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August 31, 2005

Comments

How about the first thing that Charles should ask for is Bush's resignation, who bears more overall responsibliity for the screw ups in every aspect of this thing. Please rememebr that Bush has kept Rumsfeld in office despite literally years of screw ups, and refused his resignation. Who is the moron here?

Krepinevich's article has some major flaws. The "oil-spot" strategy cannot be implemented without a large increase in troops -- Krepinevich seems to say the opposite or else fails to address this rather important point (try to make sense of this -- "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").

This Krepievich comment is nonsensical re the source of the insurgency:

The second source is Iraq's tradition of rule by those best able to seize power through violent struggle. Washington's muddled signals have created the impression that American troops may soon depart, opening the way to an Iraqi power struggle. (This is why the Shiite Arabs and the Kurds, even though they generally support the new government, have refused to disband their own militias.)

They have not disbanded their militias precisely because of "Iraq's tradition of rule by those best able to seize power through violent struggle" -- not some alleged US waffling about leaving. The key mistake was in 2003 when the US decided not to try to disband these militias, thereby guaranteeing that they would become the ultimate arbiter of political power in Iraq.

Krepinevich's counter-insurgency strategy can never work when the vast majority of people already hate us. It's too late to fix things by belatedly (two years too late) providing security.

And this remark by Charles -- "ratifying a fairly decent constitution." Why not write a post trying to defend this nonsensical concept? Make sure you reference the fact that the "decent" constitution sells Iraqi women short, per leading Iraqi women, and creates Iran-lite in the South, a basically independent Kurdistan (and all the trouble that will bring) and guaranteed chaos in Sunni lands. It assures a destablized Iraq.

It seems that you are fine with this clusterf&!k outcome -- what a waste of American lives and treasure. Are you advocating another 10 years of the Krepinevich plan, with no realistic assurance that even then it will work?

How bad does it have to get before you recognize that it no longer can be fixed?

Charles -- my snark totally off.

"The history and strategy for stabilizing Iraq is there for the taking"

No, it's more difficult than that. Lots of things are there for the taking, and yet they don't get taken.

What I find interesting about our system of government is that we elect our leaders and they appoint very bright people who then find the "taking" to be extraordinarily difficult.

And yet, you and I, through the press and now the Internet, not having been appointed to a high government position despite the fact that we know precisely the location of what should be "taken" and the ease with which it can be "taken", continue to believe that the "taking", ripe with good intentions, is a relative piece of cake.

That said, I hope with you that Iraq can be stabilized and that Rumsfeld resigns.

The history and strategy for stabilizing Iraq is there for the taking.

As Kevin Drum cogently observed: "If we're still not committed to counterinsurgency as our overwhelmingly primary mission in Iraq, it seems unlikely that anything is going to change that." (link to Political Animal on Krepinevich's essay)

Krepinevich's model for successful counter-insurgency is the British experience in Malaysia. John Derbyshire at NRO argues that it is actually a very inapposite model, i.e. what worked there will not work in Iraq.

As far as I can tell, this:
"The history and strategy for stabilizing Iraq is there for the taking."

is a gross over-simplification. The success-rate of liberal western democracies against insurgencies is very low. There is one clear instance of success, sc. Malaysia. And that does not seem to provide any precedent for Iraq.

There may well still be a strategy for stabilizing Iraq (I think there certainly were some back in 2002, e.g. Shinseki and Powell, but they were shunned). But if there is any hope left, it is not well described as "there for the taking".

Oh--and Rumsfeld? I think he should be sent down to NOLA to explain to shop-owners how looting is okay because "freedom is messy".

Just to echo comment already made: it's frickin' 2005 and we're proposing implementing a counterinsurgency strategy now?

Read the news today? 1000 dead in Baghdad. Most dead as a result of panic...but those mortar shells didn't help.

Mortar shelling. In Baghdad. In 2005.

Yes, I'm sure that there's absolutely no counterinsurgency strategy in place.

Ok, I'm not sure. Just wondering who, besides 2shoes, could possibly be thinking such a thing.

slartibartfast--

I'm thinking pretty much what 2shoes is thinking, provided that we lean on the word "strategy" and lean on the word "counter-insurgency".

I mean, sure, people in the military are *reacting* to events. But with an eye to some big picture? Do they have, that is, a comprehensive *strategy*? Or is it just more of this ridiculous attitude that it's all the last throes, it's about to die down, we're about to turn the corner, etc. Those would be exactly what *strategies* are not.

And if you check this link to Drum, you will see some citations about the ways that the military responses, even if you were to dignify them as "strategies", really don't seem to be responses keyed to a *counter-insurgency*, as opposed to a different strategic situation.

You can agree with Drum's source or disagree with it, but what he is saying is not utterly ridiculous.

So, yeah, given what a strategy should look like, and given in particular what a *counter-insurgency* strategy should look like, I'm thinking something like what 2shoes is thinking.

And Slartibartfast, next time you want to say "2shoes is wrong", or make any other sort of affirmative claim, I hope you will do that instead of floating cryptic "just wondering" rhetorical questions that only muddy the communicative waters.

"The ... strategy for stabilizing Iraq is there for the taking."

since i don't think that DC is staffed entirely by morons, I think that CB may be oversimplifying things a tad.

unification or partition?
long-term occupation or "liberation"?
Islamic law or rights of women?
etc.

Just wondering who, besides 2shoes, could possibly be thinking such a thing.

Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr., apparently: "Because they lack a coherent strategy, U.S. forces in Iraq have failed to defeat the insurgency or improve security." I'd never heard of him, but apparently he's "Executive Director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments"... and when both Charles Bird and Kevin Drum quote someone with at least partial approval, he might just have a point.

Perhaps you could write a post on the counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq - the one that Krepinevich says isn't there?

Well, Kevin Drum for one.

Don't confuse ah hoc sweeps into Fallujah or Haitha as a coherent counterinsurgency strategy, Slartibartfast.

They have not disbanded their militias precisely because of "Iraq's tradition of rule by those best able to seize power through violent struggle" -- not some alleged US waffling about leaving.

The terrorists and Sunni/Baathist paramilitary squads sense weakness, and thugs will do what thugs do, dm. As for Bush resigning, that would not be reality-based. Noted that your views on the Iraqi constitution follow the same old loser-defeatist line (here's an apt mascot). The constitution is more nuanced than how you're portraying it. What they could have is a republic, but like with Afghanistan, it's up to them and how they deal with the dissonance written into the document.

Well, I think we've seen some folks here maintain that the bulk of the insurgency is composed of former Iraqi Army, so maybe there's some agreement there. The conclusion that what Wolfowitz meant by that statement was that it could be fought by conventional (and, by extension, set-piece) warfare isn't so well substantiated.

And Slartibartfast, next time you want to say "2shoes is wrong", or make any other sort of affirmative claim, I hope you will do that instead of floating cryptic "just wondering" rhetorical questions that only muddy the communicative waters.

I do think that; I thought that was obvious. Is this a request for less subtlety? It's absurd to claim there's no anti-insurgency strategy. One could claim that the strategy in place is ineffective, or that one doesn't know what strategy is in place, but claiming no strategy at all is not at all defensible. IMO, of course.

And, on preview, I see the argument has shifted to no coherent strategy. Well, I'm not sure what's meant by that.

Don't confuse ah hoc sweeps into Fallujah or Haitha as a coherent counterinsurgency strategy, Slartibartfast.

Well, reading back, only one of us can be construed to hold even one side of that position.

I also find it odd that Mr. Krepinovich describes what he thinks our strategy is on the very first page of that article, yet we have no strategy. Odd, that. One can say things to the effect that the current strategy isn't the most effective one, or that it isn't calculated to minimize this or that, but one certainly cannot truthfully say there's no strategy.

I see the argument has shifted to no coherent strategy.

Which is just another way of saying there isn't, you know, a strategy.

Well, reading back, only one of us can be construed to hold even one side of that position.

This is simply nitpicking.

Oh, and apparently Paul "This is not an insurgency" Wolfowitz also agrees.

I posted on Krepinevich about twenty-five posts ago here.

Noted that your views on the Iraqi constitution follow the same old loser-defeatist line (here's an apt mascot).

Noted that once again your response is content-free (apt mascot here).

What they could have is a republic, but like with Afghanistan, it's up to them and how they deal with the dissonance written into the document.

I thought you said that the only acceptable outcome was a non-theocratic representative republic. Are you backing off from that?

slartibartfast--

"I do think that; I thought that was obvious. Is this a request for less subtlety? "

It seemed plausible to me that you thought this, but not obvious; it also seemed phrased in a way that could create later ambiguity and confusion about whether you thought it or not.

Yes please: far less subtlety, far more directness of expression. Face to face, it is pleasant and natural to convey much with tone, expression, insinuation, inuendo. In print, it is hard to be too clear, too plain, too explicit. Please, please, use less subtlety.

Yes, I'm sure that there's absolutely no counterinsurgency strategy in place.

Ok, I'm not sure. Just wondering who, besides 2shoes, could possibly be thinking such a thing.

Much familiar with the Vietnam War, Slart?

"It's absurd to claim there's no anti-insurgency strategy."

Fair enough: what is it, then? And cite, please.

This is simply nitpicking.

To the extent that it's pointing out a position you've assigned to me that I didn't actually take, well, I suppose so.

It seemed plausible to me that you thought this, but not obvious; it also seemed phrased in a way that could create later ambiguity and confusion about whether you thought it or not.

I've always assumed that Slarti prefers people to be in a state of ambiguity and confusion about what he actually meant. It tends to mean people avoid arguing with him because since we are always operating on what we may infer from what we think he's implying, rather than from direct statements.

I assume this because when Slarti wants to, he can state what he means directly and clearly. So when he's ambiguous and indirect, I assume that he wants to hint at what he thinks, but also wants to avoid any direct challenge or argument, as he can point out he didn't ever say what you think he said. As a strategy, it's quite successful. ;-)

Fair enough: what is it, then? And cite, please.

What is what? You're asking me what the strategy is? I don't know what it is, exactly, not that me not knowing is evidence of much. Obviously, there's troops executing to some strategy, though. Or maybe, not obviously, if you're not bothering to look. And I know that's not true of you, Gary, given that you've cited the numerous operations we've conducted since Bush's much-maligned address from the deck of the Lincoln. Of course, one could hold the position that these operations were simply cobbled together from random ideas, but that'd need a little support.

To the extent that it's pointing out a position you've assigned to me that I didn't actually take, well, I suppose so.

Right...I assigned you a position. I see I have fallen into the Ambiguity Trap[tm], a common blogosphere phenom. I won't make the same mistake again.

That said, allow me to echo the call: If there's a strategy, effectively implemented or not, then what, um, is it?

And yes, cite please.

Well, at least with me, Jesurgislac does her assassination in public. Considerate, that.

Obviously, there's troops executing to some strategy, though.... Of course, one could hold the position that these operations were simply cobbled together from random ideas, but that'd need a little support.

Why would that need supporting? Surely it's the opposite -- that there is, in fact, a strategy being executed -- that needs support, as that's the positive claim?

I don't know what it is

Ah.....

Obviously, there's troops executing to some strategy, though.

....faith.

There are troops conducting operations. But that isn't evidence of a central strategy, or indeed, a counterinsurgency strategy.

Contrariwise, if there's no strategy, how come the guy whose piece we're all discussing says there is one? Is it because he doesn't use the word "strategy" in that paragraph?

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.

I sure hope I don't have to point out that this is, in fact, a strategy.

Why would that need supporting? Surely it's the opposite -- that there is, in fact, a strategy being executed -- that needs support, as that's the positive claim?

The original claim was that there's no strategy. All calls for support of that claim have, so far, been for naught. Still, I point you to the above, even though it's an opinion, and not any official military position.

There are troops conducting operations. But that isn't evidence of a central strategy, or indeed, a counterinsurgency strategy.

Because any set of strategies counter to insurgents isn't counter-insurgency? Who says we're not flexible?

I wonder -- if we take for granted that the military powers-that-be do in fact have a counter-insurgency strategy, is it safe to assume that either (a) they would be inclined to make it public; or (b) we would be able to divine what it is by observation (and indirect observation at that, for those of us not in Iraq)?

"And I know that's not true of you, Gary, given that you've cited the numerous operations we've conducted since Bush's much-maligned address from the deck of the Lincoln. Of course, one could hold the position that these operations were simply cobbled together from random ideas, but that'd need a little support. No, what would need support is a claim that there's a coherent, specficially counter-insurgent, strategy.

Having faith in the Army and the DoD that there must be one is simply not justified by our military history; quite the opposite.

With the greatest of respect, I'm reasonably willing to bet you aren't particularly familiar with the details of the Vietnam War, based upon your general tendency to have touching faith in your assumptions about our military. But I'm entirely prepared to learn I'm wrong, which is why I asked what your familiarity level was.

Sweeps are not a strategy. Nor is relying on them any sensible kind of counter-insurgent strategy, as we learned in Vietnam.

"Because any set of strategies counter to insurgents isn't counter-insurgency?"

Any set of tactics, and yes, that's correct. Have you read much about the history of counter-insurgency, Slart?

Because any set of strategies counter to insurgents isn't counter-insurgency?

But these aren't insurgents. These are dead-enders and terrorists, remember? And they're in their last throes. And they've been in their last throes for the last 2 years.

It seems to me the evidence at hand strongly suggests that CENTCOM is merely biding it's time under the assumption Iraq won't be it's problem by 2006, and that civilian leadership at the Pentagon is in denial about the very nature of what it's facing.

So yes, no "strategy".

"Counterinsurgency" means something very particular, btw.

"The original claim was that there's no strategy. All calls for support of that claim have, so far, been for naught.'

Slart: you know better than this. Next would you like to insist that God must exist, because despite all your calls for support of the position that He doesn't, such a claim has been for naught?

No one is obligated to prove a negative. If you insist on a positive -- there is a counter-insurgency strategy being engaged in -- feel free to demonstrate it. If not, you can demand as much proof of a negative as you like, but please don't be offended if someone giggles.

I'd suggest backing off the limb; it's swaying dangerously. This is advice from a friend, you know.

If you want to support your faith in there being a specific counterinsurgency strategy, not just a reactive strategy of "we'll fight the enemy!," go ahead. But you'll have to be affirmative about it, not insisting that your faith has to be disproven or your faith must stand.

My strategy for financial independence is to win the lottery. I never buy tickets, but at least I have a strategy.

Mr. Bird--

This thread has spiralled out of control because it got sidetracked onto disputes about tangential issues.

Would you like to take control of it again by laying out a few central questions or points at issue that you think we could profitably discuss and debate?

No, what would need support is a claim that there's a coherent, specficially counter-insurgent, strategy.

Given that the initial point was there was no counterinsurgency strategy at all, I think the burden of proof lies elsewhere. So far, as evidence of no strategy, we have the Krepinevich article, which seems to indicate that there is in fact a strategy. Just not one that Mr. Krepinevich thinks is very effective.

Having faith in the Army and the DoD that there must be one is simply not justified by our military history; quite the opposite.

I agree that a faith-based approach isn't warranted, here. Really, one ought to have gone and collected evidence of no strategy.

Sweeps are not a strategy.

Sweeps designed to execute a strategy, on the other hand, are part of that strategy. Is it your contention that these are random sweeps?

Have you read much about the history of counter-insurgency, Slart?

No, nor am I responsible for coming up with counterinsurgency strategy. Fortunately.

Any set of tactics

I noticed you altered a key word, there. Deliberate?

Next would you like to insist that God must exist, because despite all your calls for support of the position that He doesn't, such a claim has been for naught?

Sure, if the initial claim is that God doesn't exist. Given that the initial claim here was that there was no strategy at all, I think I'm on solid ground, here. And given that the article cited as evidence of no-strategy pretty much describes a strategy in place, what say you of my swaying branch?

No one is obligated to prove a negative.

Not even if a negative was claimed? Groovy, that opens up all sorts of territory.

Oh, and Gary, I do appreciate the friendly advice. And, perhaps counter to appearances, I do get what you're saying. At some point, though, not everything equates to Vietnam.

"I never buy tickets, but at least I have a strategy."

That's a goal, not a strategy, actually.

Have you read much about the history of counter-insurgency, Slart?

No, nor am I responsible for coming up with counterinsurgency strategy.

Possibly a good idea to obtain some familiarity with the subject before discoursing on it, then; you're into "a bomb is anything that explodes" territory.

War Nerd at exile.ru explains Iraq: Guerrilla Evolution.

"At some point, though, not everything equates to Vietnam."

Nothing equates to Vietnam. I don't make a habit of promiscuously going around making Vietnam analogies. You may or may not have noticed.

There are vast and overwhelmingly significant differences between the Iraq War and the Vietnam War.

There are also, nonetheless, lessons to be applied, just as there are from our history in the Phillipines, and a great many other situations both in U.S. history and that of elsewhere. Reflexive rejection of lessons from Vietnam would be just as complete an error as would be assuming unending direct parallels.

Incidentally, if anyone would like to comment on what I wrote about Krepinevich's paper, please do feel free. No one seems to be addressing any of my points.

"At some point, though, not everything equates to Vietnam."

Nothing equates to Vietnam. I don't make a habit of promiscuously going around making Vietnam analogies. You may or may not have noticed.

There are vast and overwhelmingly significant differences between the Iraq War and the Vietnam War.

There are also, nonetheless, lessons to be applied, just as there are from our history in the Phillipines, and a great many other situations both in U.S. history and that of elsewhere. Reflexive rejection of lessons from Vietnam would be just as complete an error as would be assuming unending direct parallels.

Incidentally, if anyone would like to comment on what I wrote about Krepinevich's paper, please do feel free. No one seems to be addressing any of my points.

abb1, do you have any idea what's going on with the Exile? Do they just take all of August off, or is the magazine over?

No one seems to be addressing any of my points.

Well, you know the golden rule of the blogosphere: silence equals assent.

I'd recommend, via your post, that Slarti read Jason Vest's post too.

We'll be able to divine the strategy just as soon as we are able to divine the goal.

Let's just say, Gary, that although I'm not up to snuff in the counterinsurgency regime, that I'm acutely aware of the distinction between strategy and tactics.

No one seems to be addressing any of my points.

Well, I got all the way down to Keep in mind that my track record on advice on Iraq sucks, and then my head exploded.

Financial independence is the goal, winning the lottery is how I intend to meet the goal. I have a strategy. It's so lame, though, that I'm not even implementing it. Or, if you will, I lack the will to make the sacrifices necessary to make my strategy effective.

But I do have a strategy.

Jackmormon, I don't know I was wondering myself. Maybe they're all in Matrosskaya Tishina or something... The Russians are running their own little WOT there, y'know.

"Well, I got all the way down to Keep in mind that my track record on advice on Iraq sucks, and then my head exploded."

We at Amygdala believe in truth in labeling. Most of our staff does, anyway. We keep the others around so we can sack them when we need someone to blame.

What Slarti seems to be missing is that counter-insurgency is a fairly specific term. A strategy for dealing with our enemies in Iraq, which we have, is not necessarily a counter-insurgency strategy, just as having a strategy for defeating Nazi Germany was not necessarily the same thing as having a strategic bombing strategy.

This is the point that Krepinevich makes. Slarti is correct in saying that we have a strategy; what he misses is that this is not, according to Krepinevich, a counter-insurgency strategy, but rather one that is based around the idea of defeating more conventional forces that has not been adapted to the existing situation. Thus, he misses much of the point of the piece, which hinges on this distinction.

When Kevin Drum has that we still don't have a counter-insurgency strategy, this is what he meas.

Mr. Neal--

I think there is a broad consensus on that assessment among the participants of this thread. And that being settled, I would like to see how we can advance the conversation on to the next point.

In this regard, I would be very grateful if the thread's originator could give us some advice about what he thought his post might help us to discuss. What is the central topic here? What are the important, non-tangential points at issue? Or are we all simply supposed to agree with Mr. Krepinevich that the "U.S. forces in Iraq" "lack a coherent strategy," lament that fact, and go home?

Mr. Bird?

"What Slarti seems to be missing is that counter-insurgency is a fairly specific term."

If nothing else, and one were starting from scratch, I'd think that were obvious from the Vest essay I linked to, but why read that when Kevin Drum is available as an expert cite?

Of course, there are a gazillion other papers and sources of info on counter-insurgency; possibly more than there are on munitions.

This is a cranky rerecommendation, like again, redundantly, again, even.

For a classic approach, the Small Wars Manual is there.

Mr. K's proposal doesn't even pass the laugh test, and here's why.

Each "ink spot" requires some sort of perimeter security.

Assuming 150,000 troops in Iraq, 1000 men in a battalion, and a 1000 meter frontage for each battalion, all the troops in Iraq could secure a circle 27 miles across.

This would leave nothing to patrol inside or outside the perimeter, and nothing to escort supply convoys.

You can propose other figures for total troop strength, number of men per battalion, and all sorts of high tech means to increase a battalion's frontage (to include fences, aircraft patrols, and so on), and you'll never get remotely close to securing the perimeter of more than a handful of cities.

but rather one that is based around the idea of defeating more conventional forces that has not been adapted to the existing situation

Adapted, how?

etc.--

Thanks for new thoughts.

Were those sorts of numbers required in the Malay experience that Krepinevich cites as the precedent for success?

And do you prefer a different plan than K's, or just doubt that we can defeat the insurgency?

It was actually intended as a compliment, Slarti. A rather exasperated compliment, since I've suffered at that end of your strategy myself, but since I know you can be direct when you want to be, I have assumed that when you're ambiguous and allusive it's because you want to dodge confrontational argument by leaving people unsure of what you're actually saying - not that you were really unaware that you had failed to express yourself clearly.

CB: ...a fairly decent constitution....

Whether it is a decent constitution even now is debatable; it doesn’t look good for women. But in any case it is still being modified. Salam">http://justzipit.blogspot.com/">Salam Pax, who is sufficiently close to the new regime to be denounced as a Quisling by George Galloway MP, tells us that the Shia are trying to remove article 44:

Article (44): All individuals have the right to enjoy the rights stated in international human rights agreements and treaties endorsed by Iraq that don't run contrary to the principles and rules of this constitution.

Well you can see why they might want to get rid of that, can’t you? Meanwhile, in an effort to get the Sunnis on board, the US ambassador is also trying to get the constitution changed.

More pungently:

Habibi, where are you going with this? Who are you people? And where have you taken all the sane secular Iraqis? It’s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers but in turbans.

I was going to say dude, I want my country back but I realized this doesn't really mean anything, which country do I want back? the pre-war oppression frappuccino or the post-war hell-on-earth macchiato ....too confusing. I don't even know what an unflavoured Iraq tastes like.

Better to focus on now.

I've found it interesting the last few years to watch whose favor he's move in and out of and why. Very popular on the right, our boy was, until he said some skeptical things about the U.S., and then it was f--k you, habbibi, from many on the right. (Not one of Lileks' better moments.)

Now he's a little-known blogger again, with no comments (although I blogrolled him again some time ago).

He has an annoying habit of going on hiatus but when he’s around he’s great. He also alerted me to the fact that the Religious Policeman is back in action. Check out the picture of a Saudi 747 at prayer time and the recent post on Saudi swimwear. I have a grim sense of humour so I liked this:

Conversation between two mothers in a Saudi supermarket:

Mother 1: Oh hello, haven't seen you for ages*, how's little Abdullah?

Mother 2: Little Abdullah? He's really big now. He went off to Iraq to be a suicide bomber. And little Mohammad?

Mother 1: Same thing. No longer little either. He also went off to be a suicide bomber in Iraq

Mother 2: There you go. Don't children blow up quickly these days?


* (Ironic greeting exchanged between veiled ladies.)

The "ink spot" strategy was tried in Vietnam under at least three guises. Each was a concious attempt to emulate the Malaysian success.

There was the "enclave strategy", where US forces tried to hold a line around a certain area, like the marines deployed around Da Nang and its airfield early in the war. This broke down because holding a line is a poor use for US Marines who are capable of much more and are pretty poor at sorting out indigenous persons travelling in and out of the perimeter on legitimate business with loads of stuff, like trucks full of farm produce, from indigenous persons travelling in and out of the perimeter with loads of legitmate stuff with weaponry hidden amidst the rice and chickens.

There was the "strategic hamlet" program where folks were relocated into fortified areas. This foundered because the construction of the hamlets was ridden with graft and corruption; the folks didn't like being moved off their homes, away from their ancestor's graves, onto farmlands of unkown fertility, and so on; and that the local government and defense forces of the strategic hamlets were subject to usurpation by the VC.

There was also a program to create local village militias (ruff-puffs), which often meant a few farmers who had been given guns and shown how to shoot them. These folks were subject to having several hundred VC or NVA show up and making them an offer they could not refuse.

More generally, every counter insurgency since Malaysia has tried to do what the Brits did (they'd all have to be dumb as posts not to), and almost all have failed.

The Malay insurrection was ethnic Chinese based. The Brits uprooted the Chinese villagers and resettled them, leaving the insurgents behind in what became free-fire zones. The Brits deployed over 350,000 troops to fight the MRLA, which numbered around 12,000.

By comparison, uprooting Iraqis is out of the question since they currently occupy the areas of agricultural productivity and civic infrastructure, and the unsettled area are wasteland. Also, the US troop ratio of circa 150k versus 20K does not compare favorably with the Malay ratio of 350k versus 12K.

Another point worth mentioning: the Brits had already announced independence for Malaya -> a factor, amongst others, that prevented the insurgency from spreading to the ethnic Malay community.

I’m amazed that anyone takes the Malasian precedent seriously. Didn’t the Brits have national service in those days? That’s the draft, in American English. Juan Cole provided a couple of links on this. (Apologies to Gary or anyone else who may already have flagged these.) He also quotes the pithy verdict of arch-realist John J. Mearsheimer:

This comparison always neglects to note that the British had been the colonial power in Malaya since the nineteenth century, with a brief interregnum. They hadn't just shown up suddenly in 1952. They had enormous logistical and intelligence advantages deriving from this long presence. Moreover, the defeat of the mostly Chinese communists in a largely Malay country came just before the British were forced to give the country independence. I was on a radio show with John Mearsheimer and Max Boot one time, and Boot (inevitably and tritely) brought up the British success in counter-insurgency in Malaya. Mearsheimer witheringly pointed out "The British aren't in Malaysia anymore."

Quite.

The original claim was that there's no strategy.

Actually the original claim was Krepinevich's claim that there was no coherent [presumably counter-insurgency] strategy. I'd argue that this is correct, even without the "coherent" modifier, for the same reason that I've argued that there was no plan for liberalizing and democratizing Iraq after the war (and for much the same reason as CharleyCarp's dumbshow above). To recap once again:

1) In order to qualify as a "strategy" or "plan" with a definable goal, the actions of the strategy must have a reasonable chance of effecting the goal.

2) In order to qualify as a "counter-insurgency strategy", the actions of the strategy must have a reasonable chance of limiting and countering of insurgent capabilities (with the ultimate result, hopefully, of the elimination of the insurgency). To be clear, this must be true when these actions are considered in concert and over a reasonable period of time; for example, a "greedy strategy" (in the game-theoretic sense) of bombing every area we suspect contains insurgents might be a locally optimal counter-insurgent strategy, but fail to meet the requirements of reasonability when taking the long view. Likewise, a conventional battlefield strategy (e.g. something drawn from 2nd or even 3rd generation warfare) might qualify as a strategy but not a counter-insurgent strategy since it would fail to meet the requirement of (a reasonable expectation of) degrading insurgent capabilities.

[There's a similar criterion for "coherency" that pretty much writes itself so I won't bother.]

I don't doubt that the planners of the war are trying to do something to end the fighting; in that sense, I don't regard the sweeps as being "random" (although they quite possibly are in other senses). The question is whether that thing a) qualifies as a strategy as per condition #1 above, and b) specifically a counter-insurgent strategy as per condition #2 above. This is the positive claim which you are making, Slarti, and although I'd normally accept it as the default proposition -- since I generally assume core competency in sufficiently large organizations -- the evidence that I and others are seeing undermines its default status.

Finally, as an aside:

Let's just say, Gary, that although I'm not up to snuff in the counterinsurgency regime, that I'm acutely aware of the distinction between strategy and tactics.

I haven't been back to the thread we left as a smoking ruin some days ago, but if you're of a mind I would ask you to re-read the post in which I commented on precisely this distinction vis a vis "targeting".

etc.--

extremely interesting. And of course depressing. It would be nice to hear Mr. Bird comment on this, vis a vis his original "stragegy for stabilizing Iraq is there for the taking".

Anarch--

agreed completely. But I'm just not sure it's worth rehashing. Some people want to move the thread forward; some people want to derail it. Further dwelling on points that are pretty much settled among the majority of participants only serves to derail it.

I read the Krepinevich piece. He knows a lot more about military strategy than I do, obviously, so I feel a bit odd doubting him. Nonetheless, with all the appropriate caveats, there were things I really didn't understand. Like:

If our goal is to leave behind something resembling a stable Iraq, why should we define the problem as the insurgents, and not the militias more generally? (If it's the militias, then his map of the 14 secure provinces goes out the window.)

His first two 'oil spots' are Baghdad and Mosul. Wikipedia puts Baghdad's population at 5,772,000, and Mosul's at 1,739,800, for a grand total of around seven and a half million people. Those are some pretty big spots, especially since he expects to cover them with fewer troops than we now have.

Even without the last point, I share everyone else's questions about how we're supposed to do this with fewer troops than we now have in Iraq, and about the feasibility of the strategy generally. I do think it could have worked immediately after Baghdad fell, when we had a fair amount of good will. I am much more doubtful now. -- If we can't do it with fewer troops, then this strategy leaves us with one basic question: do we institute a draft, break the army, or choose a different course?

He puts a lot of weight on our ability to provide incentives to the Iraqis. (E.g., to make sure that tribal chieftains get 'credit' for cooperating.) I am not sure it's at all realistic to think that we can do this consistently. Some people can be bought off, but my understanding of Iraq leads me to wonder whether it's the sort of place where you ever get real credit for selling out your fellow Sunnis to foreign occupiers.

He also puts a lot of weight on embedded advisors. I would have thought that this would require a very different mix of troops than we now have -- it's not entirely clear to me why one would want to embed a random infantryman, for instance, or a member of the Tennessee National Guard without special skills. Can we provide this different troop mix?

The piece as a whole seems to me not to take sufficient account of the insurgents as independent agents. When he's talking about his 'grand bargain', for instance, he talks about giving various groups incentives to cooperate with us, but not about one likely Sunni response, namely threatening to kill anyone who does, and how we or the affected Iraqis might cope with that threat.

There are some parts that require skills I'm sure some people in the military have, but less sure that we can count on the specific people who would need to have them having. E.g.: "Stitching this coalition together would require a good understanding of Iraqi tribal politics." Also: "It will take diligence and expert diplomacy to make this element of the strategy work."

Then there's the last paragraph:

"Even if successful, this strategy will require at least a decade of commitment and hundreds of billions of dollars and will result in longer U.S. casualty rolls. But this is the price that the United States must pay if it is to achieve its worthy goals in Iraq. Are the American people and American soldiers willing to pay that price? Only by presenting them with a clear strategy for victory and a full understanding of the sacrifices required can the administration find out. And if Americans are not up to the task, Washington should accept that it must settle for a much more modest goal: leveraging its waning influence to outmaneuver the Iranians and the Syrians in creating an ally out of Iraq's next despot."

I see no sign that Bush et al are willing either to give us that choice or to pay that price.

And I agree with Charles that if we want to implement this paln, then Rumsfeld should be fired, since he will never implement it. (I also agree with everyone else that if Bush had any honor, he'd resign, but hey.)

Finally read the thing. I'm struck with the sense that the moment for this was really November 2003. At present, we're tied to the Iraqi government, whatever it ends up being. We can go no further than it wants us to go, geographically, tactically, or in putting together some kind of grand bargain. At the same time, we can't become the enforcers for only those elements in the country that are currently in the government.

Is the SCIRI/Dawa coalition really interested in the bargain proposed? What concessions will it make to get Sunnis to join? Is there any possibility that the SCIRI/Dawa coalition will give up it's dream of an Islamic state (or at least an Islamic state-within-a-state)? I think we've just had this question played all the way out in the constitutional process -- it's still playing out to an extent -- but not in the direction we want it to go.

It seems to me that even if this strategy could have worked if implemented in late 2003 -- and I'm not expressing a view either way -- we are now exactly where we were in Tora Bora in early 2002: by allying with a side in a civil war, we've tied ourselves to that side's war aims. Where they are inconsistent with our war aims, ours will yield.

Our choices are pretty stark: (a) declare victory when the constitution is ratified in October (my guess, at this moment, is that it will be, with low turn-out in the Sunni heartland) or (b) fight on in support of the SCIRI/Dawa dream. By (a), I'm not suggesting a total 1990s-Afghanistan-style don't-call-us-we'll-call-you withdrawal. Leave some advisors, write lots of big checks,* sell plenty of hardware, fine. But stop shooting at anyone, and maybe do a lot less getting shot at.

* I'd have no problem at all conditioning checks -- some part at least -- on respect for women's rights. Where we are now, the SCIRI/Dawa coalition has us (paralyzed, as we are, by 'resolve') over a barrel, and no need to compromise with us at all.

Shorter CC: SCIRI and Dawa do not think Iraq is the Central Front in the War on Terror. They think it's the Central Front in the War to Establish a Shia State. And since we're there to support them, their goals control.

HOW TO WIN IN IRAQ IF IT WERE ON ANOTHER PLANET, starting with a Krepinevich quote:

While U.S. military operations take the form of the oil-spot campaign, political efforts should aim to strike a grand bargain with the Iraqi people. This grand bargain would lay the foundation for the gradual development of the broad base needed to sustain an Iraqi democracy.

The grand bargain would cut across key Iraqi religious and ethnic groups and across key tribal and familial units. Its underlying assumptions would be that there are significant elements of each major ethnic and religious group willing to support a democratic, unified Iraq; that a sufficiently broad coalition can be formed, over time, to achieve this end; and that the United States is willing to undertake a long-term effort, lasting a decade or longer, to ensure the grand bargain's success.

[...]

This grand bargain would not seek to win over any one of the principal Iraqi groups entirely, only a substantial portion of each, which combined would provide a critical mass in support of the common objectives mentioned above. Since defeating the insurgency is but one step toward achieving these objectives, each group would have an incentive to have Iraq retain some U.S. forces beyond the insurgency's defeat -- something critical to achieving the United States' broader security objectives. Under the grand bargain, in short, Iraqis may find that although having U.S. "occupiers" offends their sense of nationalism, with the existence of a sovereign Iraqi regime they are willing to tolerate a much smaller force as "guests."

That's one frigging whopping big "may." (Italics mine.) It's the heart of his "grand bargain" idea, and I a) doubt the willingness of the American public to commit to it, and b) doubt the Iraqi willingness to "tolerate" us as the sort of "guests" invisaged; most "guests" I know shoot and torture a lot fewer people. It tends to make them more welcome, but, still, how long do you want to invite Monty Wolley over?

But most crucially: the focus on "to have Iraq retain some U.S. forces beyond the insurgency's defeat -- something critical to achieving the United States' broader security objectives" gives away a lot, and it's the point that would, I expect, anger most Iraqis greatly, and make this plan impossible. I suspect Krepinevich strongly underestimates, for cultural reasons and out of ignorance, the lack of willingness to support these "greater security objectives" of the U.S., and there's no reason they shouldn't; it would be a great blow to their pride, and pride is damned important in their culture; we've been alienating them for bloody and humiliating year after year through insufficient understanding of this, and the constant humiliation of both men in front of their families and of everyone else, including Iraq's political and military leaders. I don't see this as flying, and I think a plan focused around the "greater security objectives" of the U.S. wwould be seen clearly for what it is in Iraq, and rejected, furiously, by most.

[...] To this end, the United States should help the Iraqi government establish an Iraqi Information Service to gather intelligence on the insurgents and penetrate their infrastructure.
A cheap shot, but I have to admire that euphemism: "Iraqi Information Service," indeed.

But, in the end, the tactics won't matter, and the military strategy won't matter, if they're fixed around these "greater" objectives, and if neither the American nor Iraqi public will find them acceptable. And I don't think they will.

Of course, I could be all wrong.

hilzoy--

this is the problem that etc. pointed to, as well as Drum and Yglesias. Yglesias in particular pointed to the implausibility of beginning with Baghdad. Now you.

So we know what the liberal pundit perspective is. (Not to pigeon-hole etc. with the other three of you--dunno what her or his affiliations are).

It would be nice to hear Mr. Bird explain how the K-plan is supposed to work with so few troops. Even nicer if Mr. K would drop by himself and explain why he outlines a plan that seems to require a lot more troops than we have, and at the same times says "but we can pull it off while reducing troop levels".

He's clearly studied this. Why do his numbers come up so different in this area?

It would be nice to hear Mr. Bird explain how the K-plan is supposed to work with so few troops.

Those (petty) details are pending, but - in the meantime - we must not waver and stray from the course.

If it were possible to do anything effective with fewer troops than are now in Iraq, the U.S. military would already be doing it. Even Rumsfeld doesn't *want* to send units back for a third tour; he just sees no alternative (but withdrawal).

Jim Henley and his commenters had a good many perceptive things to say about Krepenivich's proposals a week or so ago (most of them not favorable). I'd link, but his blog is out of commission for the last few days.

Successful counterinsurgency by foreign militaries is extremely rare. It calls for skills and resources that are just not in adequate supply. A United States that had the diplomatic, linguistic, intelligence, and "civic action" personnel necessary to conduct effective CI in a country the size of Iraq probably wouldn't have invaded in the first place.

Unwinnable war, inherently unwinnable.

Charles Bird:

Thanks for the responsse, I guess:

I wrote and you quoted: They have not disbanded their militias precisely because of "Iraq's tradition of rule by those best able to seize power through violent struggle" -- not some alleged US waffling about leaving.

You responded: The terrorists and Sunni/Baathist paramilitary squads sense weakness, and thugs will do what thugs do, dm.

Uh -- my remark is clearly referencing the discussion in Krepinevich about Shia and Kurdish militia not disbanding -- not the Sunni insurgency. Did you read my comment before spouting?

I wrote: "ratifying a fairly decent constitution." Why not write a post trying to defend this nonsensical concept? Make sure you reference ... and I reference certain specific problems that seem to cut against its "decency."

You wrote: Noted that your views on the Iraqi constitution follow the same old loser-defeatist line followed by a cutsy link to a picture of Eeyore.

Well -- that was well thought out and convincing. Next time, try to write something reality based.

It would be nice to hear Mr. Bird explain how the K-plan is supposed to work with so few troops.

Well, I asked for some explanation about what was "decent" about the proposed Iraqi constitution and instead got a link to a picture of Eeyore.

Maybe he'll link to Tigger this time -- all that positive bouncy exuberance explains how more can be accomplished with less.

I thought that the article might be x posted to Tacitus. It wasn't, but a different poster (I assume) wrote about the oil-spot strategy here, with various interesting comments from regulars there.

I'd also point out that an election is scheduled here in Japan in 10 days, and if Koizumi and the LDP lose (a strong possibility), a withdrawal of Japanese Self-Defense Forces from Samawah is definitely in the cards.

dmbeaster--

You know, I find it simply baffling.

Here is a site devoted to thoughtful analysis of complicated issues and honest debate over tough questions.

If a bunch of trolls were to show up from outside and cause the discussion to devolve into name-calling and thread-jacking, you would think the owners of the site would get really upset.

And instead, we find a bunch of people who show up wanting to have a good discussion, willing to play by the rules, and eager to keep the conversation on topic.

And instead it is the *owners* of the site who resort to name-calling, argument by picture and thread-jacking.

This is not one of Obsidian Wing's better days.

As I've previously noted, I'm much less up on Iraq than many here, so I'll leave the central question alone for now. But I do have some knowledge of comparative insurgencies (having taught various courses on them over the years, including one some 30 years ago comparing the Philippine-American War with the Vietnam War), from which I offer the following apercus:

1) Obvious, but sometimes overlooked: Every insurgency is like every other one. Every insurgency is also unlike every other one. (This is true for all other historical comparisons, BTW.) Thus it is partisan and pointless to say, sweepingly, "Iraq is Just Like Vietnam [or Malaya, or whatever]" or "Iraq is NOT Like VN ..." Comparative history requires constant intellectual negotiation - with oneself, not just colleagues or opponents - about which *elements* are comparable, and which are not, and which, on balance, seem most relevant to the question at issue.

2) This said, counter-insurgency prior to WWII is, as others have pointed out, not terribly useful as a guide to current possibilities, in spite of numerous _tactical_ similarities. (I used to give a mini-lecture in my Southeast Asia course on "19th-century counter-insurgency.")

The huge difference, simply, is that these were explicitly *imperial* wars, in which the strategic goal was to take and keep control, potentially permanently. In the Philippines, the US made this clear in a public pronouncement of April 1899: the first "principle," before going on to all the nice, developmental, even democratic things we proposed to do, was to enforce "the supremacy of the United States" throughout the archipelago. I take it this is not our ostensible aim in Iraq, and therefore our "strategic" options are limited to those involving our eventual withdrawal, with sovereignty held by Iraqis.

3) Of postwar counter-insurgency efforts, two in SEAsia are generally considered to have been successful: the Malayan "Emergency", 1948-1960, and the campaign against the Huk Rebellion in the Philippines, 1948-54. (I've seen references to the British campaign against the Mau-Mau in Kenya, too, but I know next to nothing about it, except that it was _extremely_ brutal.) These might then be considered as possible prototypes for Iraq, with the following caveats:
a) The Malayan campaign pitted British and Malays against Chinese, which made it very easy to separate out the potential "terrorists" from the rest of the population (= racial profiling), isolate them, and treat them harshly *without* the risk of increasing the incidence of opposition in the remaining 60% of the population. (By no means were all Chinese terrorists, but virtually all the "terrorists" were Chinese.) A huge advantage for the counter-insurgents, not easily applicable elsewhere, except perhaps Sri Lanka. AFAIK, "Shiite" and "Sunni" are not distinguishable to the naked eye. (Note also that this campaign officially lasted 12 years; is that the kind of commitment we were looking at when we invaded Iraq?)
b) In the Philippines, the government was indigenous and independent (albeit closely backed by the US), and benefited not only from a long-established tradition of democracy (however flawed), but from some truly stupid mistakes made by the Huk leadership, including following a pointless Soviet line and allowing a typed list of the key politburo members into the hands of the military, which led to the capture of almost the entire party leadership.
c) *Both* the Philippine and the Malayan cases were seen as successes in the 1950s, and therefore were directly emulated in Vietnam. Key American personnel, such as CIA's Edward Lansdale, were brought straight across from the Philippines: the same team that brought us Ramon Magsaysay also brought us Ngo Dinh Diem. And the top British advisors in Malaya, such as Gerald Templer and Robert Thomson (?) served as consultants to the US/RVN; the "strategic hamlets" of South Vietnam were directly modeled on the Malayan "New Villages." And, as we all know, they failed.

Now it was argued by some, and still is, that in Vietnam we did not apply the "lessons" of the Philippines and Malaya properly, that we did not fully implement the winning strategies. I personally doubt this, for reasons I've expressed elsewhere; let me refer you once again to Jeffrey Race, _War_Comes_To_Long_An_, for details.

The possibility that such strategies, implemented in a different way, _might_ have succeeded in VN can, of course, never be definitively disproven. But the burden of proof remains on those who claim that "we know" how successful counter-insurgency works, and lack only the political will to apply this in Iraq.

hilzoy:

"He puts a lot of weight on our ability to provide incentives to the Iraqis. (E.g., to make sure that tribal chieftains get 'credit' for cooperating.) I am not sure it's at all realistic to think that we can do this consistently. Some people can be bought off, but my understanding of Iraq leads me to wonder whether it's the sort of place where you ever get real credit for selling out your fellow Sunnis to foreign occupiers."

I'd guess that the first thing you'd need is very, very high confidence on the part of the betrayers that payback won't come. That the occupier will either stay in control for decades, or will be able to order things so that the betrayers will be in control, again, for decades.

Since we have no way to credibly offer either, we'd have to fall back on 'give us info or we'll bomb your towns to rubble, and kill the hostages we just took'. Which, IMHO would result in a combination of good info/bad info/ratting out that group's enemies regardless of their actions/that group joining the guerrilla movement whole-heartedly.

I'd like to second a previous commenter's suggestion to check out Jim Henley's analysis of the proposal. The best and shortest phrase was 'If we had ham, we could have ham and eggs. If we had eggs'.

Actually the original claim was Krepinevich's claim that there was no coherent [presumably counter-insurgency] strategy.

Erm, that's not what I was talking about.

1) See "original".

2) Note the subsequent clarification to the post you just linked.

Groovy, Anarch: re clarified the insinuation by stating it outright. Original claim still his.

You know, I don't really understand anymore what your point is, Slartibartfast. I clearly said "counterinsurgency strategy"

Oh. Well.

There may be a question of semantics, 2shoes. If one means 'coherent strategy' as a 'long-term plan of action with goals, and means selected to plausibly achieve them' (with means being adjusted as one learns), and 'counter-insurgency' as 'recognizing the reality of and properly fighting a large-scale guerrilla war, not just dead-enders or random thugs', then there has not been a coherent counter-insurgency strategy in Iraq. Thrashing around does not a strategy make. Refusing to recognize a guerrilla war until forced, and then wishing it away/hammering at it unthinkingly does not a counter-insurgency strategy make.

Noted that once again your response is content-free.

Never mind that the comment I responded to was similarly lacking in content, Anarch.

I thought you said that the only acceptable outcome was a non-theocratic representative republic. Are you backing off from that?

No, I'm not backing off, Phil. I defined victory as a free, peaceful, non-theocratic representative republic. The Iraqi constitution is a vehicle for making that happen, but much depends on how it'll be applied and on which clauses will supercede.

Would you like to take control of it again by laying out a few central questions or points at issue that you think we could profitably discuss and debate?

No, Tad. You guys are grown-ups, and I'm not going to sit around playing thread nanny.

It seems that the most contention came from my "there for the taking" comment. The point is that there is a long record of our fighting and winning insurgent movements, and there is plenty of literature out there showing what works and what doesn't. Krepinevich's strategy is a sound one and it's one I've proposed in some fashion or another for the last year and a half. The frustrating part is that our attempts at actually doing something along those lines have been half-assed and poorly executed. It's not going to change when we have a Defense Secretary who has lost his bearings and is wedded to other ideas about manpower. The strategy works but it means more direct involvement with Iraqi security forces and it means an effective communication campaign so that the Iraqi people can understand and buy into this. It means that generals will have to prioritize "clear and hold" over "search and destroy", among other things. I don't see this happening with Rumsfeld where he is, and I'm not terribly confident that the Occasional Communicator will change his spots either.

As for choosing Baghdad and Mosul, I don't know if I'm sold on Baghdad because it's such a massive urban area. I can't see it happening without extensive embedding with Iraqi security forces and I don't know if there's enough sufficiently trained Iraqi soldiers to do the job. But that said, Baghdad is the center of gravity in Iraq and if there's ever a place to root out the terrorist and parmilitary elements, Baghdad is it. It'll take a while for it to succeed, which probably explains why the author figures a decade's time.

The Iraqi constitution is a vehicle for making that happen

...by setting up a theocratic non-democratic state? How does that work, again?

The point is that there is a long record of our fighting and winning insurgent movements

As in Vietnam?

I clearly said "counterinsurgency strategy"

And I understood you as clearly having said "counterinsurgency strategy". What next?

Never mind that the comment I responded to was similarly lacking in content, Anarch.

No it wasn't, and the fact that you can't (or perhaps won't) see that is profoundly dispiriting.

Groovy, Anarch: re clarified the insinuation by stating it outright. Original claim still his.

I hate to say it, but I have no idea what this means. [What insinuation? Which claim? Which he?] Could you please clarify?

for those still following this thread, there was an article on Fallujah in the Washington post:
here


Remember, Fallujah was supposed to have been locked down and seriously secured.

Also, please note the treatment of Iraqi army soldiers - 'here's your pay, now run the gauntlet to deliver it to your family'.

Another point that the Bush administration is the guerrillas' best friend in Iraq.

A small correx, that is from the Washington _Times_. Apparently they too have succumbed to the liberal bias of the MSM...

What next?

Yeah, I know.

Um, what was your point again?

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