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August 05, 2007

Comments

Thanks for putting this together. It’s a lot to digest and I’ll give it another read after some coffee.

Why are you wasting so much time thinking and writing about Iraq, of all mythical places? Don't you know there's a war on?

Don't you know there's a war on?

I rather suspect he does.

I rather suspect Frank was writing with his tongue firmly in his cheek.

Great post, G'Kar, eminently worthy of the pseudonym. This will take some time to fully digest.

Thanks for the post, it made for interesting reading in an area I don't know much about.

One area where the American is doing particularly well is establishing the rule of law.

I was fairly surprised to see this comment, however. I rather suspect captured insurgents are being released not out of respect for the law, but rather for whose militia they are in.

I think its way too soon to decide if the rule of law will be respected or not. Every group in Iraq has its own agenda, and they all will pursue their agenda with any tools at hand. If using the rule of law helps their side they'll use it. Sort of like tribal Sunnis getting more U.S. arms to fight against Al-Qaida; I'd bet that for every bullet aimed at AQ there'll be 100 aimed at someone else. The real measure will be if the rule of law is respected when it is not in their interest.

Just IMO, the use and administration of Sharia is almost by definition NOT following the rule of law.

I rather suspect captured insurgents are being released not out of respect for the law, but rather for whose militia they are in.
With all due respect, barring some evidence, this is unsubstantiated. My conversations with friends serving in Iraq indicates that it is, indeed, a source of much frustration and that it does have to do with 'evidence' rather than 'affiliation.'
Just IMO, the use and administration of Sharia is almost by definition NOT following the rule of law.
It may be a law that we very much dislike, but if it is the law there, it is in fact 'Following The Rule Of Law.' And that's the important principle: if people believe that things are being done because of the Law, and that they have opportunities to change the law, there is a long-term incentive to participate in the process rather than opting out.

This is, of course, not a simple thing to achieve. Heaven knows enough people here in the US feel that the system is a sham.

"Counterinsurgency fights cannot be won by western powers. They have to be won by the local governments."

Yes, but accent on 'governments' - plural. In Iraq now, no single central government is going to be able to function effectively. Iraq is in an ongoing factional religious conflict based on deeply held religious secular animosities, and there's no way the West can mediate the conflict. These same Sunni-Shiite secular animosities are spreading throughout the Middle East. But they've come to the flashpoint in Iraq as an aftermath of our botched invasion, and the legacy of hatreds engendered by Saddam's long and brutal regime.

The only possible short term solution to keep Iraq from disintegrating further, is to separate the country into soft partitions, as Biden and others have been advising for a year now.

And so when you say this:

"Only by ensuring that the population has a government that it considers representative and lawful can the insurgency be broken in a way acceptable to western powers..."

And this:

"Therefore, the U.S. cannot win in Iraq. The best it can do is to help the Iraqis win it. Part of doing this requires developing Iraqi police and military forces that can quell the insurgency effectively while still retaining legitimacy..."

Soft-partitioning address those issues by providing independent local control within each partition of police and the courts and governing bureaucracies to reflect the views of the local inhabitants.

When you're in the middle of a barroom brawl you don't ask the participants to referee the event: first you separate them, move them apart to cool down, give them some time for the wounds to heal, then figure out ways to reconcile.

In Iraq, this means forming a decentralized government, using as a model something similar to the Dayton Agreement, which put an end to the ugly secular conflicts in Bosnia.


Just curious, are you referring to the older version of FM 3-24, or the new version updated just recently?

Jay Jerome,

The only possible short term solution to keep Iraq from disintegrating further, is to separate the country into soft partitions, as Biden and others have been advising for a year now.

How do you do that?
What did they propose?

First, the Kurds, Shiites and Sunni would have to agree to that proposal since Iraq is theoretically an independent country. Would they? I assume the Kurds would as long as they get Kirkuk. Probably some Shia groups/parties strong in the South (Basra) would too. But the Sunnis and the rest of the Shiite parties?
(Not to mention the real minorities if they still remain in Iraq.)

Second, "soft partition" sounds nice. But how do you partition Bagdad? Or Diyala province for example? As I understand it, these are "mixed" populations regions. With probably more of them around. What about mixed marriages?

"Assisted relocation" of minorities? Or guarded walls around each minority area?

it is in fact 'Following The Rule Of Law.

Following the law is not the same as following the rule of law. The rule of law, at least as I see it, includes not only the law itself, but also how that law gets administered and created in the first place. After all, the people do not have the opportunity to change Sharia, it having come down from God.

As for the release of insurgents, I've read a lot of complaints about Maliki's supporters being released, and I haven't read much about the progress (or even the existence) of the Iraqi judicial system. But you are correct that I don't have a first-person view of the situation, and I'd be very pleased if in fact the releases were even-handed.

Detlef (about soft partitioning): How do you do that? What did they propose?

Detlef, you can read some of what Biden had to say here...
and more detailed information from the Brookings Institution (click the PDF) HERE

There is a natural force that causes military officers to exaggerate their successes to themselves and others. One of the primary tenets of American Military education is that the success of the mission is the primary goal of all operations. When the mission is defined as capturing a particular hill, measurement of success is fairly easy, but when the mission is a fuzzy one, there are no simple metrics for measurement of success.

In the absence of simple metrics, the natural tendency on the part of those for whom the perceived success of the mission is all-important is to exaggerate the success of the mission.

Here's another thing to consider. One does not get to be a general without having had a long string of successful missions and damned few failures. Ergo, those more successful in casting their missions as successful, whenever there is a possibility for doubt, are more likely to become generals.

Simply put, officers are prone to exaggerate success by their training, and the higher the rank the more skill they typically possess in exaggeration.

William Westmoreland in the Vietnam era was a master of this skill. The current commanding general in Iraq appears to be also a master of this skill.

Your comment about the way people are assigned in the military is very insightful, and under-appreciated by the non-military population.

G'Kar: this is a stellar post, and incredibly valuable to boot. Thanks.

Hi everyone -- I'm on the world's slowest internet connection, so I won't be keeping up with things here. (Especially since the computer is located on the un-AC second floor, and if I sit here for more than 15 minutes, I begin to melt.) (And 15 minutes is abput what it takes for a page to load.) Karachi is very interesting, but I'm not sure how to begin to say how. Besides, I'm starting to melt ;( So bye for now.

Tongue not in cheek, thanks very much.

The only war in progress (or in prospect) is the Second American Civil War.

There is (or so we are told; none of us has any means of independently verifying it) *something* going on in Iraq, which is partly a proxy, partly an allegory, partly a rehearsal, for the domestic conflict: nothing else, nothing more. As such it has no significance or interest of its own.

It is as if your house were to catch fire while you were outside washing the siding, and you were to write six scholarly pages about the blisters that mysteriously began to appear in the paint.

G'Kar -

Many thanks for a thorough and thoughtful post.

One comment:

What the war all really comes down to is the Iraqi government.

I think a good outcome in Iraq, in the long term, does come down to the Iraqi government. Not necessarily the one that exists now, but *an* Iraqi government. The fundamental problems there seem to be political.

The political process cannot function, however, until a basic level of security can be achieved. As long as ordinary people are in danger of being killed in the course of an ordinary day, neither the rule of law nor political processes mean a lot.

That basic level of security, in turn, cannot (IMO) be provided by an Iraqi force, either police or military, *before* the political issues are sorted out. Who does this police and military represent?

If we want a good outcome in Iraq to occur, I believe that we will have to take on the task of establishing a secure environment.

Thanks -

Charles: There is a natural force that causes military officers to exaggerate their successes to themselves and others. One of the primary tenets of American Military education is that the success of the mission is the primary goal of all operations.

I’m thinking G’Kar may respond to this when he can, but for my 2 cents – I think this is off base. The AAR (After Action Review) process in the military is pretty brutal. If there is any exaggeration it goes the other way. You took that hill in 2.69 hours? You should have been able to take it in 2.43 hours…

Of course success is the primary mission – should we send people into danger to try to kinda-sorta succeed? But military officers do not fool themselves about these things. They analyze every operation brutally and self delusion plays little part – that only gets people killed.


Frank Wilhoit: Tongue in cheek, OK – but I still don’t have a clue what you are saying…

Russell, I've promised to scream the next time I see someone say that a 'good' outcome is still possible in Iraq. Hundreds of thousands are dead, millions are displaced. Hundredes of billions spent. If we get out with no greater harm than has now been visited on the Iraqis, it will have been a major disaster.

The question is whether it will be even more of a disaster.


(A dopey German I knew referred to the 'happy ending' of the Holocaust. Meaning the fact that they now have a democracy, an aversion to force, and will surely never do anything like this again. I had to tell him that to the rest of us, there's no happiness: millions are dead. Sometimes it's not about you.)

OCSteve,

In the military, the mission defines what success is -- and if the mission is "pacification" of an area, or a neighborhood in Iraq, just how do you measure success? In that case, there is a vested interest in declaring the mission successful.

This same game was played in Vietnam, for much the same reason -- missions not suited to military means -- and the result was that missions were invariably successful, but things didn't turn out so well.

yankee, go home

(remember that operation?)

I don't think you can win at all. the problem is that you have set up a situation where you have a set of objectives (like democracy) which it is much cheeper to undermine than to create. various people can put a very small amount of money and effort in and get the reward of denying your objetive and clain victory - and your media and some politicians will probably admit it. Then even if you win how much have you spent on it and what could you have done with that money elsewhere?

better if after you had beaten iraq, and deposed sadam to have set up a semi friendly ruler and hurried off back home.

Most excellent summary, G'Kar.

Since the political situation is far more important than the military one, the report everyone should be focusing upon come September is Ambassador Crocker's, not General Petraeus. Unfortunately, no one in Washington seems to acknowledge that. Therefore, when General Petraeus reports that we have had some level of military success, it will by itself be seized upon as grounds to proceed, not as only a small part of a far larger picture.

Well, you know me, G'Kar; I'm pretty sure that what military/security successes there are will only increase the chances of Iraq's government gaining legitimacy from 5-95 to 15-85...

But I very much appreciate the overview. Best wishes for your well-being.

G'Kar,

This was an excellent post. I found it informative and well argued.

I do have one question regarding your rule of law point: do you have any sense of what the average Iraqi's experience is when engaging in "legal" conflicts with US forces or US contractors?

For example, let's say a soldier drives his humvee recklessly (without reason) and runs an Iraqi family off the road. Assume further that the family suffers injuries, either to their person, or their property. Do they have any recourse? Presumably, US forces can't be brought to trial in Iraqi courts, but they should still be accountable under the UCMJ. Are soldiers ever actually punished in situations like that? And do Iraqis ever see that happen?


I ask because, for many people, the measure of a justice system (which is an integral part of the rule of law), is not how it treats low level criminals (like a captured insurgent), but how it treats high status individuals (like US forces). I suspect that a public trial and conviction of a military contractor would do more to bolster Iraqi's belief in the rule of law then releasing a thousand insurgents for want of evidence. But then again, if we're unwilling to entrust our contractor's lives to the Iraqi justice system (and in particular, the Ministry of the Interior), it is unclear to me why Iraqis should.

War is politics by another means, and that remains the true measure of calculating success in war -- the political end served by it.

Military actions can obviously be evaluated from narrow military criteria of success, and this post does a very interesting job of doing that. But it is misleading to do it here and equate it with "success."

This war is first a civil war in which an insurgency is one of the tactics of the Sunni. Counter-insurgency as analyzed in this post means fighting Sunni to benefit Shia. It means we are in favor of the Iran-friendly theocratic Shia government, and pissing off our Sunni allies in the region by enabling Shia oppression of Sunni. (Saudia Arabia in particular, which cannot be thrilled with the Surge as Saudis are funding the insurgents who kill us -- again). We are not doing much to shut down Shia militia and their murdering of Sunni -- why are they not another "insurgency"? Why is that utter failure left out of the equation of "success" for the counter-insurgency?

So talking about "is the Surge working" means nothing unless the above is the desired policy -- i.e., we are in favor of crushing Sunni in favor of theocratic Shia.

What we are really talking about is a political redefinition of why we are fighting, for the umpteenth time. Gen. Petraeus is going to generate a report that provides a political redefinition as to why it allegedly makes sense to continue the war -- because allegedly as narrowly defined, we are doing a better job at counter-insurgency, and we should be allowed to fight more to "win.". It does not matter if that political end is demonstrably stupid -- we are now in a phase when all that matters is for the warmongers in this country to never have to admit how wrong the Iraq war policy was. They want to be able to claim "victory" or pin failure on someone else.

It is a repeat of the dishonorable tradition of the right concerning the failure of Viet Nam, which they fantasize was based on defunding in 1974.

Put another way, it is grossly irresponsible to tolerate for a minute the separation of military and political goals in evaluating the Surge. The Surge is currently an utter failure because it has not and cannot improve the political situation. It is pointless to claim it is a military success but a political failure. By definition, there is no such thing.

OCSteve,

The discussion with Charles is very interesting, but a little abstract. Can you suggest what sort of questions might be asked in an after action report that would be beneficial in a counterinsurgency?

I lean more towards Charles' perspective. I can easily see an AAR of a patrol asking "how long did it take you to conduct the patrol", "how many insurgents did you shoot at", "how many suspicious Iraqis did you stop, frisk and/or arrest", and "why did it take you so long". However, I have trouble seeing them asking "how many people did you respectfully greet (by name)" or "how many local businesses did you visit and spend money at" or even "how many people did you make eye contact with".

As I understand it, making yourself a presence in the local community is vitaly important to earning the locals' trust and getting intelligence from them. Part of doing that involves hanging out at the local coffee shops, injecting some cash into the local economy, getting to know people, etc. So the question is: are these types of questions getting asked in after action reviews or not?

Now, admittiedly, we've probably botched things up that it is too dangerous to do a lot of this stuff: you can't drink tea at a local shop because they might try to poison you, you can't greet people on the street because you're worried about snipers, you can't visit people's homes to try and gather intelligence and develop relationships because those people will end up dead an hour after your patrol leaves, etc. But if things are really that bad, then I'm having trouble seeing how a counterinsurgency effort could ever work now: if you can't get local intelligence, the game's over. Unless we're just too stupid and stubborn to accept that.

Turbulence, you comment reminds me of something I wanted to say about the original post.

As G'Kar notes, referring to a single insurgency, or to the adversaries as simply 'insurgents' as if there were only two sides, is an oversimplification. I'd say it's much more than that, and the comment shows it. In a two dimensional world, there are (A) insurgents, (b) the US and its Iraqi allies, and (C) the general public, whom we hope to win to B from A.

The reality, though, is that A is made up of a variety of different groups/tendencies, and that C in made up of people who have a real stake and real interest in how intra-C fighting turns out. That is, people are going to tell US soldiers about insurgents with which they are not in sympathy, and not about the ones they support. There will always be plenty of the former.

Even winning hearts and minds in each distinct neighborhood isn't much progress in this counterinsurgency, because the people who decide to trust our guys are primarily motivated by getting us to get involved on their side in a multi-lateral struggle.

Russell, I've promised to scream the next time I see someone say that a 'good' outcome is still possible in Iraq.

I hear that.

By "good outcome", I guess what I mean is avoiding total chaos and overt civil war. Some would say that's what is going on there now, in which case amend "avoiding" to "curbing".

It's becoming increasingly common for folks to say (a) a political solution is necessary, therefore (b) it's in the hands of the Iraqi government to make it happen. I agree with (a), but I don't think it's possible without first establishing a basic level of security. By rights, that is still really our job.

In other words, I don't think it's fair to blame the Iraqi government for failing to hammer out a political solution when we have failed to establish the most basic level of security. We invaded their country, blew up their stuff, and fired their army, so it's our responsibility to do that.

Thanks -

Turbulence: Can you suggest what sort of questions might be asked in an after action report that would be beneficial in a counterinsurgency?

Actually no. I never had any experience or even training in COIN. I would have to agree that the metrics would likely be a lot more complex and a lot grayer with COIN. In my experience the metrics were pretty straight forward and success/failure was pretty easy to gauge. Obviously that’s not the case here.

An AAR is really a training tool so it’s less about judging success/failure and more about continuous improvement. So questions will boil down to:
What happened and why did it happen?
What went wrong and how do we prevent that in the future?
What went right and how do we do it better/faster/easier in the future?

Obviously there is going to be some judgment of success/failure in answering the questions what went wrong and what went right. But with the goal being to improve, accepting that things went right when they in fact did not would be self defeating, and that’s just not how these leaders train.

That’s at the pointy end though. Now when you get up there in the highest ranks where things get more political I’m sure that there is some tendency to “exaggerate their successes to themselves and others.” What I objected to in Charles’ comment was that officers are trained to exaggerate their successes and that the system (promotions etc.) reinforce this behavior.

It's a bit misleading to use the British in Malaya as an example; to quote Gary Brechter, who says it better than I could-
"It so happens that the Malayan insurgency of the 1950s is the ONLY guerrilla war that was won by the occupying army, in this case the Brits, and that's why Bush's spinners like to cite It. You know why the Brits "succeeded"? It's real simple: the insurgents were all ethnic Chinese, and the Malays hated their guts. They were a small, easily identified ethnic minority. The Malays never needed much of an excuse to start chopping up Chinese people, and when the Brits gave them license to kill they went at it full time. Then the Brits up and left.
It was a relatively small affair: over 12 years, some 7,000 MRLA guerrillas were killed. Just to give you a real comparison, one American general recently said that in the last year alone, we've killed or captured 50,000 Iraqi insurgents, yet, this same general admitted that the insurgency is only gaining strength. "

As Russell just pointed out, we've messed the hell up out of their country, and because of that, the majority now hate us. The metric for victory always (seemed, because it's constantly changing) to include goodwill towards the West along with a stable, non-dictatorial country. Don't see how, at this point.

Thanks for this post, G'Kar.

OCSteve,

One of the critiques that Ricks makes in Fiasco is that the Army's promotion system for senior officers overemphasizes their performance in maneuver warfare operations at the National Training Center. In other words, senior officers rise through the ranks by managing very fast, very aggressive armored assaults. They don't get points for interacting properly with a civilian population or COIN style intelligence gathering; in fact, wasting time on those things actively hurts one's career.

As a result, you end up with people like Gen. Franks, whose answer to all strategic questions seemed to be "speed kills". He orchestrated a war plan premised on American armor units moving very fast to bypass Iraq forces. The only problem was that while this was politically expedient for the President, Iraqi units that were bypassed didn't magically disappear: they were allowed to escape unscathed and formed the nucleus of the insurgency. Then again, Ricks claims that Franks doesn't actually understand what the word strategy means...

If you buy into Ricks' critique (and I'm not 100% certain that I do), then it is very plausible that senior ranking officers got to where they are in the chain of command by exaggerating their successes in all things COIN-related. After all, what really mattered for career advancement was demonstrating that you could fight Soviet tank squadrons in Germany. Little attention was paid to COIN, and expertise in it came directly at the expense of other skills that the promotions system did prize.

Sure, right now, the Army is all about COIN, but the senior officer corps has been in a training pipeline for a decade or two, and during that time, the Army was not particularly interested in COIN.

Turbulence : Sure, right now, the Army is all about COIN, but the senior officer corps has been in a training pipeline for a decade or two, and during that time, the Army was not particularly interested in COIN.

No disagreement here. I would just say that I don’t think these senior officers exaggerated their COIN successes, it’s as you say – the Army generally just didn’t prioritize COIN as a metric for career advancement (outside of special forces anyway). That is, there was no COIN box to be checked off on their ticket.

Thus the saying that the generals are always preparing to fight the last war... The guys at the top now cut their teeth on the cold war and/or GW1.

Thus the saying that the generals are always preparing to fight the last war...

But the last war was Vietnam. And there certainly was a decent counterinsurgency literature emerging from our operations in VN.

My theory is that the generals are always preparing to fight the war that has the coolest hardware and is the most fun. Tank engagements in Germany strike me as genuinely more fun and interesting than COIN ops in some random part of the world; I'd bet that the Army has a lot more applicants for armor units than it does for quasi-MP work that COIN so heavily relies on. Plus, big defense contractors get their revolving door with retired senior military staff by pushing cool (and very expensive) hardware.

OCSteve: "I’m thinking G’Kar may respond to this when he can, but for my 2 cents – I think this is off base. The AAR (After Action Review) process in the military is pretty brutal. If there is any exaggeration it goes the other way. You took that hill in 2.69 hours? You should have been able to take it in 2.43 hours".

So far, there's been precious little evidence that failure is a killer in Iraq. The two-star general Odierno is mentioned in 'Fiasco', and not favorably. A two-star Gen. named 'Petraeus' failed at his job in training the Iraqi Army. Back when 'as they stand up, we'll stand down' was the motto, and there were projections of less than 100K US troops in Iraq in 2007.

They've both gotten their third stars.

Barry: Well certainly then you don’t want to vote for me. But then I won’t be running. ;)

Seriously, I was responding to the generality that Army officers are actually trained this way. If you or anyone else wants to believe that Army officers have been trained to delude themselves into failure there is little I can possibly do to change your mind. I can just say that in my experience that is not true.

OCSteve,

You've now misrepresented what I said twice, so I guess I ought to set it straight. I regret any misunderstanding, but here:

1. Army officers are trained to put the mission first and foremost. This is necessary for military operations. It sets military people apart, to a degree, from civilians, where failure is typically more tolerated.

2. It is a human trait to see one's self as more successful and competent than one really is. When the success of your career hinges on successful completion of missions, optimism becomes selected for.

3. The relatively few senior posts in the military emphasize this in generals.

4. This is further exacerbated by having to deal with a large number of missions with goals that are difficult to measure.

I hope this helps. None of this is radical. The army has tried, through after-mission evaluations, to counter it, but the success, like the mission goals, is always arguable -- and, when there is political pressure to see success, a pattern set in of measuring success by metrics that, while favorable, have nothing to do with success of the diplomatic (recalling the old quote) mission.

I think we're all agreed that success in iraq ultimately requires the iraqi government to get widespread support, and to do the things that create widespread support and also that strengthen the iraqi economy etc.

If there's a mission for the US military in this, it has to be security. Otherwise the US military has no place in success at all.

But the US military can't possibly provide security.

If iraqis had a political system that actually represented them, then it would make sense for them to use that system instead of trying to gain their goals by violence. A real honest representative system would provide a much-cheaper simulation of violent solutions. When you're outnumbered with votes you're also going to be outnumbered with militias. When the vote goes against you, you'll tend to lose the fighting too. Better to arrange a compromise that gets you part of what you want and that saves your military strength to use if the time comes you can't salvage enough politically to be worth delaying the civil war.

But iraqis don't have a political system like that. And there's no reason to suppose we'll let them have one.

Barring real security -- the kind where people don't bother to attack each other -- the next best solution is that each neighborhood has its own militia. And each viable neighborhood will be strong enough that during any small raid into that neighborhood they can put up barricades that trap the raiders inside their territory and then destroy them. If anonymous raiders can't survive then the fighting turns so large-scale that it can't be hidden who's attacking. When it isn't deniable then you don't get much violence unless iraq turns to open large-scale civil war, and the factions are undeniably mobilised to destroy each other.

But mostly the US military has been opposed to this. Our approach has been to disarm local militias when we could, or destroy them, or at least keep them from training and operating. In earlier years when we found militias in operation we attacked them as insurgents, unless they were too well-organised and strong, or their political connections were too good. Even now our approach has mostly been to occupy neighborhoods ourselves or with iraqi army units under our control, and try to neutralise local militias. They're supposed to depend on us for security. But we aren't strong enough to create security that way.

Our military has nu function in iraq except security, and it cannot provide security. The best we can hope for is statistics that look like we're making progress.

In the better late than never category, I now have time to review these comments and thought I'd make some responses.

Regarding the rule of law, I am referring very specifically to the fact that detainees have to be taken only under very detailed rules, that the evidence against them has to be examined by a judge, and that unless the judge is convinced that the evidence is good, the detainee must be released. It may be only a small step, and it can be a frustrating one when bad guys are released because their captors didn't have good evidence against them, but I think it is an important step because it is forcing the Iraqis to at least consider the presumption of innocence and the idea that the government can't just bring someone in because they want to. Over here, that seems to me no small thing.

The question of metrics in COIN is a recognized problem, and one that military personnel spend a great deal of time on when trying to train COIN. You cannot judge COIN operations by terrain taken or enemy killed, so you have to use softer measures like how many people are using markets on a particular day, how much traffic is going in and out of cities, and things like that. It is very difficult to do well, and it is easy to get wrong. I have little doubt that the metrics being used in Iraq are not all the best ones, although I do not actually know what metrics are used at the strategic level.

Regarding promotions to the general officer level, I have no idea what it takes to get to that rank, although I do know that you have to be a very successful officer. Those generals I have known have consistently been smart and driven, but I have seen a number of issues that naturally arise from their separation.

A general rarely goes anywhere unannounced. Because of this, when units know a general is inbound, they usually put on what is colloquially known as a 'dog and pony show,' a display intended to put the best face on things for the general. I have never witnessed any lies being told to a general, but I have seen people omit certain data that I suspect was germane, but would have reflected poorly on the briefer. It is my theory that, as a result of this, generals do not always get to see ground truth, and therefore make their decisions based on the data they have despite it not necessarily reflecting reality. This can have predictable consequences.

It is pointless to claim it is a military success but a political failure. By definition, there is no such thing.

I'm curious who dmbeaster believes made such a claim. He is wrong, however, to suggest that the insurgency is strictly a Sunni issue. There are numerous insurgent groups on all sides of the fighting: Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish.

J Thomas is correct is he means that the Coalition cannot provide security for all of Iraq, but he is incorrect if he means it cannot provide security at all. One of the most basic COIN tactics is the 'oil spot' technique. COIN forces clear an area, hold it, and build local forces that can continue to hold it from the insurgency once the COIN forces leave. The major failing of the Coalition thus far has been the inability to build those forces, thus leading to the repeated scenario where Coalition forces secure an area, but leave and allow the insurgents to reoccupy the area because the Coalition failed to take the time to build local forces.

My thanks to all who took the time to comment.

One of the most basic COIN tactics is the 'oil spot' technique. COIN forces clear an area, hold it, and build local forces that can continue to hold it from the insurgency once the COIN forces leave.

G'Kar, the central problem we have with this method is that the people who would naturally be the local forces to provide local security are, well, insurgents.

Success means we get those insurgents to support a democratic government which represents them, and they provide local security in line with rule of law until the level of violence is reduced to a point that the job can be turned over to nonpartisan professionals.

But none of that can happen while we "provide security" by suppressing them.
It's self-defeating. If they had an iraqi government that represented them, that government would tell us to go away. As it has, in a nonbinding vote. But the binding vote somehow is kept off the agenda.

You seem to be under the impression that the entire population of Iraq is made up of insurgents. That is far from the case. As was noted upthread, there are a small number of insurgents and a large number of people who are undecided. Successful COIN operations move the undecided into the pro-government column. You can also siphon off some insurgents, but the idea you have to convince all the insurgents to agree with the government is not correct. Most Iraqis are neither pro-government nor pro-insurgent.

G'Kar, in very large parts of iraq there is no US military presence and very little violence. We get no news from those places. But when polled, they want US forces out of iraq.

In anbar, very few people support the iraqi government at present, but perhaps most could be persuaded to support an iraqi government that represented them. They want US forces out of iraq.

In various places with mixed populations there is some violence among iraqis who don't like each other. Mostly, both sides want US forces out of iraq.

The majority of the iraqi parliament wants US forces out of iraq.

The kurds in kurdistan don't want US forces out of iraq.

Now, what makes somebody an insurgent as opposed to a gangster or an ethnic-cleanser? They're insurgents if they fight to get US forces out of iraq.

Given the circumstances, doesn't it seem a little odd for us to try to provide tight security in small areas using US forces, and then turn those areas over to armed iraqis who have been carefully chosen to not be insurgents?

I mean, what the hell! Essentially everybody there wants US forces out of iraq, so we arm and train some of them with the idea that they'll work with us to stop the iraqis who want to fight to get us out of iraq.

And we say the iraqi government has to do stuff to get the people behind it, and we're "providing security" so it can do those things. But the single thing they could do that would get the most approval from their people is to tell us to go away.

So once they stop fighting to get us out of iraq, and once they stop fighting each other, then we can mostly leave....

Few iraqis are pro-government. And not that many iraqis are pro-insurgent. They've gone for years and the insurgents have been utterly unable to get us out of iraq. Most iraqis are pro-get-US-forces-out-of-iraq. They don't support the government which has failed to do that and they don't support the insurgents which have failed to do that.

Under the circumstances, doesn't it seem pretty surrealistic to think about successful COIN operations?

Few iraqis are pro-government. And not that many iraqis are pro-insurgent

Yes...this is what I have been saying for quite some time now. Why this means it is 'surrealistic' to think about successful COIN operations escapes me.

Iraq's government is no great thing. But the structure is capable, in time, of representing most Iraqis as well as any republican/democratic form of government can do so. If it is to have any hope of doing so, however, it has to stand up to insurgent groups from all sides on this conflict. It may not be able to do this; I hold out no great hopes for it myself. But successful COIN operations can give it a chance to do so.

As I have noted before, not every Iraqi seeks a sectarian agenda. There are many members of the Iraqi Army and Iraqi police who just want to end the violence. (There are also many who have sectarian agendas.) Which side will eventually triumph is open to question. But if there is any hope for sectarian violence to end, it is through successful COIN operations.

"Few iraqis are pro-government. And not that many iraqis are pro-insurgent. Most iraqis are pro-get-US-forces-out-of-iraq."

Yes...this is what I have been saying for quite some time now. Why this means it is 'surrealistic' to think about successful COIN operations escapes me.

The one thing most sunnis and shias agree on is they don't want us there.

So our plan is to stay there and stop the violence.

I dunno, it seems surrealistic to me.

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