Tuesday, December 06, 2005

John Robb has an important post up on Iraq at Global Guerillas entitled " Nation-State Strategy:Clear And Hold", one that follows up on the article by Martin van Creveld that predicted an outcome somewhere between MacArthur's retreat from the Yalu and the Roman Legions of Crassus in Parthia for the American military in Iraq. I have to wonder though if van Creveld's deep antipathy for the Bush administration might not be coloring his formidible powers of analysis. The United States is doing poorly in Iraq in part by its own self-imposed political restraints and not entirely by the " natural" dynamic of battle or the inherent military excellence of the insurgent groups.

The insurgents are definitely " a thinking enemy" but much of their thought has gone into crafting tactics contingent on the continuance of our odd ( from an Iraqi perspective) practices and routines of the U.S. military, many of which were developed in response not to the conditions of the Iraqi battlefield but to the pressures emanating from the domestic American political arena. Those constraints are within our power to change which could improve our position to better respond to those factors which are not.

Nevertheless, should we continue along on our merry way as we have been doing, Robb's scenario looks bleak:

"What this means

The likely outcome will be that the US will have little real value (a decrease in violence) to show for its efforts over the next year. If we do it flawlessly (which is going to be very difficult given a thinking enemy), the controlled chaos may hold long enough for the US to get most of its troops out. Here's what it means:

Moral collapse. There will be intense pressure from US voters to exit Iraq prior to the US elections next year. This is the last plan that the US public will allow without serious repercussions for the American political leadership. It's a one way ticket.

Melt down. As the plan bogs down and the body bags of Iraqi troops flow home in increasing numbers (due to insufficient armor, training and increased fighting), there will be a backlash against the US. Expect increased pressure by Shiite militias on our rear 'safe' areas after full independence. Since this pressure will threaten our lines of supply as well as our exit path, it will put the US military in a difficult position. The key is to get as much as we can out of Iraq before it occurs.

Unexpected events. A rapidly evolving plan like this creates the potential that unexpected events may cause serious disruption. For example: the expansion of the conflict to a new area (the US?) and/or a major overrun (we almost saw this in the attacks on the Baghdad hotels in October/November) where a large group of Americans are killed and taken hostage. Either event could cause a radical policy collapse "

I think Robb's critique should be taken very seriously as an argument for changing the strategic game plan in Iraq from trying to achieve maximum objectives into guaranteeing minimum results - which in my view would mean:

1. Qualitatively building up the military capabilities of the Peshmerga to several orders of magnitude above all their other militia rivals or the insurgents -i.e. accept reality that the Kurds are the only reliably pro-American and effective indigenous military force in Iraq.

2. Aim for an Iraqi army that can hold Baghdad - by that I mean just the government buildings, the airport and the road connecting the two. Beyond that, a capability to temporarily swarm an area in force to demonstrate the central authorities' ability to punish, if not occupy. Taking over the duties of American troops is a fantasy we ought to just drop. Good security in Baghdad beats bad security everywhere .

3. Recruit the services of Shiite militias to keep order in the South with financial subsidies but do not upgrade them significantly in terms of training or arms. Their reward is conceding de facto dominance on their home turf

4. Draw down to an airpower/socom heavy, " hammer" force to back up operations of the Iraqi government and the Peshmerga.

This is " The Syrian Scenario" answer to the " Lebanon Logic" problem in Iraq. We remain an 800 lb gorilla and paymaster but a less targetable one and accept a much higher level of chaos in return for keeping Iraqi democracy on life support, letting the Kurds continue to nation-build their autonomous proto-state and avoiding the position of being overwhelmed by a civil war despite our best efforts. (We need to be honest about the degree of " victory" we wish to pay for in Iraq. Total victory ? Ok - lets talk about a 20 division U.S. Army because that would go a long way).

Unless the Iraqis themselves settle politically, civil war is going to happen in Iraq and the parties involved won't negotiate in earnest until they see the light of the train rushing at them.

If then.
I don't buy it, for a couple of reasons. First, the assumption by Robb at least is that the US is there to beat the insurgents. Not so, from what I can tell. Our focus all along has been on training up the Iraqis to defend their own country against the insurgents, while we provide suppression of the enemy in the meantime and a deterrent to direct Iranian or Syrian intervention.

Given this strategy on our part, a certain level of violence, even in areas we control, is not unreasonable. Note the progress over the last two years, though: we have defeated the enemy at progressively lower levels (eliminating first Saddam's military, then the enemy's ability to attack at platoon strength against US troops, then the ability to attack Iraqi police stations at platoon strength, then the ability to attack US troops other than with mines/bombs, and so on; we have hunted down the terrorist and Ba'athist leaders in country, which has kept the enemy in a deeply bad position (note the leadership changes in Mosul, for instance, and their implications for the enemy); we have trained a large number of Iraqi police and infantry, to the point that the Iraqi police now hold much of the country without military assistance, and the main fight in Baghdad is being carried out by the Iraqi, not the US, military.

As we continue this strategy, at an accelerating rate it appears, there will be not only some Iraqi military presence in the West: we will turn over most of the major operations in the West to the Iraqi military. The US will not hold Fallujah and Ramadi, but will transfer those to Iraqi police control.

In other words, by end 2006 or mid 2007, the US will be in Iraq only as logistics and air support (those take a long time to set up) and as deterrence against foreign invasion and as advisors.

In other words, it is not the US military's job to defeat the insurgency: it is the Iraqi government's job to defeat the insurgency. And all of the signs are that that is on track to happen.

Could things still collapse? Of course; there are myriad things that could go wrong. But the odds of such a collapse are small enough that simply giving up and accepting far less than we can get (secure Baghdad and the Kurdish areas) would be a horrid option to pursue.

Truly wonderful post. You took the best parts of Rob's analysis to improve his message.

We didn't go after Total Victory in Japan -- we integrated an old political leadership and bureaucracy along with organized crime to help create a new peaceful society. We didn't go after Total Victory in Germany -- middle and eastern Germany was dominated by the Soviets, if not ethnically cleansed.

From the first, we should have set up a friendly Shia-Kurdish government in Iraq, held elections, and continued our momentum. Instead we've slowed down our OODA loop on a global scale, threatening to make one battle (Iraq) become the war.

As Mao is supposed to have said, just act recklessly and everything will be alright. Instead, Bush often tries to destroy our enemy using a centralized, conservative approach.

The Bush Administration often does amazing things in Iraq and the Greater Middle East. But the prolonged heavy and predominately American presense in Iraq is not one of those. Too bad.
Hi Jeff

There are some nice things happening in Iraq with specific American-Iraqi Army joint operations. I credit the innovative junior officers through Lt.Colonel in the Army and Marines - they get it.

Unfortunately, that's a far cry from an Iraqi Army ready and able to wage effective counterinsurgency operations on their own ( even assuming we do the logistics, transport and communications). The number of Iraqi brigades ready to do that are exactly zero. In contrast, the Peshmerga will stand, fight and die against insurgents without any handholding from us ( we supervise the Kurds to hold them back, not to egg them on).

That's a significant difference - the Iraqi Army is just not ready yet. When the Baghdad government employs troops that will die for them then they are ready to assume primary responsibilities. I'd say that realistically, that's around two years away. No reason why we can't continue training troops and expanding the " secure zones" in the interim.

Iraqi police are a separate political dynamic from the Iraqi Army because the former are tied into local networks. Don't count on their reliability in terms of loyalty to Baghdad - they're functionally useful but they aren't well vetted.

We win by employing the tools we have for the purposes for which they are most suitable.
A few months ago people were complaining that we weren't clearing and holding but just raiding and withdrawing. And now that we are clearing and holding people like Robb are saying that it won't work because it was originally designed for a rural insurgency, as if our troops are incapable adapting their tactics to their current circumstances. The standards keep changing, but the one thing that remains the same is that the US is always wrong. This post is little more than a plan for retreat. There is no larger strategic vision here.

It is true that the enemy is a "thinking enemy" but are we not also a "thinking" force? We are constantly adapting our training and our missions to the reality on the ground. There is plenty of evidence for this if one is inclined to look for it. It is not enough to emphasize the enemy's strengths and our weaknesses while ignoring their weaknesses and our strengths. That will never give you an accurate assessment of the situation.

"...many of which were developed in response not to the conditions of the Iraqi battlefield but to the pressures emanating from the domestic American political arena."

Given our discussions here about 4GW and the role of media in war we can not dismiss political pressures at home as separate from the larger war effort. The Democratic Party and their media allies are doing everything they can to undermine our effort in Iraq. Think about 1st Fallujah, we didn't pull back because of any military reason, but because if we fought as we needed to fight to win the Democrats and the media in the midst of an election would have used it to their political advantage regardless of the harm it caused their country. In a democracy politics are always an issue.

If the Democratic Party and the liberal media were Lieberman Democrats as opposed to McGovern Democrats the war would pretty much be over now because there would have been bipartisan support for increasing the size of the military and for fighting to win and for standing up for our principles. Whatever plan we have for success in Iraq cannot ignore "the pressures emanating from the domestic American political arena." Maybe those "Americans" should actually have a conscience and reflect on how their "pressures" are working to deny the Iraqis a once in a lifetime chance for freedom and happiness. All you gotta do is go to Michael Yon's blog and look at some of the pictures there of Iraqi children and then ask yourself whether we should sneak out and leave them to the mercy of the Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish militias.
Look Phil, I hear you on the Democrats - its clear a sizable chunk of the boomer-Left Party leadership and the moveon.org crowd are defeatists who have hoped to lose the war from the beginning ( I would not tar all Democrats or liberals with that brush though). I also agree that they have done all they can to undermine public support for the war.

But I don't think pretending that the Iraqi Army is ready helps us win. Or that we have enough personnel to enforce security over more land than we really do. Or that there's a sanitized way to shatter the insurgency. There isn't. Or that you can begin to stabilize a country when you don't even control the capitol and your VIP's get bombed driving to and from the airport.

Moreover, Iraq is not the entirety of the war. we have other problems on the horizon for which it will be better to be managing Iraq with 40,000 -60,000 troops instead of 135,000+

The way to start salvaging the situation is to build on your strengths and to prioritize what is to be accomplished.
I don't think the Turks would be too happy with your plan; not that they are happy now.

We owe Turkey absolutely nothing except perhaps a sharp poke in the eye.

The last time the Turks did anything for America, Turgut Ozal was president

Turkey has continued to EUize their domestic laws, as well as recognize Cyprus. It is in our interests that Turkey is in Europe.

Nonetheless, their days as a military ally in a sense that means something (*cough* Germany *cough*) may be numbered.

Dan tdaxp
I would dispute your contention, Mark, that "that's a far cry from an Iraqi Army ready and able to wage effective counterinsurgency operations on their own ( even assuming we do the logistics, transport and communications). The number of Iraqi brigades ready to do that are exactly zero."

Specifically, if you refer to the categorization the US military uses, the category one brigades are between 0 and 3. But this refers explicitly to those brigades able to do their own planning, logistics, communications and so forth). If you look at the category 2 brigades, there are something like a hundred of those, and cat 2 brigades are able to fight, but are unable to either plan their own operations without help, or provide their own logistics, or something similar. (On a side note, I suspect that some of the times that units are downgraded it is because their organic capabilities are being broken up to serve as the core of those capabilities in several brigades, kind of like planting a crop from seed corn.)

Given that it's much easier to train an infantryman than a planning staff of officers (and given that the experienced planners in Iraq are largely either demobilized or actively working for the enemy), and that it's easier to build up a military staff than it is to build up ministries that can handle the full logistics and communications train, I don't find this particularly surprising.

Now we can look at this and go one of at least two ways. We can say that there's a long road ahead of us in training Iraqi officers and helping them set up their ministries and departments to handle everything on their own, and of course also setting up the more highly-skilled units like artillery and armor. Perhaps in 5 years they will be up to the standards of the Low Countries in that area. This would mean that in the interim we would be able to draw down to a few thousands of combat troops, but we'd still have maybe 50000 military and civil government personnel in Iraq.

An alternative is to give up and let the Iraqis fight it out on their own, which is what you appear to be advocating. That's not necessarily a wrong position, in that it's not unreasonable for people to defend themselves or fail in the attempt. But it does have some downsides. For one, we would be perceived as having been defeated not militarily but politically, which makes future wars more likely. For another, we would be perceived as having abandoned our clients, which makes future cooperation less likely. For a third, we would be responsible for the vast bloodshed that followed our withdrawal, because it is only by slaughter that the Iraqi government as it now stands could defeat the enemy in our absence (and then they'd be doomed if Iran intervened directly), and given the barely-contained lust for revenge as it is now, I don't think that the Iraqi government would go unwillingly down that road. In the aftermath of such an outcome, what answer would we give to the charges from the Left of non-progressive immorality? Despite the tu quoque, it would be quite true.
You owe Turkey lots, although childish funks over Turkey not playing the US Administrations self defeating own goal game would have it otherwise.

But "owing" turkey, has fuck all to do with the issue, now doesn't it?

It is about interests. Turkey can play mean if it wants, and adding a new marginal force to push Iraq further along the Lebanese logic only makes the US problem worse.

In short, you're fucked, but it's about managing how fucked you are. There is a difference btw losing 5 billion and 5 million, for example.
"I would not tar all Democrats or liberals with that brush though"

Of course, but...where are the Democrats who are outraged at Dean, Pelosi, Kerry, Murtha, Reid, Reed et al? Other than Lieberman, where are the Democrats who are standing up for our principles? Go back and read JFK's innaugural speech (a speech that still gives me chills up my spine) and wonder why the Democrats have abandoned those ideals. As an independent I want both parties to be rooted in American ideals. If we are going to "Shrink the Gap" it will require both parties to accept the mission. If there are Democrats who don't want to be painted with "that brush" then they should stand up and make themselves known. The burden is not on me to imagine that these kind of Democrats might exist, but on them to take a stand within their own party. Until then Dean, Pelosi, and Reid are the faces of their party.

I'm not pretending that the Iraqi Army is completely ready to assume responsibility. This will come in time. And that is the issue: time. The current urgency to bail out is driven by Democratic political ambitions and their effect on public support. I agree with what you are saying, but I am not pessimistic and I don't think encouraging the growth of ethnic/sectarian militias is a good idea. This is going to take time and we have to have patience and we have to accept that our troops need to be on the ground for longer than we would prefer. The whole purpose here is to empower the Iraqis to achieve self-government and that means being able to defend a constitutional democracy from internal and external threats. That is the goal. That doesn't mean things have to be perfect for us to leave. But we have to have will to see this through, to give the Iraqis enough time to build institutions, develop the attitudes and habits of democratic governance, and become confident in themselves and their future. There are few more powerful motivations than the belief that your actions will lead to a better life for your children. We need to be willing to do what it takes to give the Iraqis that opportunity.
Hi Col -

Good to see that you are feeling well enough for a visit. Thought we might have lost you there for a moment.

But let me pose you this question - what is more in Turkey's state interests - a stable, pro-Western, American-Allied Kurdistan region with U.S. troops or the Kurds " cut loose" in an Iraqi free-for-all by a quick and ugly bug-out of the Americans? Things did not go so well the last time ( Nixon) the U.S. dropped the Kurds in mid-stream.

Secondly, on a pragmatic basis for American policy, the Kurds can fight, having shown themselves capable of standing up to all but the most elite of Saddam's formations.

Since we have chosen to not " ramp up" our own forces to the appropriate levels - we frankly need their help. If Turkey wants to send in 100,000 troops to replace the Peshmerga, fine but I don't see that happening.


Ok - I concede that it would be nice if the anti-American fool segment did not intimidate the rest of the Democratic Party and if moderate, sensible Democrats could come to the fore.

Unfortunately, that isn't going to happen anymore than the Iraqi Army is going to look like the Green Berets.

And while we are on that topic, while I have great respect for Jeff Medcalf, I don't have the same faith he does in the category 2 Iraqi brigades. From what I read and hear they often fight acceptably in joint operations. Good. But that doesn't cut it. That's an army that will take off their uniforms once we leave.

To put it in perspective, Iraq's Army isn't yet where ARVN was circa 1961-1962.And ARVN wasn't a formidible anti-guerilla force for another ten years.

I'm deeply, deeply, troubled by the Pentagon move to cut troops in the midst of a manpower crisis in order to protect the postretirement golden parachutes of the Chairborne Division of the Career Desk Cavalry at the Pentagon. This is the sort of in the bones corruption that loses wars and brings down republics. I'm a real conservative guy, a longtime hawk and frequent defender of the DoD and IC from leftist criticism - but I'm completely aghast.

My post was intended to present an option in line with the resources we have chosen to commit in Iraq with what such forces can reasonably be expected to accomplish. Not utopia but goals that are realistic and manageable and can be built-upon later on when we have some Iraqi forces that do not require handholding.

Change the forces and I'll give you different options.
If Turkey sends troops it will be to wipe out the Peshmerga. The concept of our setting up a Kurdistan in Iraq is something the Turks simply will not accept.

Good to see that you are feeling well enough for a visit. Thought we might have lost you there for a moment.

Not dead yet. Too many bloody Drs, but no helping that at present.

But let me pose you this question - what is more in Turkey's state interests - a stable, pro-Western, American-Allied Kurdistan region with U.S. troops or the Kurds " cut loose" in an Iraqi free-for-all by a quick and ugly bug-out of the Americans? Things did not go so well the last time ( Nixon) the U.S. dropped the Kurds in mid-stream.

Turkey's state interest was likely best served in the near term with the ante bellum situation.

However, spilled milk and all that, the Turks face several potentially unpleasant developments, none of which do American actions seem to be particularly helpful on: actual Kurdish state, de facto Kurdish state (actual situation, civil war in Kurdish region.

The Turks can play ball with the actual situation, and the US bloody well needs them to. The Turkish military should not be compared with Sadaam's rubbish military, even at its height.

Barnie is quite right on his observation (if only for the novelty value I suppose).

The talk of sticks in the Turk's eyes and owing them nothing is stupid, to be quite frank.

The Turks are important players and will pursue their state interests (as the US should as well). Intelligent players should work to see those interests are aligned and not needlessly at odds.

I would also advise you not to be so gullible as to the Kurd's "democratic" and "pro Western" attitudes. There is much facade there. Now, nothing wrong with that, the two Kurdish tribal factions are playing a nice, smart game. I applaud them, they've managed the Turks, the Americans and others pretty briliantly so far, all things considered.

But don't be so bloody gullible as to buy that tripe about the "Westernised" Kurds.

Or maybe you want to.

Secondly, on a pragmatic basis for American policy, the Kurds can fight, having shown themselves capable of standing up to all but the most elite of Saddam's formations.

Sadaam always was a bloody paper tiger, whatever the US managed to delude its ignorant self into thinking. Bloody well could not even beat a basket case revolutionary Iranian military run by deluded god bothering loons.

The Turks are another game entirely.

Since we have chosen to not " ramp up" our own forces to the appropriate levels - we frankly need their help. If Turkey wants to send in 100,000 troops to replace the Peshmerga, fine but I don't see that happening.

Like I said. The US already lost the original game.

My note regarding the control rods....

Now it is all about managing the down side, there already is a civil war, the question is only how bad will it be, and what the end result will be.

Well, and how I can make money despite all of it. But that's my personal angle.
Quickly, as I am at work:

"Pro-western" is not the same as " Westernized". The Kurds are useful because they are a moutain tribal ppl and not because they like elections.

By " pro-western" I mean relatively cooperative and not horrific.
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