least three good reasons why a publicly announced timetable for withdrawal makes sense:

The presence of American troops is what's largely fueling the terrorism-driven Iraqi insurgency in the first place. Announcing in a credible way that we plan to leave — really leave — would at least partially draw its fangs.

As long as American troops are around, Iraqi leaders don't have enough incentive to make the hard choices needed to agree on a constitution and train troops to guard their own country. A no-nonsense announcement from the U.S. would force them to get moving.

The military can't keep up its current tempo in Iraq for much longer, and sometime in 2006 a drawdown is probably going to become necessary no matter what. If that's the case, it's better to do it on our own terms instead of waiting to be forced into it.

Kevin, along with other observers like Matt Yglesias, have been pushing for a "timed withdrawal" of late. Let's take each of Kevin's points one at a time. First, he believes that the U.S. presence in Mesopotamia is fueling the insurgency. Get our troops out, and the insurgency will diminish, the story line runs. Note Juan Cole too, with his misguided ten-point plan, appears to view U.S. troop withdrawals as something of a panacea--and stresses exiting the cities first because, his thinking goes, troops aren't suited for gendarmarie type tasks anyway. But Cole doesn't really grapple with the massive propaganda value that American withdrawals from towns like Kirkuk, Mosul and Baghdad would have for the insurgency, nor does he appear to seriously consider that significant insurgent firepower is holed up in such cities, and so much of the insurgent activity cannot simply be stopped by his suggested prophylatic of preventing insurgent attempts to mount 'set-piece' battles by marching into Baghdad from Anbar, say, with American air power called in to decimate the concentrated enemy forces.

Most important, however, is that Kevin and Juan both ignore that U.S. troop withdrawals, far from leading to a reduction in insurgent activity, will instead have precisely the opposite effect. Freed from being under pressure (however episodic at times) in towns like Tal Afar, or Qaim, or Haditha, or Ramadi, or Samarra, or wherever--insurgents would be emboldened to ratchet up their efforts in attempting to forment a civil war. Remember, if the Iraqi insurgents are successful in triggering a civil war--the U.S. will have failed strategically in Iraq. At very least, an embittered Sunni para-state will serve as terror haven, and, more alarming perhaps, the chances of neighbors getting increasingly involved in nefarious fashion will ratchet up too. Indeed, an American withdrawal would lead to an all out effort by an unholy alliance of Baathist restorationists, criminal elements, fundamentalists (domestic and imported) and irredentist Sunni nationalists--a full-blown, concerted effort to wreak havoc on Shia and Kurdish civilians so as to stoke a civil war. And while it's true the the Shi'a enjoy a major population advantage, and that the Kurds have the relatively very well developed peshmerga forces--one must recall that neo-Baathist forces have access to much materiel, foreign support (via Saudi, Jordan, Syria and perhaps even Turkey--looking to restrain the Kurds and protect their Turkomen kin)--so that the Jacksonian nationalist wing in Washington DC that appears increasingly content to let the 'Free' Iraqis fight it out, kick Sunni ass, and set up a Shia-Kurdish condiminium characterized by crude majoritarianism don't appear to fully grasp Iraqi and regional dynamics in my humble opinion.

Drum's second point is that we are providing the Iraqis the "welfare" of troop protection, ie. they can endlessly bicker and argue amongst themselves with impunity because the 800 pound gorilla of U.S. forces is in the room to bail each party out if things get real nasty. But this analysis is short-sighted on a variety of levels. For one, the only way that we can succeed in Iraq, if success is defined as leaving behind a relatively democratic, stable polity with potentially robust political governance structures taking root--is if we leave behind a fully trained Iraq army that has a multi-ethnic leadership and officer corps. Kissinger has wisely made this point, I've repeated it tirelessly in this space, and other people like Anthony Cordesman have been seized of it as well. Why does this matter? Because if our approach is to merely slap a national Iraqi army uniform on a peshmerga fighter (who will turn around and put the Kurdish flag insignia on his 'national army' uniform, or for some SCIRI types looking for a Shi'a-superstate in the south run by Badr militia--what we might end up doing is training an army that will end up--consumed by internecine intrigues--fighting each other. And, to return to Kevin's point, if we keep making noises that American troops are going to be pulled out we are going to disincentivize the militias from putting their arms down. Indeed, all the chatter about a U.S. withdrawal--far from 'concentrating' minds to more expeditiously force the various parties to reach a compromise in Iraq--is instead leading to calculations about what Iraq post-American forces present will look like. And, with no effective central goverment, woefully lagging reconstruction efforts, little if any credible rule of law to speak of--is it any wonder that it is each clan, tribe, sect, religion for him or herself? Put differently, what American forces provide is the breathing space to allow Iraqis, over the coming years, to broker compromises and adapt to political governance structures that enshrine minority rights and the rule of law. Take away the oxygen of this interval, and the whole project could blow up in much worse fashion than at the present time. We'd simply have the rapid-fire militiazation of Iraqi society--and perhaps an inexorable march to civil war. As Cordesman has written:

MNF-I and the Iraqi government have avoided bringing militias in as entire elements for very good reasons. The temptation of using militias as an expedient short-term measure to establish control somewhere in Iraq has a major long-range downside. The biggest single challenge to the Iraqi leaders is to get all ethnic groups, political parties, religious sects, etc., to work together as part of the Iraqi state and political processes. This means militias should not be legitimized and that the government should retain the monopoly on the legitimate use of power. There may be a need to find some mission for selected militia units that will ensure they do not become involved in ethnic/sectarian struggles, but Iraq does not need low-grade ethnic and sectarian forces. It needs effective national forces. [emphasis added]

Pull out U.S. forces in a hasty phased withdrawal and kiss a national Iraqi Army good-bye, and with it likely too the prospects, however dim they may be (of which more below), of an ultimately successful Iraq project.

Drum also points out another reason to withdraw, perhaps a more compelling one. We simply can't sustain this level of deployment, the conventional wisdom goes, without breaking the back of the Army and Reserves. I'm not so sure this is the case, and believe we might well be able to sustain approximately 138,000 men in theater for upwards of 3-4 more years. Put differently, I'm not persuaded Drum is right that a drawdown will be absolutely necessitated, no matter what, in 2006.

So You Want To Stay, But What's Your Success Strategy?

A fair point that might be raised at this stage is, if you want to stay put, well tell us how we have a fighting chance of making it worth it. Explain to skeptics why more Americans should die for a war that has been run so incompetently by the Pentagon's civilian leadership. Or, more to the point, explain to us how we have any real chance of succeeding there, otherwise we might as well pack up and go home, right?

Well, let me posit a few things on this score. Everyone who is serious agrees that a key component of our success strategy is the effective training and equipping of the Iraqi Army. As Bush likes to say: "as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down" (and as Bill Kristol, and B.D., like to admonish him--his line should instead be that as Iraqi forces stand up, U.S. forces will stand up with them). On train and equip, very significant progress has been made. While I am dubious that anything more than a handful of Iraqi units are "fully capable" of independent counter-insurgency activity, and also quite dubious that more than 20%, say, of Army units are capable of leading operations even with major U.S. backup--we nevertheless still have seen tremendous progress made on train and equip with some 81 operating combat battalions trained as of early summer '05. As I said, their operational readiness and skill levels must be viewed with significant skepticism, and I suspect there are significant infiltrations of spies and other troublemakers within the force, but, make no mistake, we've made real progress on the T&E front.

Still, however, much more must be made. The usual suspects in the blogosphere have recently feted, for instance, the offensive in Tal Afar. But, aside from the fact that many of the insurgents fled to fight another day, and were also able to destabilize the capital city in a series of heinous bombings a day or so after the operation--another important aspect of Tal Afar that went largely unnoticed was that many of the 'Iraqi' forces fighting were Kurdish pershmerga (aided by Shi'a Turkomen). We must get to the point where Sunni Turkomen and Sunni are fighting the hardest of the recalcitrants within their own communities, as sending in peshmerga and Shi'a to Sunni areas is but inflaming local resentment and rendering the insurgency more viable, rather than less, by creating sympathy among the population.

It's a cliche, of course, but counterinsurgencies are ultimately won, not on the battlefield, but with the hearts and minds of the people via political compromises and solutions. Jason Vest, in a must read piece, manifestly shows us how long it has taken for senior Pentagon leadership to begin to grapple with this reality. I am going to excerpt it at great length, because I know people are often lazy to click through links, and I think it's an important piece (all emphasis B.D's):

Scholars and soldiers alike have often used the phrase "the American way of war" to describe not just a predilection, but a virtual strategic obsession, which holds that wars are fought by gathering the maximum in manpower and materiel, hurling them into the maelstrom, and counting on swift, crushing victory. While this approach may work against a conventional army, it's nothing short of disastrous when fighting insurgents engaging in unconventional guerrilla warfare. Thus far in Iraq, the U.S. effort, though not entirely devoid of successes, has been hallmarked by overwhelmed and underprepared troops effecting heavy-handed, large-scale roundups of civilians (in some cases errantly or overzealously harming them); or the destruction of large swaths of cities and towns. Meanwhile, cycles of insurgent attacks continue to effectively target current and newly recruited Iraqi police, soldiers, and politicians, as well as Iraqi civilians and U.S. soldiers...

In Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon, the theory of modern war is enshrined in documents with titles like Joint Vision 2010 and Joint Vision 2020. These focus primarily on command and control systems heavily defined by technology and used to fight the kind of maneuver warfare that twice dispensed with Iraq's vastly inferior conventional army. "In the ideal world of JV 2020, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems like imagery satellites would gather data that troops need to 'see' areas of operations," the veteran army officer and intelligence specialist John Gentry wrote in 2002, illustrating the idealized Rumsfeldian future of battlespace. "Communications networks would instantly transmit information and orders to troops, who would promptly convert them into effective action. Precision munitions would rain on targets. Victory would be assured."

Gentry described this vision as a "fairy tale," and to a large extent events have echoed his view. The success of taking out the Ba'athist army and regime had less to do with technology and more to do with the sorry skill set of Saddam's army...technological advances that serve to enhance combat operations--or require battalion commanders to innovate their way out of being undermined by them--are merely a prologue to the actual modern war: occupying and pacifying a country in transition. It was not without good reason, for example, that 43 years ago, Col. Roger Trinquier, one of France's most insightful and controversial practitioners of unconventional warfare, titled his influential treatise Modern Warfare: A French View of Counterinsurgency. Drawing on his experiences in pre-World War II colonial paramilitary operations against smugglers and pirates in Asia and the ultimately disastrous French experiences in Indochina and Algeria, Trinquier decreed the era of set-piece battles essentially obsolete. "Warfare," he wrote, "is now an interlocking system of actions--political, economic, psychological, military--that aims at the overthrow of the established authority in a country and its replacement."

More (and with apologies for the lengthy quotes):

In Insurgency and Terrorism, O'Neill cautions that failure to grasp the gradations of insurgent type and strategy often leads government forces to pursue a one-size-fits-all approach, generally taking the militaristic overwhelming-force-and-firepower tack that actually prolongs and exacerbates an insurgency. He also notes that for nations transitioning to independence--an apt enough description for post-Saddam Iraq--overcoming two serious obstacles is key. One is economic underdevelopment; the other is a lack of national unity. Taking all these matters into account, from the vantage point of one of O'Neill's brighter former students, as of summer 2003 the die for a quagmire that would be increasingly difficult to get out of was already more or less cast.

The former O'Neill student I spoke with preferred to remain anonymous--not unreasonably, as he recently retired from a U.S. intelligence agency and, throughout his career, had ample opportunity to contextualize his fieldwork using O'Neill's lessons. When we spoke in mid-2003, he said that it seemed as if, in many respects, the occupation had read O'Neill's book and done the exact opposite. At Iraq's weakest economic moment in modern history, he said, disbanding the army--the country's one force for national unity--represented one axis of ineptitude. That axis intersected with another: the coalition's inability to establish basic legitimacy by providing necessary services, such as regular electricity and other civil support. Such things, he said, were likely to engender both passive and active resistance that would only worsen.

But he also noted that beyond giving people the universal basics, few in the occupation seemed to have much interest in understanding certain complicated cultural and political historic realities of Iraq... Others were looking on with a deep sense of foreboding. At Georgetown University, Don Vandergriff, an army major and scholar twice named ROTC Instructor of the Year, told his students he was not optimistic about what was to come. On November 2, 2003, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top military commander in Iraq, claimed that the mounting guerrilla attacks were "strategically and operationally insignificant." The Pentagon, meanwhile, was confident that a quick technological fix would stem the rising insurgent tide. (On October 16, 2003, Wolfowitz ordered the services to spend $335.5 million on exclusively mechanical "countermeasures" like aerial surveillance platforms and bomb-frequency jammers.) Vandergriff, however, was gloomy in his analysis. "This is just starting," he said in November 2003. "They're testing us, figuring us out, and I'm sure we're going to keep thinking that the way to solve this is attrition--blow up one building or square block to take out a few snipers or bombers, and sorry if anyone else gets killed in the process. It's not going to win us any friends. Stringing Baghdad with sensors or putting Predators [drones] over all of Iraq isn't going to stop this, either. We'd be better off with a division of MP's and civil affairs specialists that knew the turf, backed by good native intelligence and police."

Similar sentiments could be found among some soldiers on the ground. On November 14, 2003, three army intelligence specialists produced an unclassified but very closely held white paper whose assessments and recommendations stood in stark contrast to those of the uniformed and civilian leadership. Unequivocally stating that "a successful insurgency is preventing the [Coalition Provisional Authority and the Coalition Joint Task Force] from providing a safe and secure environment in Iraq," the report essentially slammed the U.S. occupation for its unwillingness to understand both counterinsurgency generally and cultural factors in particular. "Western cultural constructs constrain political and military thinking on the subject of counterinsurgency," the authors pointedly noted, adding that "undue emphasis on military action alone, one that disregards the cultural context for fueling an insurgency, will result in failure....

Rather, the report noted, the real target was Iraq's tribal socio-political structure. Continued failure to understand this was dooming the occupation's chances of success...So far, the report held, occupation forces had not only done a poor job of realizing this and engaging with tribal leaders in a constructive and validating way; they were also engendering ill will by, among other things, the "rough handling of family heads in front of their families." Such things were deeply offensive, the report held, and "the greatest wild card that the insurgents can exploit is the Coalition's lack of cultural understanding and ability to communicate with the rural population to reinforce the idea that our policies are attacks against cultural norms, honor, and way of life."

But as the report was being written and distributed, U.S. forces were perpetuating indignity by kicking in doors and rounding up civilians all over Iraq and, in many cases, wrongfully sending scores of people to army divisional detention centers or Abu Ghraib--where intimidation and torture took place. In this respect, the U.S. Army took the pages out of Colonel Trinquier's playbook that have been almost universally disregarded, as the smarter counterinsurgency specialists recognize both the inefficacy of torture and the counterproductive effect of arbitrary sweeps, detentions, and coercive actions against civilians. Setting aside the fact that little "actionable intelligence" is ever gained under duress, whatever short-term benefits are gained by draconian actions are usually undermined by the long-term festering ill will--both locally and abroad--they often engender...

Vest concludes:

According to a November 2004 Army War College report, in generic terms, the nature of insurgency is mutating, with the more centralized Maoist "people's war" receding into history [ed. note: Dismiss Rummy's oft-told talk show point that Iraq has no Mao, no Ho Chi Minh--so that this could never become a Vietnam redux] and being replaced with "twenty-first-century insurgencies" that "become increasingly networked, with no centralized command and no common strategy, only a unifying objective." [10] While this will detract from their ability to gain power or make political strides, it also will make them "more survivable in the face of effective counterinsurgent actions." The report outlines courses of action the United States could take in planning and executing a counter-liberation insurgency campaign, but it also notes that the United States will have to acknowledge that the best that can be hoped for in some situations is pursuing not a strategy of victory, but a strategy of containment, along the lines of Israel's approach to the Palestinians.

Yet what makes the report so striking is its implicit criticism of the current Pentagon leadership. Almost all of its recommendations for defining how the army thinks about the likely staple of current and future warfare--the need for more and better training and education of American troops, more civil affairs and engineering units, better relationships between the army and non-military government agencies, as well as simply an actual acknowledgment of the importance of counterinsurgency doctrine--are far removed from the type of "transformation" pursued by the Rumsfeld Pentagon...

I've quoted Vest's piece in great length not only because it is excellent (read the non-excerpted parts as well) but also because, in my view, it makes manifestly clear that Donald Rumsfeld should no longer be Secretary of Defense. He has proven a failure and must be removed if we are to increase our chances of success in Iraq. That said, and in fairness to Rumsfeld and to critique myself, one thing that does not necessarily follow from Vest's piece is that the answer must be more troops (even if they were available). It's more the kind of troops we have at our disposal.

As Anthony Cordesman has put it:

If the President has the magic wand necessary to create new forces, and is willing to ignore the impact on our all volunteer force structure of increasing deployments, he should make three immediate changes in the U.S. force posture in Iraq. First, he should deploy far more military specialists in civil-military and counterinsurgency operations with suitable language and area skills. Second he should extend all tours for the duration so that US troops acquire real operational expertise and establish stable and lasting personal relations with Iraqis. And third, he shold supplement the US military with large numbers of skilled and highly motivated civilian counterparts to handle the wide range of civilian missions in the field that now so badly undermanned or handled by the US military.

But let's put the past behind us and try to dwell in the realm of the practical. Yes, it was a massive blunder to disband wholesale the Iraqi Army. Yes, we grossly under-manned the immediate postwar peacemaking and peacekeeping component so critical to effectively winning the peace. Massive looting, conditions of anarchy through much of Iraq's important population centers, all this led to dramatically shortening any prospective honeymoon so that the American 'liberator' quickly came to be viewed as, at best, an ineffective interloper, and at worst, in Iraqis conspiratorial mindset, a malevolent outside actor purposefully stoking chaos to weaken Iraq's regional position. It all came down to providing real security, where we failed dismally, and to which was famously declared "stuff happens." Yes, it does, and it also marks something of a convenient epitaph for much of the excesses of Rumsfeld's 'transformationalist' nostrums. Instead, as Charles Krulak has written, we should be focusing on having forces trained and able to prosecute a 'three block' war:

Modern crisis responses are exceedingly complex endeavors. In Bosnia, Haiti, and Somalia the unique challenges of military operations other-than-war (MOOTW) were combined with the disparate challenges of mid-intensity conflict. The Corps has described such amorphous conflicts as -- the three block war -- contingencies in which Marines may be confronted by the entire spectrum of tactical challenges in the span of a few hours and within the space of three contiguous city blocks. The tragic experience of U.S. forces in Somalia during Operation Restore Hope illustrates well the volatile nature of these contemporary operations. Author Mark Bowden's superb account of "The Battle of Mogadishu," Blackhawk Down, is a riveting, cautionary tale and grim reminder of the unpredictability of so-called operations other-than-war. It is essential reading for all Marines.

The inescapable lesson of Somalia and of other recent operations, whether humanitarian assistance, peace-keeping, or traditional warfighting, is that their outcome may hinge on decisions made by small unit leaders, and by actions taken at the lowest level. The Corps is, by design, a relatively young force. Success or failure will rest, increasingly, with the rifleman and with his ability to make the right decision at the right time at the point of contact. As with Corporal Hernandez at CP Charlie, today's Marines will often operate far "from the flagpole" without the direct supervision of senior leadership. And, like Corporal Hernandez, they will be asked to deal with a bewildering array of challenges and threats. In order to succeed under such demanding conditions they will require unwavering maturity, judgment, and strength of character. Most importantly, these missions will require them to confidently make well-reasoned and independent decisions under extreme stress -- decisions that will likely be subject to the harsh scrutiny of both the media and the court of public opinion. In many cases, the individual Marine will be the most conspicuous symbol of American foreign policy and will potentially influence not only the immediate tactical situation, but the operational and strategic levels as well. His actions, therefore, will directly impact the outcome of the larger operation; and he will become, as the title of this article suggests -- the Strategic Corporal.

This all sounds pretty pie-in-the-sky, but the bottom line is pretty simple. We need forces, ideally some that have civilian units embedded with them, some locals too, and as many Arabic speakers as possible through each part of the mix--able to distribute humanitarian relief in the morning, fight a hot firefight in the afternoon, and separate belligerent factions in peacemaking vein by dusk--often without higher-up commands able to provide guidance in real time. This is so critical because of the basic reality that a counter-insurgency is not won by simply inflicting good kill ratios and chasing insurgents around Anbar province. You need to have the local population in insurgent areas vote, even if silently, with you and your agenda. Which takes me to 'ink spot', or this Krepinevich article recently published in the indispensable Foreign Affairs.

He writes:

Instead of a timetable for withdrawal, the United States needs a real strategy built around the principles of counterinsurgency warfare. To date, U.S. forces in Iraq have largely concentrated their efforts on hunting down and killing insurgents. The idea of such operations is to erode the enemy's strength by killing fighters more quickly than replacements can be recruited. Although it is too early to tell for sure whether this approach will ultimately bring success, its current record is not good: even when an attack manages to inflict serious insurgent casualties, there is little or no enduring improvement in security once U.S. forces withdraw from the area...

Instead, U.S. and Iraqi forces should adopt an "oil-spot strategy" in Iraq, which is essentially the opposite approach. Rather than focusing on killing insurgents, they should concentrate on providing security and opportunity to the Iraqi people, thereby denying insurgents the popular support they need. Since the U.S. and Iraqi armies cannot guarantee security to all of Iraq simultaneously, they should start by focusing on certain key areas and then, over time, broadening the effort -- hence the image of an expanding oil spot. Such a strategy would have a good chance of success. But it would require a protracted commitment of U.S. resources, a willingness to risk more casualties in the short term, and an enduring U.S. presence in Iraq, albeit at far lower force levels than are engaged at present. If U.S. policymakers and the American public are unwilling to make such a commitment, they should be prepared to scale down their goals in Iraq significantly....

Read the entire piece, another must-read on Iraq these days. I've got a few issues with Krepinevich's thesis. For one, focusing on reconstruction in the 14 relatively quiescent "Green Zone" provinces will lead to short term further embitterment among the Sunni and more separationist tendencies in the Kurdish and Shi'a Zones. As the big reconstruction works occur in the environs of Basra, say, locals will wonder why they need central government support. For another, as much as Krepenivich says it won't be so, too much focus on the 'consolidation of the Green Zone' strategy will almost inevitably lead to a diminishment of robust counter-insurgency activity in the Red Zone--even if we call in the cavalry if important towns like Fallujah look to be becoming insurgent safe havens again. Which is why I'm puzzled that Krepenvich is suggesting we draw down 20,000 men. Frankly, and unlike phased withdrawal types like Kevin Drum, I think we should be marshalling all our men in theater to secure places like Mosul, Kirkuk and Baghadad--while still doing what we've been doing in Anbar with limited resources--keeping the insurgents somewhat off balance and denying them rest and comfort and safe havens. Put differently, we need to be doing a better job of 'ink-spotting' in the major cities--while continuing operations in the Euphrates River Valley and along the Syrian border. To a fashion, what I'm saying is that we should focus on the so-called ink-spotting in strategically critical places like Sadr City, or other parts of Baghdad where insurgents still enjoy support, or Mosul, or Kirkuk--rather than deep in Kurdistan or a potential Shi'a super-state in the south--where such aid would only heighten separationist tendencies. Such strategically focused ink-spotting would have a corrollary effect, if we were successful, of dimininishing insurgent morale quite mightily. Remember, it would have a tremendous impact if we actually fully controlled Baghdad and, you know, the road to the airport. Just for starters! (Also worth noting, and contra Krepinevich, I'm not as sure that a few U.S. military embeds would so greatly improve the performance of largely Iraqi units).

All in all, the way forward in Iraq is likely thus:

1) No deadlines should be declared, whether phased or otherwise, but rather clear, persuasive statements that the U.S. doesn't seek permanent bases and will leave Iraq once conditions for security and democracy have been established, but not sooner, including adequate provision of minority rights;
2) Continue to move forward on 'train and equip', but never rushing the effort, and never being tempted to slap whole-sale militia units into the nascent army, the better to avoid sectarian conflict erupting within the Army we have trained;
3) Continue to marshall all of the resources of our diplomats in theater, as well as the U.N. and other actors, to keep the parties moving towards legitimate political compromises the three main actors can live with over a longer term horizon (Larry Diamond espies some reasons for optimism, if of the cautious variety, here);
4) Find the right balance between ink-spot and counter-insurgency in the Red Zone, but likely deemphasize reconstruction projects in the Kurdish North or Shi'a South in favor of projects in critical 'tipping point zones' like Kirkuk, or Sadr City, or in towns near the main aiport road to Baghdad;
5) Not assume more experienced Generals or efficiency gains in Iraqi units fighting with U.S. embeds will somehow magically allow for significant U.S. troop withdrawals in the short term, which they most likely won't;
6) Keep troop levels at least at current levels for now--while wherever possible and advisable allowing for 'surge' type increases-- and do our best to train forces better adept at prosecuting a Krulak-type three block war going forward;
7) Seek in nascent 'green zone' areas that have just been taken out of the red zone column to put in troops sensitized to local cultural norms (who won't embarrass the local sheikh in front of his family and tribe say), including whenever possible U.S. civilian and/or military Arabic speakers, and deploy economic aid or, dare I say, pay-offs, in more cogent and organized manner;
8) Consider a joint State-Pentagon task force, perhaps coordinated by NSC representatives (or senior Embassy staff on the ground) focusing on how to better streamline Iraqi federal, state and local governance structures (it matters there too!) so as to strike the right balance between central authority and federalism in a pragmatic, brass-tacks, works-on-the-ground kinda way;
9) (of which more in a follow on post, as it's too complex to tack on here), listen to Wes Clark's criticisms of our rather ham-handed handling of the regional dynamics (lots of whining, ultimatums, hand-wringing, exacerbated sound-bites, thinly veiled bombing threats that ring hollow...little constructive diplomacy that rings credible, sober, concerted and truly able to garner results)--to include consideration of a major regional conference attended by all relevant Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense and, speaking of;
10) get rid of our failed War Secretary. He's bungled the war and, like Brownie, needs to go.

I'll have more on all this soon, but here's a stab to get people thinking and get a debate going. Back later, and note I've relied heavily for ideas on people like Cordesman etc in sketching out the above policy copious hat tips and credits to all of them, obviously.

Posted by Gregory at September 15, 2005 03:43 AM | TrackBack (1)

It's hard to take seriously someone whose proposals for "winning" in Iraq, whatever that means, don't aim at the heart of the problem: the incompetently obstinate George W. Bush.
You can wave your hands all day, and maybe your plan is good, but there's not a chance any sensible plan will be taken with Bush at the helm. His rudderless leadership leaves no hope.

Look, one of the reasons that the war failed so badly in the first place is that Bush imposed no order from above on a group of people who had vastly different motives for supporting the war, each of which entailed different tactics, and especially different timetables. Some (Cheney) cared only about oil; some (Wolfowitz) were deluded dreamers, possibly caring also about protecting Israel; some (not sure which idiots those were) actually believed the WMD/nuclear weapons bullshit; and lastly, the free market fundamentalists who wanted to try their magic potions on Iraq.
Bremer was certainly part of the last group, a cabal which may well have done the most damage. After all, Bremer unilaterally decided on disbanding the army, and he also cancelled early local elections---the latter for the explicit purpose of allowing him to change the economic laws to his personal taste.
I believe that Bremer said his proudest accomplishment in Iraq was instituting the flat tax---if not that, something on similar lines.
The delusional hacks like Bremer and Wolfowitz had no one above them telling them to toe the line.. because Bush was all vision, no substance.
Of course, Bush's own personal reasons for the war are a large reason for this fiasco: not the pyschological reasons, whatever they were, but the domestic political considerations. How ANYONE could support a war which was so obviously timed to influence a domestic election eludes me completely. All you war supporters should just shut up unless you are willing to say the one thing that matters---Bush must go.

Posted by: marky at September 15, 2005 04:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Can we finaly dispense with the myth that disbanding the Iraqi army was a disaster? The usual argument was that it was a "national Iraqi" institution supporting national unity. It was, if you call garrisoning armed Sunni Arabs in Shiite & Kurdish towns "national unity". I call it is a program for ethnic supression & regime protection.

The problem with the old Iraqi army was that the command structure was loaded with Baathists, while the rank & file soldiers were poorly trained and greatly abused conscripts. By the time Baghdad fell the officers had disappeared and the soldiers had deserted. They were happy to get out and finally go home to their families.

In the elite corps, like the Republican Guards, the rank & file soldiers came from Sunni tribes loyal to Saddam. The suggestion implicit in the "we shouldn't have disbanded the old army" criticism is that these soldiers could have been converted into supporters of the "new" Iraq, a very dubious claim indeed. Instead, such an army would have been riddled with 5th columnists. The Iraqi people meanwhile would have never trusted a such "re-branded" army. So much for national unity!

Sometimes one just has to scrap the old and start anew. The Baathists were never going to be converted so it was best to cut them loose & get them out of the national security institutions. They were always going to fight the new Iraq, so it is better that they are on there own, & not armed by the US & Coalition. If the US had kept the old Iraqi army together, the op-ed pages would be full of critisism at the stupidity of that decision.

There is a tendancy to pick one problem (i.e. Baathist terrorists), to identify some perceived error or misstep as having caused that problem (disbanding the old Iraqi army), and then conclude that if only we hadn't made that decision, the problem would never have existed. This is a falacy. The Baathists knew they couldn't defeat the US if they stood and fought, so in alliance with al-Qaeda (Zarqawi was already in Bagdad) they adopted the guerrilla war strategy, before the US invaded. Disbanding the old army & creating a new one was the only viable option.

Posted by: Kenneth at September 15, 2005 04:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Kenneth, you are completely wrong about the Iraqi Army. Its importance did not lie in any measure of combat power or national symbolism. It was a jobs program, pure and simple, and when we disbanded it we put a half a million (armed and trained) pissed-off folks out of work. Oh, and then we shot a couple of them when they protested the disbanding. By leaving the Army intact, not only would we have been able to maintain a measure of control over a potentially (and now actually) very violent segment of society, but we also would have significantly lessened their incentives for opposing us.

Now could we have just kept the Army as is, without thoroughly vetting it and eliminating trouble-makers? Absolutely not. Hard-core, high-ranking Bathists needed to be eliminated. Perhaps the Republican Guards were unredeemable, perhaps not. You state that "the Bathists were never going to be converted." Where's you evidence? Seems to me we worked with a lot of Nazis at the end of World War Two. De-Baathification served to further amplify the fears of the Sunni community, and removed many of the technocrats and administrators from positions in which they could have helped us.

And from what I have heard from those who've trained them, the present Iraqi forces are "riddled with fifth columnists" and the Iraqi people don't trust them either. My sources tell me that when we issue heavy weapons to the Iraqi security forces, we often might as well be temp-loaning them straight to the insurgents.

But, for argument's sake, let's say it was necessary to de-Baathify and to disband the army. What did we have planned to fill the vacuums they would inevitably leave behind? Having burned down the shithouse, what was our plan to install plumbing? OHRA? Hope is not a plan. After we disbanded the army, it took us almost a year to even begin the process of build its replacement. WTF?

Ultimately insurgencies are timed events. Every one of our mistakes reduces the time available, and constricts the available political space we have in which to maneuver. My worry is that we have made so many mistakes that our potential maneuver space is in danger of evaporating altogether. Even if we do have time and space, however, I have seen no evidence that we have the political will or knowledge at the highest levels of government to make the changes required. I desperately hope that I am wrong.

Posted by: T-Bone at September 15, 2005 05:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I like the effort here, in terms of trying to find a strategy to move us towards something like victory (democracy? stability? something else?). I can't fully support the "past mistakes are in the past, ignore them and move on" idea until I see some evidence that this administration is willing to rethink where we are, seriously evaluate what has worked and what hasn't, do some Baysian updating, and establish new policies and realistic goals. We don't need to keep the past alive for partisan warfare, but the failures of the past policies are relevant in determining the way forward.

I liked the Vest article lots. However, you introduce it noting that it has taken the Pentagon "to begin to grapple with this reality." I read the Vest article, and nowhere I could find does Vest indicate that the Pentagon is, today, changing strategies or recognizing the clearly (complex) insurgent nature of the resistance. Hence, I'm don't think I see as much light at the end of the Pentagon tunnel as you do. If you've got further evidence, I'd genuinely be happy to see it.

As for your nine-point plan, there is little direct discussion of troop levels. Not in the sense of "when are they coming home", but more of a discussion of "what levels do we need to accomplish this plan". You (rightly) note that greater local knowledge in newly-pacified/"green zone" areas will help maintain a local peace - and argue for inserting troops/US civilian personnel "sensatized to local cultural norms". I'll only note that people who fit that category are almost certainly only uniformed at this point (what US civilians have the opportunity to learn local customs at this point?), and by garrisoning some of them semi-permenantly to maintain pacified locations we lose overall troop strength in the "red zones" where more violence occurs. Overall, this seems to argue for an increase in overall troop strength. I dont' necessarily object to that, though I'd like to see where these soldiers would come from.

Lastly, what effect will Katrina have on this? Total cost of the Iraq war thus far is estimated at around $200 billion, which is just the number the President is expected to use in tonights speech discussing overall Federal aid to the Gulf Coast. In light of debts, deficits and budgets, your overall strategy seems very long term (correctly: there isn't a short term winning strategy), and I wonder about the domestic political ability to maintain that level of monetary and troop committments over that time span.

There are other debates to be had, but a good overall plan. A critical assumption, however, to the entire post is that this administration will change plans (which contains a tacit admission that the previous plan didn't work); not something this President is good at managing.

Posted by: Baltar at September 15, 2005 06:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Excellent post. Very serious look at what would make sense as opposed to just get out of there and hope for the best. However, if Rumsfield is still secdef after his "freedom is messy" comment, what makes you think he's going anywhere now? The problem is the leadership. Kerry wan't able to convince us that he could do better (and who knows if he could have.) So now we're stuck with the government we have, and they aren't going to fight this good war that you are talking about. Because they don't want to? Because they don't know how? Because they never really thought through what needed to be done? I don't know. Watching the Katrina debacle, I would say they never thought it through. And I believe so many people want to pull out now, not because they think it is the right thing and would provide the best results, but because they don't expect the people in charge to get it right in any case, so why throw more American soldiers into the pit?

Posted by: varda at September 15, 2005 07:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

i thought my views on troop levels went w/out saying but you're right baltar that they are somewhat unclear. i've updated in body of post so the 9 pt plan is now a 10 ptr.

Posted by: greg at September 15, 2005 07:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

T-Bone: The Baathists together with Al Qaeda planned the insurgency strategy before the US invaded. There was simply no way the Baathists were going to work with the US or could be trusted in the new Iraq. They hated the US, and the vast majority of the Iraqis hated the Baathists. The Shiites & Kurds never would have trusted any new Iraqi regime that included Baathists. Messy as it was, it was the only way forward.

That was my point: critics point to a problem, blame it on a "bad" decision, assert that some alternative solution would never have caused the original problem. That's all baloney. We would have the same problem, and possible more, just coming from another angle.

In fact, the new Iraqi army is trusted by the majority of Iraqis (but by no means all). The role Iraqi forces have played in recent operations in Qaim, Tal Afar and other areas attests to their growing strength. See for the best coverage on operations & strategy.

You mention the Iraqi army giving "heavy weapons" to the insurgents. Could you please site an example of their use of heavy weapons? The terrorists attacks involve IED's, rpg's, and machine guns. No tanks, helocopters, APC's, or heavy artillery. Do they have a squadron of fighter jets somewhere waiting to go into action? A battleship perhaps?

Yes, the US made some mistakes, but they also got some things right. However, it cuts both ways: the insurgents have made mistakes too, and with far less political & military wiggle room (or what you called "maneuver space". The insurgents popular support is small & shrinking. The Iraqi gov't strength & popular support is larger & growing. Time is working against the terrorists. They are getting desperate and, yes, weaker. According to Col. Robert Brown yesterday “Eighty percent of the network (in the north area of operations) has been killed or captured. Sixty to seventy percent of the terrorist killed were foreigners. Most terrorists are now in their mid-teens, and inexperienced. Mortar attacks are down from three hundred a month to six.”

So it seems the senior leadership of the US military has enough sense to let the professionals do their job & not to cut & run just because the media insist we are loosing.

Posted by: Kenneth at September 15, 2005 08:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The dumbest mistake that the Bush administration made was not implementing a system of financial controls over post-war spending. Bush's own guy, Stuart Bowen, the inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, found that $9 billion of pre-war Iraqi oil revenue was embezzled after being disbursed by the CPA.

From what I have been reading, the new Iraqi government is looting the treasury with very little to show for the billions it has spent. When Lt. General David Petraeus was asked by a reporter about the mispent Iraqi defense budget, he said it was not any of the US's business what the Iraqis did with their money (8/2/05 Newsday).

General Petraeus is out of his frigging mind if he does not think that corruption in the Iraqi government is any of our business. Unless someone figures out how to make the Iraqi government halfway honest, you can forget about the Iraqi military taking control of its own payroll, let alone control of the country.

Posted by: 277fia at September 15, 2005 08:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, I didn't mean that to be a criticism, but only as part of a more general question about the necessary resources for any sort of plan. In other words, the Drum/Yglesias "timed withdrawl" plan, whatever else it's faults, is one that can be accomplished by the forces there now: we set timetables and wait for the Iraqis to start behaving more effectively, then start drawing down the troops. Your alternative seems more realistic (if longer term), and like a plan that would bring us closer to what we originally envisioned (3/03) as "success"; however, are you arguing that we can accomplish those ends with the present means? If we need more resources (troops, money, civilian advisors?), how many more?

Lest you think I'm slinging unwarrented arrows, I've also suggested a plan (or at least one to generate discussion). I'm not convinced that we can accomplish your suggestions without significantly more troops, but I would be overjoyed to learn otherwise.

Posted by: Baltar at September 15, 2005 09:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The hardest single maxim to follow in American political life is don't just do something, stand there. Despite the criminal neglegence of Rumsfeld et al, I believe there is a grudging concensus that every day our Iraqi troops are getting stronger, and their's weaker. The murder of 150 day laborers, or children recieving candy, cannot be winning the insurgents much support even among the most wild eyed Sunnis. If we get substancial participation in the December elections, we can have the discussion on options in light of their impact. Until then the best policy, tragically, may be just to continue muddling through. offerring generous compensation for informers and deserters from the Sunni forces, highlighting the reconstruction projects that should be coming on line, keep using integrated Iraqi troops in televised operations every day.
I'm old enough to remember how the electoral rejection of the Sandanistas rocked the MSM and intelligencia on it's heels. I have a feeling that the avant garde has so oversold the prowess and attractiveness of the fanatics, and the haplessness of our supporters, that we may get some good news in the future by a regression to the mean.

Posted by: wayne at September 15, 2005 09:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

could not agree more with Wayne. the negative drumbeat has overpowered all other memes. but reality will win out.
perhaps undeservedly, this war is being won in the field. bets are available that the tipping point is past.
on another topic, I give the prediction that you won't see this type of coverage any time soon in the NY Times or LA Times.

Posted by: Jim, Mtn View, CA at September 15, 2005 10:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

True enough- some Baathists did plan the insurgency well before our invasion. But the numbers involved were relatively small. The point is, the higher level guys were most likely always going to be irreconciliable. At the lower and middle levels, however, the guys who actually make things run, I continue to think we could have incorporated many back into the system. Indeed, I think we are belatedly trying to now.

As for heavy weapons, fine, my wording was imprecise. I was specifically referring to .50 cal machine guns, not tanks. Figured that was fairly obvious. A .50 cal is pretty freaking heavy when it's shooting at you. (or when you're trying to hump it.) You want to be a smartass, fine. I'm actually trying to fix this problem.

The best news I've heard in a while about Iraq was Sistani's statement today that there will not be a civil war, even if half of the Shias are killed. I sincerely hope he can enforce that sentiment in the face of such barbaric provocation. And I hope he stays alive.

And you're right about the insurgents making mistakes. They are not supermen, and they are just as screwed up as we are, if not more. I just question a plan that relies on the enemy's incompetence.

And I seriously question our leadership's ability to evaluate the problem. Our military is built to solve a different problem, and it performs that function magnificently. Its structure is about 180 degrees from what is required to solve this problem, however. Our leadership has no knowledge of counter-insurgency, and in the recent past has actively disdained such knowledge. All those indicators you listed are symptoms of the problem, not manifestations of the strenght or weakness. Sure, the insurgents don't have much support. They don't need much. Absence of guerrilla activity does not mean that the guerrillas have disappeared. And most of our military activities will continue to be exercises in merely attacking the problem at the margins, until we adopt an actual counter-insurgency strategy. It may still be possible to win ugly, but at a much higher cost than would otherwise have been necessary.

Remind me why Special Forces aren't in the lead in Iraq? and Afghanistan? Why is the Infantry Branch in charge of counter-insurgency?

Posted by: T-Bone at September 15, 2005 10:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, I cannot agree more with your position here, I like you believe the issue is Rumsfeld. Whilst Bush is ultimately responsible, Rumsfeld is the key person who defined the strategy in Iraq and pushed the crucial mistakes.
What boggles my mind is the institutional lessons in the Pentagon regarding insurgency which were ignored/forgotten, Tom Clancy's "Shadow Wariors" talked extensively about insurgency and Rumsfeld's strategy is essentially the exact opposite of what is prescribed ( arbitrary sweeps, detentions, and coercive actions against civilians ) by Clancy/Steiner.
It is a real tragedy that whilst the Pentagon re-learn such valuable lessons, so many soldiers & civilians have died, along with what was a golden opportunity to swiftly restructure the Middle East.
I wonder what parallels with Ireland can be drawn, Northern Ireland would seem a frightening concept, but Southern Ireland if it is possible offers more hope.

Posted by: Nigel at September 15, 2005 11:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

IMHO, there is a fatal flaw in your ten point program Greg....simply put, it is virtually impossible for the Bush administration to get the necessary co-operation from the regional and international communities required to carry out your plan. The Bush regime is considered neither credible nor honorable. For that reason, as far as most of the world (and the region) is concerned, it is in their best interest to have the US military stuck in Iraq for the next three plus years.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at September 15, 2005 11:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thanks for the lengthy analysis. There's much I disagree with - well, the whole premise! - but I appreciate the depth of the arguments and what do I know anyway?

Let me start with this: "... the only way that we can succeed in Iraq, if success is defined as leaving behind a relatively democratic, stable polity with potentially robust political governance structures taking root--is if we leave behind a fully trained Iraq army that has a multi-ethnic leadership and officer corps. Kissinger has wisely made this point..."

The question of "success" in Iraq is, of course, central to the entire discussion. The fact that we're still wondering how to define success is very telling - telling how disingenuous the Bush people were, and have been, in all their rationales (27 in all, I believe), most of which look now like marketing ploys to keep public support at a reasonable level. If you recall, nation-building was roundly ridiculed early in the first Bush term before it became the only rationale left standing as the nature of the other ...uh... lies grew clearer. So, I can't help but think that the nation building enterprise is not one that the Bush people have entered into with a lot of faith in its ultimate resolution.

What are the chances of the kind of success you posit here? It seems to me - and I know only what I read - that the concept of a peaceful, multiethnic "Iraq" is not one that many Iraqis embrace. At least, to the extent that they are willing to give "Iraqi" precedence over "Sunni," "Kurd," "Shi'a", etc. That unwillingness will be reflected in the make-up and allegiances of the Iraqi military, as in every other aspect of the "new" Iraq.

So, before any chances of "success" can be evaluated, the big question must be asked and answered: does "Iraq" still make sense? Can it survive? And, if not, perhaps we should be prepared to deal with the region-wide repercussions that will surely occur if and when it fails.

Finally, do you really think that Henry Kissinger is a good source?

Posted by: Jack Lindahl at September 16, 2005 02:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Good point, Clancy was one of the most surprising, and effective, opponents of this war from the beginning.

Posted by: wayne at September 16, 2005 03:20 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, I would say Kissinger is a good source, and not just because I mostly agree with him on the Iraqi Army issue.

Greg raises some interesting points that deserve more consideration than I can give them right now. I will throw out a couple of cautions, and may elaborate on them over the weekend here or on Chequerboard.

The Katrina Caution is first. If you saw the President's speech tonight, and followed the lightning supplemental appropriation Congress passed a few days ago, you saw a commitment to a large and indefinite amount of new federal spending unaccompanied by any suggestion as to how it will be paid for. Tax increases are out at the White House, offsetting spending reductions are out on the Hill (and for the most part also at the White House). This means pressure to reduce spending on Iraq operations, pressure that will only increase from here on out.

The Grand Design Caution is the other one I'd raise. Like Greg I have a few ideas as to what might have been done to avoid the problems we faced in the summer of 2003. What we need now, though, is a strategy the Army and political leadership we have can implement. Of necessity most of the elements in this strategy will have to be the things that are being done now. The things that can be changed quickly will not typically be things like regional emphases and positioning more culturally sensitive American troops in "green zone" areas. They will instead by mostly political and diplomatic tactics, which in my view -- a minority opinion, I'm afraid -- need to put much less emphasis on the things we want for Iraq and much more on the bad things that can happen unless Iraqis, and Sunni Arabs in particular, proceed along the path to a constitution and a normal political process. They also need to clarify who is running our policy in Iraq; again, my minority view is that it needs to be Khalilzad.

Posted by: JEB at September 16, 2005 03:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think the fundamental problem that unites you, Cole and Drum is the belief that the US controls the process in Iraq. The clearest illustration of this isn’t the insurgents, it is the existence of the militias and paramilitary groups. The existence of paramilitaries and militias shows the break down of any central authority. The fact that they were there from the start and that Bremer and the CPA couldn’t disband them, shows the extent to which we never had as much control as people tend to believe. If there was a time that they could have been brought into the “legal fold”, as the Burmese military regime puts it, that time is long passed.

First, the people in power in the current Iraqi government derive their power from the militias. It is nice in the abstract to think that they would step back and work for a unified national government, but even if you have the best of intentions, that is hard to do on the brink of a civil war. Furthermore, I suspect that, as is the case with militias around the world, they have seized control of vital aspects of the economy, both legal and illegal. If that is the case, then the militias serve an important economic function. I noticed your plan focused heavily on security issues, and while security is necessary economic development, unless it is addressed then the militias trump any attempt to create a unified national army. But again, the time to have engaged in economic development is long passed. Frankly, the only people that appear to have any interest in an integrated national army are the Americans, and I doubt satisfying Americans is high on any Iraqi’s priorities right now. I hope I am drastically wrong on this point, but I doubt it.

Also, what training and equipment is being given to the Iraqi forces? Is it any different than the training you claim is inappropriate for conducting counterinsurgency?

Finally, a couple of points about Trinquier. An interesting perspective on his career can be found in Alfred McCoy’s “The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia”. Since Trinquier was in charge of counterinsurgency operations against the Viet Mihn and later advised the Americans, is he really somebody you want to read for ideas on a strategy in Iraq? Having said that, I’ve always said that Vietnam is a good analogy for Iraq, but the analogy is the French experience in Vietnam rather than the American one.

Posted by: aiontay at September 16, 2005 03:43 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"It is nice in the abstract to think that they would step back and work for a unified national government, but even if you have the best of intentions, that is hard to do on the brink of a civil war."

Especially since we've already taken sides.

Posted by: Jack Lindahl at September 16, 2005 03:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

T-Bone - Ok, now we agree the top Baathists were never going to work with the US. Can we also agree that the Kurds & Shiite meant it when they said they were never going to trust even the middle and lower level Baathists? And please don't tell me the Baathist bureaucracy was running Iraq competantly before the war. They place was a basket case run on bribery, terror & tribal alliances. If Bremer had kept the Baathists in their old jobs the Kurds & Shiites would have picked up and gone. Iraq would have been torn apart & the US would have been left occupying a rump state in the Sunni triangle. A clean sweep was the only viable way forward, even given the negative aspects of that decision (i.e. pissed-off Sunnis).

So I made a smart ass jibe about heavy weapons. My point is the problem is grossly oversold. 5th collumnists in the Iraqi army have a very short shelf life. Once they get found out they Iraqis take very quick care of them.

The US does have a sound counter-insurgency strategy, although one wouldn't know it from reading the MSM. (Again, read for a better account of the strategy than I can give here). In fact, the strategy is working as thousands of terrorists are getting killed or captured and their maneuver space is shrinking. The US is not relying on the enemy's incompetance, but they are exploiting it. The strategy relies upon greater strength, mobility, intel, tactics, command & control, training & money. The US-Iraqi forces exceed the insurgents in all these areas. Regardless of what you think Rumsfeld & Bush know about counter-terrorism, they do know enough to let the professionals do their jobs. About the only advantages the terrorists have is the western media coverage, & support from Syria & Iran. A handful of teenagers pumped up on jihad & meth, & led by cynical Baathists & fanatical Islamist thugs is no match for a battalion of US marines lead by experienced officers.

The terrorists have pretty much stopped attacking the US forces directly, with the exception of the occassional mortar lobbed at a base or an IED. They have taken to attacking civilians mostly & sometimes the Iraqi police. In doing so, they have lost almost all support from the Iraqi population & it's even waning among Sunni Arabs. Their strategy has only galvanized the will of the vast majority of Iraqis to defeat them.

US Special forces are at work in both Iraq & Afghanistan (& elsewhere) but by nature of their work, they don't talk about it much. They are not "in the lead" because that is not what they do. The Marines & infantry are taking the lead because that's what they are good at. Half the job is taking the fight to the bad guys, they other half is reconstruction & relationship building. Read Michael Yon's blog to see how it's working well in Mosul. In recent operations in Qaim & Tal Afar the local tribes provided lots of intel on who the bad guys are & were they were at. As a result hundreds of the terrorists were killed & captured, while the Coalition forces lots very few. Their response, a dozen car-bombs in Baghdad, while getting big coverage in the media, had less than zero military or political effect in Iraq.

The number of attacks has declined over the past year, the areas in which attacks occur is growing smaller, & their popular support is small & shrinking. The terrorists are getting younger & more inexperienced - the foot-soldiers are in their mid-teens and the "senior" officers are now 20 year olds. That is a sure sign they are scraping the bottom of the barrel. It sounds to me like they are loosing. Or are you suggesting this is all evidence of a growing insurgency?

Posted by: Kenneth at September 16, 2005 04:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, this is a well though-out plan. I used to think we should stay, but Drum/Yglesias had me thinking maybe phased withdrawal was better. This post puts me sqarely back in the let's stay camp.

But I can't help but think that this is all for naught. What does it matter what you or I or anybody else thinks about Iraq? Why do you and other scholars even bother writing about it? Why does "Foreign Affairs" even exist?

The truth is, and I think you know this: The current administration is incompetent. We know that in part because it routinely ignores the whole foreign policy expert community (which in my opinion includes you). Bluntly put, the whole defence/foreign policy establishment is becoming FEMA-ized.

Until we have a new president who is motivated by something besides his own survival things will only get worse.

Posted by: Mads Kvalsvik at September 16, 2005 04:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Great post Greg. My general opinion is, great plan if you can implement it. Easier said than done.

Couple of quibbles upthread. Kenneth, you said:

"The terrorists have pretty much stopped attacking the US forces directly, with the exception of the occassional mortar lobbed at a base or an IED."

I don't know if that is necessarily true, and if it is, you couldn't tell by looking at the rate of casualties. August was the fourth bloodiest month for Americans out of 30 (85 dead) and May (80) and June (78) were not far behind.

They have also launched major operations over the past couple of days, although primarily aimed at Iraqis. Zarqawi & Co. have even tried their hand at taking over towns. Ramadi got a handful recently.,5744,16619199%255E2703,00.html

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 16, 2005 08:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Great posts here.

I think we are all guilty of too much Monday Morning Quarterbacking though. I think the US leaders and decision-makers are intelligent people who have made decisions, which seemed reasonable, based on what was known at the time, around the policy goal of removing Saddam. Rumsfeld's decision are the least defensible in this regard, because his assumptions precluded consideration of a Sunni insurgency. Bremer, however, walked into a mess. I bet he got enormous pressure from Shia and Kurd leaders to disband the Army. Perhaps he did so reasoning it was better to risk inflaming the Sunni insurgency as opposed to inflaming the Shia and Kurds. History may prove him right or wrong but certainly has not proven so to date as evidenced by the reasonableness of posts on both sides of this issue.

Same for the military's decision to actively fight Sunni insurgents in the Al Anbar province as opposed to securing Baghdad or a Green Zone. The ink blot strategies break down because such strategies are not designed with defeating insurgencies in a networked world. They worked in Malaysia and might have worked in Vietnam because these geographies were not developed technologically and population centers could be isolated while remaining self-sufficient. I don't know how you defend the Green Zone, when the Green Zone depends on power, fuel, water, food, and/or commerce from Red Zone resources. I believe military leaders reached the same conclusion. In network terms, Fallujah was a hacker site sending out multiple viruses in the form of roadside bombers and mortarmen throughout Iraq, particularly Baghdad. These 'viruses' had network (road) access to Baghdad and could not be identified from other traffic. You could not stabilize more peaceful parts of Iraq without attacking the virus source. Thus the military decision to take the fight to Al Anbar province.

Once the military leaders realized the extent of the insurgent problem the US was facing in Iraq, it became apparent we didn't have the resources to fight the problem immediately. The first (and long term) solution was to the increase newly trained Iraqi Forces as quickly as possible while sustaining the political process. Secondly (in the short term), we needed to increase the number of US troops in Iraq. Unfortunately, our military leaders knew the US didn't have any more troops to deploy to Iraq on a sustainable basis and that there was no near term solution to this.

Looking forward, our military leaders in Iraq have rationally recognized the insurgency problem and realized they don't have resources for the text book solution to defeating insurgencies in a networked country. (Believe me that military leaders, particularly the Marines, are well versed in counter insurgency.) The most reasonable and best solution is to play for time keeping the insurgents off balance and weakening them where possible (Mosul) while slowly increasing the strength of Iraqi anti-insurgency forces relative to insurgency forces. And hope that while Iraq may decentralize political authority, internal political authority doesn't splinter completely.

Basically we are stuck gutting it out fighting the war with "the army we have, not the army we want." Not to defend Rumsfeld, but removing him now won't help in Iraq. That ship has already sailed.

Posted by: Wright at September 16, 2005 10:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm disturbed to hear, so many times and in so many variations, the following:

"We really have to stay the course. I don't know why, and I can't really describe what 'victory' will look like, but it's important that we stay through to the end."

I don't know about you all, but it seems to me that keeping an army under fire in a hostile foreign land, and spending billions of dollars per week to maintain them there without a clear purpose and without a clear metric of success is ...well... criminal.

What am I missing here?

Posted by: Jack Lindahl at September 17, 2005 02:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There is no counter-insurgency strategy in Iraq because the US military learned one lesson from Vietnam-"No More Vietnams!" The generation of leaders now commanding the fight grew up in the wake of our defeat, and were taught to focus on the "medium-intensity", conventional fight.

The problem is, there is no "spectrum of conflict", from low-intensity, to medium, to high. There are instead, two separate problems. In a conventional fight, we engage the enemy's forces in direct combat in order to defeat them in the field and thus deliver us the population. In the unconventional fight, we engage the population in order for them to deliver up the enemy forces which we can then easily defeat.

In the conventional fight, we enjoy a tremendous force advantage from our weaponry and proficiency, coupled with an information advantage, which delivers us enemy order of battle intelligence via our sensor systems and communications. That is why no one can beat us conventionally.

In the unconventional fight, we retain the force advantage. But the insurgents generally enjoy the information advantage, especially if we do not implement a proper counter-insurgency strategy. We can kill anyone we can see, but the only reason we won't win in Iraq and Afghanistan tomorrow is that we can't see who to kill. The insurgents, on the other hand, while they may have severe limitations on the force they can apply, generally have excellent information. Thus they can take the initiative; as Mao said, "Strategically, we are on against ten; tactically, we are ten against one." They can often control the tempo of the violence, and control their own casualty rates. We need the information that will allow us to take the initiative.

And where can we get this information? Only from the population. Thus our strategy must not focus on the insurgent forces, but must instead must forge a strong relationship with the locals. To enable this relationship, we must first take a social survey of the local society; map the "human terrain". This requires in-depth knowledge of the local language and culture, something we still haven't even started developing, four years into this war. (Believe me, I've been trying.) Based on this information, we must develop areas of operation which conform to the natural boundaries of the society (tribe, clan, village, neighborhood, whatever.) We must adjust these AOs as experience dictates to ensure they make sense.

With our map in place, we must install small teams at the local level, which will operate in a distributed manner, remain in the AO for the duration, build relationships at the grass-roots level, and work through a bottom-up (as opposed to our top-down, conventional) command and control architecture. Call these guys A teams, call them CAPs, whatever; apply the amount of force and skills necessary for the situation. Station robust quick-reaction forces within striking distance, available at the need of the local commander and under his command in the event of an incident.

Where to start with these inkspots? I don't know the situation on the ground today, but my inclination would be to start in areas of relative calm and work outboard. As for a networked opponent; the Iraqi insurgency’s diffuse nature may the problem more complicated in some ways, but it doesn't change the underlying fundamentals. If I control the AO (meaning I see everything that occurs and can positively or negatively influence events), you aren't coming in whether you're a classical insurgent or some "4GW" dude. I can see you and kill you regardless.

Of course the problem here is not the reasonableness of the strategy, or the skills and motivation of the guys on the ground. The problem is that this problem and its solution are completely the opposite of what our military, as currently structured, was designed to do. Our leadership, our doctrine, and our force structure are exclusively designed to solve the conventional problem. That's great; we still need that, and the military does it better than anyone in history. But don't expect the conventional military to solve the unconventional problem. In this model of counter-insurgency, battalion, brigade, and division staffs just get in the way. Generals need to take orders from captains, and captains from staff sergeants. We talk about the Strategic Corporal, and that's great. But we are still a long way off from trusting the dudes on the ground to know what's best for their area and how best to implement it. And the generals are a hell of a long way off from getting rid of daily video teleconferences and mission-approval-by-endless-PowerPoint.

Nothing in the history of organizations suggests that the military will be able to reform itself to solve both the conventional and unconventional problem, certainly not when the promotion system and the assignment system focus solely on the conventional model. That's why I believe that the military will eventually bifurcate into two forces; one to conduct conventional operations, and one to operate unconventionally.

In the meantime, SF is supposed to be our leader in counter-insurgency, but too much of that community has become obsessed with kicking in doors in search of high-value targets, which is essentially a glorified conventional mission. The infantry and the Marines should continue to focus on the conventional problem; that's what they do. But conventional and unconventional forces can support one another, and so ideally, OIF and OEF would be lead by true counter-insurgent SF leaders and forces, supported and augmented by conventional forces (minus the conventional chain of command).

The beauty of this is that, based on careful planning, it should require less, not more resources, sustain less casualties (as proved by Vietnams CAPs), and need less time to succeed then our current bumper-sticker of a strategy. And, coupled with careful political development that encourages a stable state, it will deliver a "strong win"; that is, completely remove the conditions that might allow the insurgents to return and reconstitute.

This problem isn't going to go away, whatever happens in Iraq or Afghanistan; it's only going to become more important. We can make changes now, or we will assuredly be forced to make them in the future.

Posted by: T-Bone at September 17, 2005 09:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Who are the enemy?

easy answer - foreign insurgents.

This undermines your suggestion of using local Iraqi population to stop the attacks. The majority of the attackers supply chain is outside of Iraq, looking among the locals will not find this. If this supply is not harmed it will continue to feed the insurgency.

Conventional force applied outside of Iraq would do more harm to the insurgency.

Your strategy could well work in Afghanistan (if the tribal areas of Pakistan are included as part of the local area) because the conflict there is mainly local fighters against local government.

Posted by: unaha-closp at September 18, 2005 12:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Take a look at this:
The relevant passage reads:
"Analysts and government officials in the U.S. and Iraq have overstated the size of the foreign element in the Iraqi insurgency, especially that of the Saudi contingent," it said.

"Non-Iraqi militants made up less than 10 percent of the insurgents' ranks -- perhaps even half that -- the study said."

That's from Anthony Cordesman, a pretty smart and well-informed dude.

But regardless of the extent of the partisan (foreign) or insurgent (domestic) nature of the guerrillas, a true counter-insurgency strategy works. Foreign fighters still need a local network to integrate into for logistical support and terminal guidance. The ratline has to end at some destination. If there is no domestic insurgency, all the foreign supplies in the world don't matter. Once again, if I control the AO at the local, grass-roots level, no one enters or leaves without my knowledge. And if I know bad guys are trying to enter, I can kill them fairly easily.

Posted by: T-Bone at September 18, 2005 09:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The question "who is the enemy in Iraq" remains.

I suppose the easy answer is "anyone who is shooting at us and killing Iraqis." But a more nuanced answer would show the difficulties.

Fact is, the enemy is Iraqis. But it is the Iraqis we don't like. Since we took sides in the upcoming Iraqi civil war, the enemy has to be the side we took the country from. Our friends have to be the side (or sides) we gave the country to.

It's not a tenable position, and is bound to end badly.

Posted by: Jack Lindahl at September 18, 2005 10:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The “Rumsfeld should take responsibility and quit” and “Bush should fire Rumsfeld” talking points are getting a little overused at this point. Might I ask three questions for those who advocate this action to consider before they continue to use them?

First, who says Rumsfeld hasn’t already offered to resign (as Greg suggests he should do – on his post re: Katrina no less)? Just because you offer your resignation doesn’t mean it will be accepted. And if it isn’t, no one in that position – and especially in this situation – is going to walk out if the President asks you not to go. Please state why Rummy should simply walk out on the President in the middle of a war, if Bush asked him not to go.

Second, if Bush didn’t ask him to quit over Abu Ghraib, why would Bush accept his resignation or fire him today? Can you really posit an explanation why Rumsfeld would step down this week that wouldn’t end up being spun as “Bush knows the entire strategy is wrong and the war is unwinnable, because if he didn’t fire Rummy over AG but did fire him today things must be REALLY screwed up over there”? And how would a storyline like this play into the political process right as we’re preparing for the upcoming elections? Please explain why firing Rummy between the time the Constitution is written and the elections to ratify it would help the political situation in Iraq.

Third, if Rumsfeld was fired today, who would replace him? Don’t give me a laundry list of people including Wes Clark and Joe Biden; give me someone who has the skills to do the job, could quickly get up to speed on what’s happening, would have a different strategy for success, and most importantly, who Bush would trust in such a critical position in his administration? Please give me a reasonable candidate who passes at least a majority of these tests.

Every problem must be solved with regard to a set of current constraints. I don’t see anyone dealing with these constraints WRT moving Rummy out of the SECDEF job. This is not a “free” move – if you’re going to seriously suggest it, discuss the timing, costs, options and future payoffs.

To parody Woodward’s quote by George Tenent, this ISN’T a slam-dunk.

Posted by: kevin at September 19, 2005 01:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

For the record, I think Kevin is quite right. I say this with reluctance, because I have little use for Rumsfeld's management style, distrust his judgment and am painfully aware of the stains on his record, stains that would have sunk a Defense Secretary in any other administration long ago.

This is not any other administration. Rumsfeld has occupied for the last four years and one week a position that if not unique in our history is at least highly unusual. He has been an assistant President, to whom almost all authority over wartime military planning, personnel, and operational questions has been delegated and who in addition has had a stronger voice in foreign policy than any recent Secretary of Defense (to say nothing of the last Secretary of State). Bush has no one who could assume all the responsibilities he has given Rumsfeld, not without his delegating these responsibilities to someone he does not know well. As we have seen since 2001, this is something Bush never does if there is any alternative.

Beyond that, there is no question of Bush firing Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld is by far the stronger personality, and he still has many things he wants to accomplish at the Pentagon. I regard it as possible, after some time has passed and Bush has become more familiar with current Deputy Secretary England, that Rumsfeld would step down on his own. But that could very well take us into 2008, far too late for Greg's purposes.

I will say as well that, more than any other official in Bush's administration, Rumsfeld could leave quickly if he wanted to with no more than a handful of people getting any warning at all. I just don't think he wants to and do not expect this to change soon.

Personally I thought the Abu Ghraib scandal to have been damaging enough to justify a resignation at Rumsfeld's level, and had that resignation taken place within weeks after the story broke it might have done some good. That ship has sailed, though. Whatever changes are to be made in American military strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, or anywhere else, will need to be made with Rumsfeld. We're stuck with him and that's all there is to it.

Posted by: JEB at September 19, 2005 03:00 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This is all very well and it is nice that smart well-informed people are thinking carefully about this stuff but none of these thoughts matter. Smart well informed people aren't in charge in this country. The current powers-that-be think only about spin, not long term consequences .
Iraq is a liabiity in the next elections. Therefore Bush will declare victory and withdraw. He will use their elections as the excuse --"They have a good government due to our help. Hooray for us, now they are on their own" Like that.
There really isn't much point in thinking about how we can win in Iraq or what winning means or any of that. Your time is better spent if you address yourselves to the question of what to do with the future mess in the Middle East that will likely result from Bush's politically motivated pullout, timed for domestic needs, not Iraqi realities.

Posted by: mycat at September 19, 2005 03:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I was opposed to the Iraq invasion. It has resulted in exactly what I thought it would - a destabilizing of the region with a high potential for expanded Iranian influence.

Additionally, I was sure Iraq would not be done on the cheap, but that it would be costly in terms of both blood and treasure and in US image and reputation.

Finally, I believed - correctly I think - that the invasion would create new terrorists and would drain resources from the action in Afhanistan (a campaign that I spported until I saw what a botched job the boy idiot of a POTUS had allowed his underlings to perpetrate).

I think the idea of democracy in Iraq - at least anything we would recognize as democracy - is pure bunk; bunk bought by people who do not know the culture or the politics of the region and who wanted to do somethiong - anything - to fix whatever it is that make these scary terrorists do bad things (again, my approach would be more like Kerry's, I suppose. Terrorists should be hunted down and killed. Period. Maximum resources and focus should be dedicated to this end. Good intentioned nationed building is more likely than not to be less cost effective and very likely worse than doing nothing at all).

So Greg looks at the sunk costs and thinks that we must keep throwing good money after bad.

I see no description in his plan of what metrics would be used to assess processes and to assess outcomes. I see no explanation of why he thinks his plan would work; only that it must. There is no analysis of costs versus benefits, no probabilities assigned, no contingencies. In other words it's just the sort of plan that Bush might like.

There is a more compelling reason for the US to remain in Iraq (and this would be indefinitely and at great cost.....thank you George Bush).

What nobody seems willing to discuss is the obvious problem of Iraq's security from outside threats.

Everyone is concerned about internal security I suppose because that is where the news is right now and some hold to the delusion of promoting democracy; a political goal that would - if it were attainable - depend on some semblence of internal cohesion.

But it is external threats that pose a real problem. How do you form an Iraqi military that is capable of defending itself from an attack by neighboring countries. Yet, one must also ask whether or not we would want an Iraq that has a military that strong because such an Iraq could become aggressive towards bordering countries.

At any rate, I can't even begin to fathom the cost of building a real Iraqi military capable of defending its Constitution (oops, sorry, I forgot.........) against all enemies foreign and domestic.

This would mean tanks, helos, artillery, airplanes, communications systems, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc............and training.

All I see now is some flunkies in Toyotas pointing crappy AKs out of the back of the bed. Despite the comment above wherein there is an inference that ma duece could win the day, there is a tremendous amount that must be done to create a viable national defense for Iraq.

No one is talking about this.

Everyone seems to think of a viable Iraqi military as something resembling a police force.

Posted by: avedis at September 19, 2005 06:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I was opposed to the Iraq invasion. It has resulted in exactly what I thought it would - a destabilizing of the region with a high potential for expanded Iranian influence.

Additionally, I was sure Iraq would not be done on the cheap, but that it would be costly in terms of both blood and treasure and in US image and reputation.

Finally, I believed - correctly I think - that the invasion would create new terrorists and would drain resources from the action in Afhanistan (a campaign that I spported until I saw what a botched job the boy idiot of a POTUS had allowed his underlings to perpetrate).

I think the idea of democracy in Iraq - at least anything we would recognize as democracy - is pure bunk; bunk bought by people who do not know the culture or the politics of the region and who wanted to do somethiong - anything - to fix whatever it is that make these scary terrorists do bad things (again, my approach would be more like Kerry's, I suppose. Terrorists should be hunted down and killed. Period. Maximum resources and focus should be dedicated to this end. Good intentioned nationed building is more likely than not to be less cost effective and very likely worse than doing nothing at all).

So Greg looks at the sunk costs and thinks that we must keep throwing good money after bad.

I see no description in his plan of what metrics would be used to assess processes and to assess outcomes. I see no explanation of why he thinks his plan would work; only that it must. There is no analysis of costs versus benefits, no probabilities assigned, no contingencies. In other words it's just the sort of plan that Bush might like.

There is a more compelling reason for the US to remain in Iraq (and this would be indefinitely and at great cost.....thank you George Bush).

What nobody seems willing to discuss is the obvious problem of Iraq's security from outside threats.

Everyone is concerned about internal security I suppose because that is where the news is right now and some hold to the delusion of promoting democracy; a political goal that would - if it were attainable - depend on some semblence of internal cohesion.

But it is external threats that pose a real problem. How do you form an Iraqi military that is capable of defending itself from an attack by neighboring countries. Yet, one must also ask whether or not we would want an Iraq that has a military that strong because such an Iraq could become aggressive towards bordering countries.

At any rate, I can't even begin to fathom the cost of building a real Iraqi military capable of defending its Constitution (oops, sorry, I forgot.........) against all enemies foreign and domestic.

This would mean tanks, helos, artillery, airplanes, communications systems, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc............and training.

All I see now is some flunkies in Toyotas pointing crappy AKs out of the back of the bed. Despite the comment above wherein there is an inference that ma duece could win the day, there is a tremendous amount that must be done to create a viable national defense for Iraq.

No one is talking about this.

Everyone seems to think of a viable Iraqi military as something resembling a police force.

Posted by: avedis at September 19, 2005 06:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

T-Bone, You wrote an interesting analysis of the kind of strategy necessary to fight an unconventional war. I agree with most points. Which is why I encourage you to read Michael Yon's blog to see how the infantry in Mosel is doing just exactly what you said they should do. They are combining traditional forces with low level neighbourhood patrols, relationship building & intel, reconstruction & special forces raids. The local population is providing plenty of intel on who the bad guys are. The insurgents, while not yet defeated, are loosing people & assets. The same approach has been used to positive effect in Tal Afar, & elsewhere. The fact that the strategy isn't perfect and hasn't fully defeated the insurgency yet, is no proof "the US has no counter-insurgency strategy".

Eric Martin: Looking at US casualty rates is no measure of the level of insurgent attacks. It is a measure of US operations which have picked up tempo over the summer throughout the Sunni triangle. The tallies of direct insurgent attacks on US forces is falling way off. Instead, they attack (in order of frequency) Iraqi civilians, Iraqi police, & Iraqi soldiers. And the media hype over the claim that Al Qaeda took over Qaim and declared an Islamic Republic was just that: media hype. The local mayor & the US commander responsible for the city both rejected the absurd claim. Some insurgents hung a banner and issued a press release. That's a far cry from actually "taking over a town". Funny how the media played that up, but ignored the proof that the claim was bogus.

A good measure of the strength of the insurgency is in the number of attacks, the type of attacks, & the location of the attacks. The number of attacks has fallen steadily since Nov. 2004 (Following Fallujah), the type of attacks is tending towards suicide bombers and IED's against civilians, because they can't mount larger operations against US forces. (A few massed attacks against fortified US positions were disastrous for the insurgents as nearly all attackers were killed with very low US casualties. This type of attack abruptly stopped). The areas where attacks occur is getting smaller. All these indicators suggest a weakening insurgency. The recent spate of carbombs in Baghdad was a 'use it or loose it" response to the increased US-Iraq pressure.

Posted by: Kenneth at September 19, 2005 03:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Some links to reports on insurgency strength & activity, & on US counter-insurgency strategy:
This report cites a study which claims foreign fighters made up at most 10% or perhaps even half that number of the insurgent forces. The study then tallies over 3,000 foreign fighters, which means the insurgent forces totalled some 30,000 to 60,000 fighters. Does this figure make sense?
It does if one considers the three main groups of the insurgency: First, the Shiite militias like the Mahdi Army, which are overwhelmingly drawn from the poorest Iraqi Shiites, with a few Iraninan advisors. The Shiite militias are a relatively minor part of the insurgency lately. The 2nd group are former Iraqi Baathists, which included the most experienced military type insurgents. Many have died & the remaining Baathists appear to have joined forces with the 3rd group, the A-Q jihadis. This group is mostly foreign (60% to 70% in recent engagements in Tal Afar), including the leader, Zarqawi.

So a military report that most of the insurgents killed in a recent operation is reasonable & accurate, depending on where the operation was.

Posted by: Kenneth at September 19, 2005 03:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"The study then tallies over 3,000 foreign fighters, which means the insurgent forces totalled some 30,000 to 60,000 fighters. Does this figure make sense? "

Yes it does make sense. Not to mention the many times more Iraqis that provide support for the fighters (food, lodging, cover, or at least enough sympathy to not blow the whistle).

"A good measure of the strength of the insurgency is in the number of attacks, the type of attacks, & the location of the attacks."

Depends on how you define strength. If you define it as the ability to attack and defeat the US military on the field of battle, then the insurgency is weak. Although by that definition so is the regular military of virtually every other country on the planet.

If you define strength in other terms, say for example, the ability to disrupt the processes and plans of the United States and its agents in Iraq as well as generally spread chaos and terror, then the insurgency is strong.

In Vietnam the VC and NVA could not defeat us in pitched battle. Every time they tried they lost. And usually they lost real bad. So bad, in fact, that they altered their strategy to emphasize hit and run tactics, psychological tactics and terrorizing of the indigenous population.

I know we're not supposed to compare Iraq to Vietnam. I'm not really doing that. I'm offering the experience, tactics and perseverance of the communist forces there as an example of another kind of insurgency strength.

Your metric of number of frontal assaults against US troops is a poor one if assessing insurgency strength is the object of the assessment and peace and stability in Iraq is the desired outcome.

Posted by: avedis at September 20, 2005 03:00 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In sum, Kenneth, the ability to bend, to adapt is also a strength.

Americans have a bad tendency to think of power and strength only in terms of rock crushing ability. Problems are to be smashed, crushed, waged angry war against, etc, etc.

There are so many other ways to be effective in combat.....and in life.

Read your Sun Tsu and your Lao Tsu

Posted by: avedis at September 20, 2005 03:06 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

avedis - While I agree the shift in insurgent strategy from direct attacks on the US to bombing civilians could be interpreted as wisdom & flexibility, I don't belive that is true. The fact that fewer attacks of ANY kind are occuring, and that the areas of insurgent activity are getting smaller, suggests either a weakening insurgency or that they are merely conserving their resources. Add to it the fact that the attackers and the mid-level commanders are getting younger, and the recent capture or killing of several senior commanders, & the evidence tips in favor of a weakening insurgency.

As for influencing or preventing the US-Iraqi agenda from moving forward, the evidence clearly shows it isn't working. The elections in January were a big success, & the completion of the new consitution is progressing well.

Comparisons with Vietnam are one of contrast rather than similarity. A significant difference is the Iraqi insurgents only have support among Sunni Arabs, & even that is shrinking. Also, the VC offered an alternative gov't model, Communism. What exactly is Zarqawi offering the Iraqi people? Ho Chi MIhn read his LaoTzu, but I doubt Zarqawi has; his tastes run more to the nihilistic Salafist ideology of jihad. Now, the one similarity between Vietnam & Iraq is the degree to which the US media have signed on as propagandists for the terrorists & critics of the US military.

The point I'm trying to make here in my posts on this topic is, that despite a series of early political screw-ups, (& some events which were inevitable anyway) the US military has finaly been allowed to conduct an effective counter-insurgency.

Posted by: Kenneth at September 20, 2005 03:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

good post greg

Posted by: liberalhawk at September 20, 2005 04:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Kenneth, we may (and I stress may) have units in the field using counter-insurgency tactics, and even conducting counter-insurgent operations. But I have seen no evidence of an overall, comprehensive counter-insurgent strategy, driven by the highest levels of US command in concert with the civilian authorities. And without overall coordination, such efforts will have great difficulty consolidating into permanent achievements. I just don't think the generals get it. As the saying goes, "it's not that they don't see the solution, it's that they don't see the problem."

Brigade-level sweeps are ok, heck even necessary at some points. But what happens when the brigade goes back behind the wire? We need an enduring presence in these communities, and we can't depend on pesh merga to do it for us.

I seriously question your assessment of the constitutional process. Time will tell, but I think the next month or so will be crucial, and potentially extremely dangerous.

Meanwhile, in the long term I am much more worried about Sadr then anyone else. We appear to have basically ceded the south to the various Shiite authorities, limiting our influence in that area. The incident with the British yesterday is particularly troubling to me. If something happens to Sistani and the Shiites turn against us, I fear for every American in country. Worst case scenario perhaps, but I hope someone's planning for it.

And sorry man, I absolutely see comparisons with Vietnam. The U.S. intervenes in a country it does not understand, and makes no effort to understand. It plans on fighting one style of war, and ends up fighting another. It fails to realize that although it is conducting a limited war and thus has limited means, the enemy is conducting a total war and thus can sustain obscenely high casualties. A tendency for the U.S. military to fail to confront difficult realities, and to blame the media for setbacks instead of engaing the media in a skillful information campaign. General officers, because of their training and personal experience, fail to understand the problem, and are not conceptually flexible enough to adapt. The use of a peace-time personnel model; promoting and assigning based on pre-war career tracks rather than trying to put the best person in the right job and keep them there for the duration. A military and administration with steadily declining credibility.

Hey look, man, I hope your optimistic assessment is right, I really do. But after two and a half years of this, color me extremely skeptical. You seem to believe military reports at face value, and that's you're prerogative. I, on the other hand, believe we must, as Reagan said, "trust but verify."

Posted by: T-Bone at September 20, 2005 06:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Good post Greg.

It's hard to take anyone serious that says, with a straight face, "The presence of American troops is what's largely fueling the terrorism-driven Iraqi insurgency in the first place." While the presence of U.S. troops in the area may cause the attacks to be higher than normal (concentrating fighters in one country instead of many), what is largely fueling them is a dysfunctional group striving hard to retain power. Why are the additional targets beyond the military focused on those striving to make Iraq democratic? Simply to get the troops out?

Posted by: ken at September 20, 2005 11:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"It's hard to take anyone serious that says, with a straight face, "The presence of American troops is what's largely fueling the terrorism-driven Iraqi insurgency in the first place."

Yes Ken, I suppose you're right. There are just a lot of folks out there that hate us regardless of what we do. They are simply malfunctioning hordes.

It's not like any red blooded christian American would be upset to the point of insurgency if our country was invaded by non-believers.

So what you offer makes sense. We should invade as many countries as possible and kill to a man (or woman or child) anyone who opposes that invasion because they obviously were our enemies prior to the invasion and sooner or later would have possibly caused us trouble.

Yes, this is fine reasoning. The fly paper theory; got to love it.

Posted by: avedis at September 21, 2005 02:54 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"..what is largely fueling them is a dysfunctional group striving hard to retain power."

Well Ken, if that's what you think then how do you explain the presence of non-Iraqi Jihadists?

Use some common sense, man. There are obviously several "insurgencies". Each with different motivation and different objectives and different approaches.

There are those dead-enders that you refer to , to be sure, but my guess is that those motivated purely by a desire to bring the Baath party back to sole prominence are a minority.

There's religion and ethnicity and there's power and money up for grabs. There's Iranian influence, there's Syrian influence and there's Saudi influence. There's old scores to be settled. There's new scores to be settled. And there's folks that just plain don't like the idea of being occupied by a foreign invader (would you?) especially after the invader has killed, maimed or otherwise insulted your friends, family and neighbors.

So many reasons and so many influences to take up arms.

Posted by: avedis at September 21, 2005 10:48 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"..what is largely fueling them is a dysfunctional group striving hard to retain power."

Well Ken, if that's what you think then how do you explain the presence of non-Iraqi Jihadists?

Use some common sense, man. There are obviously several "insurgencies". Each with different motivation and different objectives and different approaches.

There are those dead-enders that you refer to , to be sure, but my guess is that those motivated purely by a desire to bring the Baath party back to sole prominence are a minority.

There's religion and ethnicity and there's power and money up for grabs. There's Iranian influence, there's Syrian influence and there's Saudi influence. There's old scores to be settled. There's new scores to be settled. And there's folks that just plain don't like the idea of being occupied by a foreign invader (would you?) especially after the invader has killed, maimed or otherwise insulted your friends, family and neighbors.

So many reasons and so many influences to take up arms.

Posted by: avedis at September 21, 2005 10:49 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

avedis - That's a good point to repeat, to both critics & supporters, because they both tend to forget it. There isn't AN insurgency in Iraq, there are SEVERAL insugencies. Some groups are allied (Baathists & Al Qaeda), some in conflict with each other (Sunnis & Shiites).

The idea that it is the presence of US troops that has created the insurgencies, is only partly true. Iraqi nationalism & honor resented the arrival of US troops. While a large majority of Iraqis are glad the US got rid of Saddam, at the same time they feel shame that they did not do it themselves. Honor & shame are powerful social forces among Arabs. Then, there is the religious dimension of the insult of having "infidel soldiers" on Muslim soil. The Sunnis lost power, so they would be expected to resent that. The Shiites were & remain deeply suspicious of the intentions of the occupation. They got screwed by Bush Sr. and for that reason had doubts about Bush Jr. The disbanding of the old Iraqi army was a necessary step to gaining credibility among the Shiites. They never would have come on side without it. We would be in a much worse place now if we were fighting a full-blown Shiite insurgency with an Iraqi army riddled with Baathists. About the only group who strongly support the US are the Kurds.

Another point to remember is that prior to the war, as a functioning modern state, the Saddam regime was crumbling. It ran on smuggling, corruption & terror. He had stopped relying on the traditional Baath party and based his support in his tribe. Ansar al Islam, an Al Qaeda alligned group, was operating in a haven in the northeast. Zarqawi was already in Baghdad. Saddam had huge murals painted depicting his grinning face infront of the burning towers of the World Trade Center. Whether or not he was involved (& yes, there is some evidence he was), he certainly wanted the Iraqi people to think he did it. In 1998, Saddam added the words "Aluha Akbar" to the Iraqi flag, written in his own hand. In that same year, Saddam had a copy of the Koran written with his own blood & put on display in the state museum. Therefore, it is also reasonable to argue that to a large extent, Iraq was already radicalized and was attracting Islamists, including Al Qaeda, to come to the Land of the Two Rivers.

The process of the Islamic radicalization of Iraq had begun even before 9/11. The US led invasion in 2003 brought it to a head.

Posted by: Kenneth at September 21, 2005 04:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Kenneth, So Saddam wrote Alahu Akbar on the flag. It was just a political ploy much like George Bush pretending he cares about poor blacks in New Orleans.

You've got the point of the flag thing a little backwards. Saddam felt the need to play to muslim religious sentiments not because Saddam shared those sentiments (he did not), but because the populace was becoming religiously radicalized and Saddam feared losing control.

Ditto the desire of Saddam to associate himself with 9/11. As far as I know there is no credible/substantiated evidence that Saddam had anything to with 9/11. Clearly this was the work of OBL and co. and there is no operating association between OBL and Saddam

Ansar Al Islam, ironically operated under the protection of the US enforced no-fly zone; out of Saddam's reach (but within the Kurds reach).

We used to like Saddam precisely because he maintained a secular state.
The tide of the religious masses was beginning to swell against him.

Iraq needed a Saddam to hold it together and we needed a Saddam to hold Iraq together. We probably shouldn't have suckered him into invading Kuwait. That was the end of a useful relationship. Although maybe we really did need to that so we could "reduce" his military because he had already begun to "leave the reservation". I don't know. Some day the true story will come out; long after the Bush princes have passed and their offspring are all drunken and drugged sots in disgrace with dissipated inheritances.

But I digress.

At bottom, Saddam had successfully fought Islamic extremism and terrorism (Kurds, etc) in Iraq for two decades. The Gulf War broke his back and he was, indeed, losing control of his country to various factions. The Jackals smelled blood.

We are indeed fighting those Jackals now. However, I'm not sure what the point is. If we weren't in Iraq would those Jackals come to the US to fight us?

I'm inclined to think that the problem would be minor at worst and that, for the same invest we are now making in Iraq, we could make our own country the most secure on the planet.

There would still remain the issue of control of oil resources. This is a real problem that needs to be addressed. My governemnt refuses to explain to me what they are doing in this regard. My government thinks we are too much like children to discuss oil strategy with us - and the planned role of Iraq in that strategy.

Posted by: avedis at September 22, 2005 03:30 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, you quote Cordesman approvingly, but you fail to deal with his first two clauses: "If the President has the magic wand necessary to create new forces, and is willing to ignore the impact on our all volunteer force structure of increasing deployments, [then...]".

The phrase "fatal flaw" comes up several times in the comments section, and I'm afraid I must add to that chorus. Whatever the original merits of the war, or the blame for the bungles since, the situation that we face today is an American ground force that, in its current structural incarnation, is virtually spent. (Cue McCaffrey quote about "the stage of meltdown.") Any serious program that involves staying the course for what is likely to be a 5+ year (best case scenario) counterinsurgency campaign must begin by confronting this challenge. Do you advocate a draft, Greg? (For that matter would a leveed army of semi-sullen recruits be suitable for counterinsurgency duty?) Are you enlisting yourself? Do you see your buddies doing so?

It also must be pointed out that this crisis of the American armed forces is leading directly to strategic compromises in other theatres. I've noticed BD's conspicuous silence on the total reversal the Bush regime has adopted in North Korea. Is this because the Bushies have suddenly had a change of heart and believe that Kim is someone with whom we can "do business"? Seems vanishingly unlikely, I think almost everyone can agree. Instead, the explanation for why they've agreed to almost everything Kim has been demanding for the last five years is that they have no choice, despite Rumsfeld's prewar bravado about fighting multiple simultaenous full scale campaigns.

Finally, the crisis of the American armed forces is intimately related to the political circumstances of the war itself, both domestically and internationally. Internationally, the diplomatic failure to secure widespread support for the war from most of the other Great Powers -- and it was a failure, no matter who deserves the blame for this -- is a major reason why the U.S. hasn't had more troop support in theater. Domestically, Bush has signally failed to demand of the American people an iota of personal sacrifice on behalf of the war. How much time has Bush spent exhorting people to enlist? I can't recall him do it even once. If he spent even a tenth the time he does on fundraising on troopraising, it would make a significant difference. Why doesn't he do this? There's actually a good answer to this question: it's because the GWOT has been relentlessly marketed as being about preserving "the American way of life" (as idealized by Republicans, in particular) down to the smallest detail, up to and very specifically including shopping sprees in SUVs.

In sum, Greg, all the exhortations to stay the course must roll up to a discussion of feasibility and means and tradeoffs. It's time for us to be grown-up about what exactly advocating a continued focus on the GWOT as currently incarnated really means, both in terms of large-scale domestic sacrifice and the downgrading of many other very significant long-range threats. China, anyone? My general feeling on reading the post, Greg, is that it is all exhaustively and exhaustingly reasoned, but that at the end of the day, there's no essential, global, cost-benefit analysis being made, and no attempt to grapple with the political implications of demanding that someone (who?) pay the enormous costs for the benefits you impute to staying the course.

Posted by: Nils Gilman at September 22, 2005 11:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Problems with the "timed withdrawal" model:

1. US presence fuels the insurgency: From what I've been seeing for a long time now, the "insurgency" seems to have abandoned even the pretense that they're offended by the infidels who occupy their land... The focus now is on regaining lost power. As Greg points out, the insurgency is likely to intensify, not softly and silently vanish away, in our absence, since our absence would dramatically increase their chances of success, especially at this critical time (while the constitution is in flux and the Iraqi people only have one election under their belts).

2. No Iraqi incentive to take over as long as we're there: This statement assumes that the Iraqi government is stupid. I'm willing to go out on a limb that the Iraqi government is critically aware of the fact that we'll all keep marching toward 2008 willy-nilly, and that even if Bush stays the course till his very last day in office (which I trust he will - he seems to act preternaturally independently from "public" opinion, particularly in contrast to his predecessor), there's about a 50-50 chance - maybe greater, depending on how well the media are able to frame their point of view to get Republicans on board as well - that the next US president will draw down troops, and fast. They have incentive up the yin-yang. Not to mention the whole nationalist-pride argument that the Iraqi government has every reason to want to prove itself independent from the US as quickly as it can.

3. We can't keep up this level of troop deployment: Of course we can. We can keep it up as long as it's important to us. We're spending, what, 6% of GDP on defense right now? Is that the number I've seen bandied about? The question is one of will, in the absence of other global arenas of proximate threat - which North Korea isn't at the moment. The ME has been a festering wound for a whole long time now; we're this close to bringing about a change there that has the chance to be its own oil spot. Do we have the will? At least until 2008, we do.

The early assessments that bringing down Saddam would be a cakewalk turned out to be true, didn't they? It's the resulting power vacuum that we're trying to help the Iraqis deal with. But in a mere three years, we've seen and/or brought about regime change, conversion of a bitter enemy to an ally (of, no doubt, dubious loyalty depending on the situation, but an ally nonetheless - and Germany, for instance, is kind of a dubious ally these days too, I'd say), significant infrastructure repair and replacement, made necessary by Saddam's prior decade-plus of just running the car without so much as a tire pressure check or oil change, a popularly elected interim Parliament, president, and all the way down to local government entities, drafting of a constitution that explicitly recognizes Iraq's multi-ethnic nature and the Koran as a source of legal guidance, and of course we mustn't forget Qaddafi's backpedaling, Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon, elections in Egypt (however sham, they suggest that Mubarrak is now subject to popular pressure in a way he wasn't previously), popular democratic activism throughout the ME region... If Vietnam had gone this well there'd be no Vietnam meme.

The constant refrain that the Bush administration is unwilling to revisit its decisions and change its course, and its companion demand that Bush "admit his mistakes" - what amused me to no end during the election season is that anyone really believed that a president running for reelection would see calls that he publicly beat his breast and cry "mea culpa" as anything but a plus for his opponents. What on earth would he have had to gain? But the calls continue, without regard for the fact that the administration is apparently as nimble as it needs to be, based on success on the ground (and I mean domestically as well as in foreign affairs), just not willing to submit to public psychoanalysis when it does make changes. If we were still behaving in Iraq as we were in 2003, we'd have levelled the country and completely alienated its entire citizenry by now. Clearly tactics and strategy have been evolving - their results aren't invisible, yet so many people still talk about Iraq as if we're still primarily (and foolishly) concerned with defending long supply lines from attack by a standing army. That's a bit of a strawman, I admit, but no more so than the contention that policy hasn't changed at all.

I have my disagreements with the Bush administration. But I don't make the mistake of seeing it as some political dinosaur, too cumbersome to survive and destined to be outflanked by the fleet-footed mammals of the current Left.

Posted by: Jamie at September 22, 2005 04:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


How refreshing to read of your glowing approval of Saddam's genocide against the Kurds! How tedious to read your recitation of the old party line about the US suckering Saddam into invading Kuwait. And how predictable you make a reference to Bush and racism. While you are whining about your gov't treating you like children, perhaps you might allow the Iraqi people are not children who "needed a Saddam to keep it together"?

Far from keeping a lid on Islamism, Saddam's repressive regime stimulated the Islamists by dissillusioning the Arab people of the myth of Pan-Arabism. This effect has been repeated throught the Arab word by all the corrupt and repressive dictators: Mubarak, Assad, etc. That's the whole point to promoting democracy as a strategy for defeating the root causes of terrorism.

On a point of fact: Ansar al Islam was a well armed organization, which carried out terrorists attacks againt the Kurds. They were not "out of reach of Saddam", but in fact regularily received arms from him. His son Uday even visited their territory in 2000. Elements of Ansar al Islam are still fighting in Iraq today. The point about the flag is that 1998 was the year Saddam & Al Qaeda made serious contacts, including sending an Iraqi agent to Afghanistan to train A-Q in chemical weapons production.

If you would like to learn about the links between Saddam & Al Qaeda, including the 9-11 attacks, I encourage you to google the following names:

Abdul Rahman Yasin
Sabah Khodada
Ahmad Hikmat Shakir
Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani

Of course, if you prefer to keep your head in the sand, by all means don't research those names.

The connections are well presented by journalist Steven Hayes:

Posted by: Kenneth at September 22, 2005 04:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Kenneth, I reiterate that those associations between Saddam and AQ connected individuals are not generally accepted as meaningful.

A meeting does not constitute an operating agreement.

Hell Don Rumsfeld used to meet with Saddam (and when Saddam was gassing Kurds to boot). Does that meeting imply that the US was in on the gassing?

Us agents met with, aided and abetted Bin Laden in Afghanistan in the '80s, does that imply that the US was behind 9/11 as well?

I'll bet you'd say "no"to both.

All sorts of people meet and discuss potential agreements when interests intersect. Shared interests and cooperation at one time does not imply cooperation into perpetuity.

As for my assertions regarding the Gulf War (#1, that is), I'm right and you're wrong. You are offering an opinion - and a slanted one at that - and I am stating fact. That I am, you would have to take on faith - which you won't - so I won't discuss that aspect of the realm any more.

As for your assertion that I offered my approval of the gassing of Kurds, I'll say this; I don't approve of the act at all. However, I understand it. The Kurds were and are organizers of a terrorist base. The Kyurds harbored terrorists that made strikes in Iraq and in Turkey and in Iran. You may not care about attacks against Iran and Iraq, but Turkey is a relatively Western country and a member of NATO, etc. And terrorism is terrorism, n'est pas? Aren't we in a "war against terror" Or is it only just a war against some terror?

At any rate, a strong leader will hold his country together against influences that seek to divide it. A fact that makes many Southerners sore to this day.

And make no mistake, the Kurds were insurgents at the time they were gassed. And the women and children were supporting the fighters.

We kill women and children in war all the time. Why is it only deplorable when Saddam does it? Ah yes, of course, because we're the good guys and when good guys kill you for "good" intentions you are less dead. Right?

As for your deflecting the dishonesty and lack of transparency of our elected democratic government into a discussion of the need to free Iraqis, I'd say you're more concerned with the freedom of Iraqis than you are with that of Americans.

Our military's and our elected leaders' primary responsiblitity is to the protection and continuance of our freedoms under our Constitution.

If the Iraqis want freedom, then they can go earn it the same way Americans did, or the Poles did, etc.

But the Iraqis don't want what you think they do. They want Islamic law, Mullahs, etc just like Iran (how did they vote in Iran recently, BTW?).

So, yes, I'll take a strong man in Iraq any day over the chaos that rules now or the MUllahs that will eventually rule. This American thinks his country would be better off with an Iraq that resembles that of the Iraq of the 1980s than an Iran of the 21st century.

Many Iraqis only moved toward islamic revolution when life got bad under Saddam; and life got bad under Saddam after Gulf War 1.

Those that Saddam had oppressed for years were already - long before Saddam - bent on Islamic rule. That's one reason why we liked Saddam. His oppression of Shiite factions was particularly favorable to us after the Iranian revolution.

Generally, under Saddam - pre-gulf war 1 - stores were open, free markets were working for small business owners, there was religious tolerance of christians, there was healthcare, public infrastructure and there was a relatively high level of dispersed prosperity (for the Arab world).

Despite stories of plastic shredders, etc most people were free to go about life unmolested. One only got into trouble if one appeared to be fomenting revolution, coup d'etat and that sort of thing.

Kenneth, I'm surprised so many Iraqis yearn for those days given the hell we've unleahed on the country.

Posted by: avedis at September 22, 2005 11:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I never ceased to be amazed at the capacity of unreformed leftists to wax poetic about the wonderful quality of life our third world brothers and sisters enjoy - or enjoyed - under the most psychopathic dictators on earth as long as the alternative is the worst possible situation in their view - ie: the US military going in to change the status quo

Can anyone read Avendis here "Despite stories of plastic shredders, etc most people were free to go about life unmolested. One only got into trouble if one appeared to be fomenting revolution, coup d'etat and that sort of thing.

Kenneth, I'm surprised so many Iraqis yearn for those days given the hell we've unleahed ( sic ) on the country."

and NOT be repulsed by this romatic vision of Saddams Iraq where people were "free" to go about life "unmolested" ( or shredded? ) as long as they didn't "appear" to be up to something

Some comfort to the HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS Saddam had killed

Some conspiracy that eh

Or the marsh arabs - or the Kurds

At least the right wingers who supported our working with "our bastards" like Saddam in the 1980's didn't pretend this was some nice system for most of the people there

We simply accepted this as the most realistic situation - better the devil we know, none of our business, etc

Of course, at the time - we were attacked by Avendis and co for such behavior

Now we are asked to believe this was a pretty good life for Iraqi's

Enough to make one retch really

As for what "most" Iraqi's feel - why aren't the 8 MILLION who voted considered a pretty damn good measure of what most Iraqi's want and how THEY feel about today V life under Saddam

Posted by: Pogue Mahone at September 23, 2005 02:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Avedas: Sorry, buddy, I won't take your word on faith, I prefer facts and you don't offer any.

Note on the Iranian elections: the candidates were preselected by the regime, opposition protests were broken up by thugs, student leaders & journalists were tortured & murdered, turn out was low, & ballot boxes were stuffed. Result: an extremist Islamist former prison torturer was installed as President. That wasn't democracy.

The signicance of the contacts between Saddam & Al Qaeda are not just that they met, but what they discussed. Are you suggesting they traded falafel recipes? Saddam sent an agent to Afghanistan to help A-Q make chemical weapons there. You consider that a benign non-working contact? A former Iraqi officer who ran the Salman Pak camp admitted training hundreds of foreign Arabs in terrorist techniques including using knives to take over commercial airplanes. The Czech gov't still stands by their assertion that Atta met an Iraqi agent in Prague in April 2001.

Shakir, an Iraqi citizen who got a job at the Kuala Lampur airport as a "greeter" at the request of the Iraqi gov't, met with 2 of the 9/11 hyjackers in January of 2001. He then disapeared until Sept 17th 2001 when he was arrested in Qatar. He had with him names & numbers of Al Qaeda suspects, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and details of other A-Q related plots. Under pressure by Iraq, Qatar released him, but he was arrested again in Jordan. Again under pressure from the Iraq, the Jordanians released him and he fled directly to Iraq. His name has since turned up on 3 separate rosters as a Colonel in the Saddam Fedeyen. You call that not a credible connection??????????????????? The best argument the "no connection" crowd can come up with is that Shakir is a common name and so it might be a case of mistaken identity. Ok, and Hussein is common name so maybe they pulled the wrong guy out of that spider hole!

Your assertion that life was just fine (so long as you weren't killed) under Saddam's rule is morally sick. On average his regime killed 4300 Iraqis every month of his 20 year rule. Thousands more lived miserable lives with periodic arrest & torture while coping with endemic corruption.

I can't take seriously the comments of someone who draws the moral equivalence between Saddam gassing entire villages and the occassional yet tragic collateral killing of civilians by US military. When the US has killed civilians in Iraq they paid restitution to the victims families, in keeping with tribal custom. When Saddam executed Iraqis, he made their families pay for the bullet.

Again, I have presented facts, not opinions. You have presented opinions and insisted we accept them on faith as facts. But why should I put any faith in what you have to say?

Posted by: Kenneth at September 23, 2005 04:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


troop levels.
1. I continue to maintain that we need a thorough, rational, discussion of the state of the US army and Marine Corps. Ive seen contradictory assertions, contradictory data this is somthing where blogs could really contribute to sorting out the facts.

2. If we do need to increase troops levels, that can be done without resorting to a draft.

WRT NKor - if went to war, the Nokrs would destroy Seaoul Skor. Thats true even we had more troops available. I dont think the number of troops available has much to do with the situation on the Korean peninsula. I think the reason they accepted teh deal is 1. Its a different deal - Nkor disarms BEFORE we discuss a light water reactor. 2. PRC Is involved, and their prestiige is on the line if Nkor cheats.

Posted by: liberlahawk at September 23, 2005 07:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"The Iraqi 3rd Division is stationed in Tal Afar, and Gen. Bergner refutes the characterization the units are made up of Kurdish Peshmerga; “it's largely made up of the 3rd Iraqi Army Division, which is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious force that was nationally recruited.”

Posted by: Kenneth at September 23, 2005 09:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Saddam killed 952,000 Iraqis?? Please offer your reference for that figure.

Us killing - colateral damage you prefer to call it - has been in the order of thousands - more than ten thousand, actually - and that's just this time around. I call that more than occassional.

Reference please for your assertion that all of the families have been compensated - as if compensation is even relevant. How does a few bucks compensate one for the loss of a loved one? Since you want to talk about moral repugnance, I find your suggestion that it would, to be shallow, stupid and devoid of honor and morality.

As for your pointing a finger at what you assert is my own moral repugnance, I'd say doing so is a defense mechanism that you've erected to avoid having to take your head out the sand, as you put it.

I never said life under Saddam was rosey. I offered the perspective - and yes a factual one - that for many Iraqis life under Saddam was better than life in many parts of the world - or even other countries in the region.

BTW, your zeal to spread freedom seems to be quite limited. What about those other parts of the world - and they are many - where people really do die in mass genocides. You and your ilk are inconsistently quiet about saving those people. Yet again, I digress.

My point, which you chose to ignore, was not that Saddam was a great guy and a good leader, but that, weighing the costs and benefits I believe that would have been in the US' best interest to have a strong man (OK, perhaps as benevolent a strong man as possible) in charge of Iraq.

I am first and foremost concerned with US interests, not Iraqi interests. In fact I only care about Iraq at all to the extent that circumstances there impact our security and economy.

I find it amusing that you would categirize me as a liberal; another of your non-rational means of thought avoidance, I suppose.

After four years of ROTC and eight years of active duty service, including the first gulf war, I think I have earned the right to form an opinion; and I also know some facts.

Sorry my opinion and facts don't jibe with yours.

But don't go lumping me in with Micheal Moore, etc.
and don't go butchering my handle.

It's more of a reflection on your mind set and character than mine.

Posted by: avedis at September 23, 2005 10:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Another vet, this one a Lt Col. (special forces op com, etc, etc) who sees things as I do (a very good blog by the way). See his most recent post or any number of previous ones.

And there are many other vets, from Zinni on down.

Gosh, why does the United States Armed Forces produce so many Micheal Moore types? Why can't all educated vets (officers) be as tough and smart as the characters that hang out on right wing blog sites?

Maybe Kenneth and Pogue Mahone should be given summary commisions at the rank of, say, five star generals (you guys flip a coin to see who gets Army and who gets the Corps). Their first mission could be to purge the ranks of all the commie Bush haters and assorted nogoodniks that obviously infest the armed forces like a cancer.

Then they can go on to save the muslim world from the muslims, by force of arms, like real men.

Posted by: avedis at September 24, 2005 03:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

oh, I almost forgot. They can also de-activate the CIA and the NSA because they have Google bookmarked and know to search.

They usually find exactly the answer they want.

Posted by: avedis at September 24, 2005 03:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

First hand accounts of systematic torture and abuse of Iraqi detainees - many of whom turned out to be innocent - by members of the 82nd Airborne (accounts by men and officers of the 82nd regarding systematic torture by officers and men of the 82nd)

The torture was common knowledge up to and including the highest ranks - and now the US Senate.

We are foreign invaders and we are violating Iraq and Iraqis. The insurgency will continue until we have left; at which time civil war will rule the day. The insurgency is about many different things, but as we continue to spread torture, death and mayhem, all insurgents will be able to unite under the point of honor of expelling the infidel crusaders.

Posted by: Just Stopping By at September 24, 2005 01:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, great post. I believed a well-prosecuted war was MORE THAN JUSTIFIED by Hussein's barbarity, but I opposed the war in advance because the evidence for WMD was poor, other slower, financially messy options that might have been uses were not pursued, and the obvious incompetence of the Bush administration meant that I felt there was a strong chance that we would end up where we are now -- heading the wrong direction, and FAST.

I greatly regret being correct, because although as a leftistish sort I would have regretted (domestically) the Bush administration doing the invasion and reconstruction correctly -- I would have rejoiced for the Iraqis, who deserved like all people a decent chance to get on with their lives.

Your post is about how to help those people, the Iraqis, and ourselves and the world in the process now that we've mucked it up, and I think you're right. BUT -- and isn't there always one? -- your plan depends on having the political will and the executive competence necessary to pull it off. You may have neither; certainly you don't have the latter and you know it when asking for Rumsfeld's head.

Look, I would vote for your plan in a second, but I would need to know how long you intend to go on that way -- which is precisely the problem. Kevin's right that without any sense that we'll leave them, Iraqi leaders have little to no incentive to really bargain. And you're right that a timed withdrawal would indeed bring propaganda and motivational rewards to the insurgency. How do you navigate the problematic truth contained in both statements? In the Tom Clancy world, everything works properly, binary choices exist in which one choice is not only the proper choice but also has no ill side-effects on other choices, and so on. Your plan is perfect, in a Tom Clancy World. But in a Tom Clancy World, Kevin's might be, too.

Unfortunately we have gone to war with the president we have, not the president we would wish to have. And we have the economy we have, not the one we would wish to have. I agree with you that a withdrawal right now would be wrong -- but ONLY if we do the things you're discussing. Now you need to answer the reverse question: If we fail to do what you're discussing, should we still stay the course?

Excellent, excellent, excellent. And civil. And responsible. I hope my comments are taken in the same regard.

Posted by: ralph at September 24, 2005 11:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I hate saying this, but I don’t think there should be a withdrawal. I think there should an intensification of occupation with the US army playing a more active and direct role.

The US will not the win the war on the insurgency by bombing villages and cities from the comforts of fighter jets. The US army should engage in street fighting, and this requires more troops. The alternative is to do it Syria style, through other militias. But you risk triggering a civil war (that’s how Syria controlled Lebanon during the war, and there were a lot more militias there. It’s disgusting to think of, but that’s what’s required to beat the insurgency. Of course Israel tried that, but Israel was stupid and it stepped on the Shia, which created Hizbullah.. you know the rest of the story). Saddam's evil genius was in creating a type of resistance he knew the US army would not be able to defeat from planes and through naïve democracy building, at least not in the short term, and not without incurring massive moral and physical damage.

The strength and effectiveness of the insurgency are a testimony to Bush's naive war planners who not only thought their military might would bring a quick victory, but who also did not understand, let me repeat, did not understand Iraq and the Middle East. It was extremely short sighted of them not to take into consideration that toppling a dictatorship would create a security void that’s conducive to eager al-Qaeda type fighters and fundamentalist local militias. When you go to war against the advice of everyone in this world, you should not expect the world, and this includes Syria and Iran, not to turn a blind eye to infiltrations of people and weapons.

So you can talk all you want about the need for the US army to stay in Iraq. But the fact of the matter is the US military presence is not doing much to protect Iraqis, and here I mean average Iraqis and not the corrupt politicians who “control” the country now. I don't see how the presence of US troops could change things for the better in the future with the current approach: 1. bomb from planes, cause collateral damage that breeds more enemies. 2. create a false democracy that cannot even guarantee security and create jobs 3. blame everything on Islamists and foreign fighters and ignore the fact that the US is an occupier 4. Divert responsibility to corrupt officials 5. continue to violate international law by NOT acting as an occupying power responsible for maintaining security and welfare at ALL levels.

Let me put it this way. Democracies take a long time to form, true. We've heard Bush and Rumsfeld say something to that effect. So what do you do? You hand over power prematurely to incompetent thiefs? No. You actually do what occupation does, rule with the fist. Yes, what's required right now in Iraq is an interim dictatorship. The US would be more in line with international law if it actually shouldered the responsibility completely and directly and maintained law and order and GRADUALLY established a system of self governance and democracy.

This means more troops. Unfortunate, but that’s what happens when you plan poorly and decide to invade and topple a dictatorship.

Of course this US admin will never go for that because it seems at odds with American values like democracy (as if going to war is) and because that would require committing more troops (an unpopular move) and an admission that the war planners were wrong and have miscalculated. Bush would rather apologize a thousand times for Katrina but not once for what he did to Iraq.

Posted by: Kais at September 25, 2005 12:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm have a problem with all of the ideas here to draw down troops or whatever. It is this:

There may already be a set plan to draw down. If there is, we would never know about it until after it's accomplished. Or, at least, we SHOULD NOT know about it. If you and I knew, so would the enemy, who would lay low until we left and then go back into the civil war business without us there to stop them.

That's the primary thing that bothers me about all of the plans here, and about the news media insisting upon asking in news conferences IF there is a plan to draw down. If there is a draw down plan, the Pentagon would be incredibly stupid to release any of it to the public, including the fact that there even IS a plan.

So we DON'T know and SHOULD NOT know.

Am I talking about blind faith in the government? No... I'm talking about national security. These insurgents are not stupid. If given the opportunity to lay low for a while knowing the US troops would be gone after a given time, then that is exactly what they would do.

Posted by: mamapajamas at September 25, 2005 11:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

avedis - My apologies for misspelling your nick. I have always been a lousy speller, so please don't take it personally. I respect your record of service to the US, & I never said you don't have a right to an opinion. I never called you liberal nor did I lump you in with Michael Moore.

And speaking of lumping in, I'm not sure who you have in mind when you sneared at me "You and your ilk are inconsistently quiet about saving those people", but I do indeed support freedom & democracy for all nations. Funny you should make such a comment after passing over the mass graves of the Kurds with a comment justifying Saddam's repression of them.

The rest of your comments have devolved into personal attacks and rants, and are therefore not interesting.

Posted by: Kenneth at September 26, 2005 03:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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