Surrender in Al Anbar province

The fateful events in Al Anbar province during 2006 and 2007 illustrate that seemingly simple events in 4GW can mystify even experts. The specifics are clear. By the summer of 2006 local elites in the largely Sunni Arab province in Iraq had established local control against the efforts of the Shiite-dominated central government and Coalition forces. At the same time they began fighting their closest ally, Al Qaeda in Iraq. Experts offer different explanations for this split; there may be no one master narrative. Perhaps the tribal leaders no longer needed these pushy Islamic extremists as shock troops.

At the same time Americans’ support for the war was rapidly fading. At the request of Congress, the Iraq Study Group (aka the Baker-Hamilton Commission) was formed in March 2006, reporting in December. Drastic steps were necessary if the American Expedition to Iraq was to continue.

In September of 2006 the Anbar Salvation Council was created, and the stars had aligned for a deal. The terms, however informal, were clear.

  • The US military ceased operations against them.
  • The US ceded full control of their territories to them.
  • The US paying, training, and arming their militia.
  • The US began directing funds through the tribal leaders for rebuilding their communities.
  • The Sunni Arabs in return agreed to continue fighting the Islamic extremists, with whatever timing and intensity they consider appropriate.
  • They gave no formal promises of allegiance to either the Iraq National government or to the US.

We surrendered this theater of the war; they won. But the word “surrender” has too much baggage for anything but shock value. Technically, in the context of the Iraq War, this was a tactical retreat. As Douglas Macgregor (Colonel, USA, retired) said in his statement to Congress on 8 February 2008 (this is a must-read for anyone following the war):

And what the Sunni leaders want and what they are getting is both independence from the hated Shi’ite-dominated government with its ties to Tehran and money; lots of money. Meanwhile, the Sunni leaders who sit on the Awakening Councils are telling the Arab press that they defeated the American military that is leaving and paying reparations.

He provides this interview excerpt as supporting evidence:

Question: [Al-Arab al-Yawm] “Do you believe that the Americans will withdraw just like that without any resistance?”

Answer: [Al-Abdallah] “I confirm 100 per cent that their withdrawal in itself is the result of the honorable national Iraqi resistance, which has been confronting them since the first day of the occupation to this day.”

Whose assessment is correct? Consider this: what more could the Sunni Arab leaders have obtained if they had defeated our forces in open combat (which was, of course, impossible)? Or, consider the pros and cons of this deal. For the Sunni Arabs of Al Anbar, it is a win-win. They get much, give nothing.

The US gives much to the Sunni Arabs and gets little. This deal undercuts our key strategic goals and benchmarks in Iraq — to create a strong and friendly Iraq State. The Sunni Arabs we pay were and are (collectively, in general) insurgents to the current Iraq government. Nothing we are doing changes that; probably the opposite is true (funding and arming them strengthens their will to resist).

On the other hand, artful tactical retreats have won wars in the past. Cutting a deal in Al Anbar province provides several short-term benefits.

  1. It allowed us to shift the focus of our efforts (schwerpunk) to Baghdad, which is in many ways the center of Iraq.
  2. Like any well-executed retreat, it reduced the fighting in this theater. Fewer US casualties, fewer civilian casualties — both good things (although neither significantly affects the dynamics of the war itself).
  3. In Spring 2007 the US government initiated a campaign to convince the American people that almost everyone we fight in Iraq is Al Qaeda. Its success allowed the “Anbar Awakening” to be seen as a victory, gaining new allies in our fight against Al Qaeda. This good news was sorely needed to boost home front support for the war, so essential in 4GW.

Only time will tell if this tactical retreat created strategic benefits for us.  Does this mark the end of our attempt to build a strong Iraq state, and a shift to new strategic goals (such as divide, pacify, and rule)?

The third item describes the big wins:  two successful information operations conducted in America. The contents of both are largely false. After all, the deal struck in Anbar acknowledges that our primary effort in Iraq, to build a strong State, is failing. Also, US government sources have consistently reported that “Al Qaeda” represented a small fraction of the insurgents in Iraq (e.g., composition of prisoners in Iraq, and this Washington Post account of CIA Director Michael V. Hayden’s briefing to the Iraq Study Group on 13 November 2006).

There are two explanations for these wins. First, DoD has a long history of successfully using information as tool of war — at least when wielding this skill against the American people (in a good cause, of course). This explains in more detail. Second, perhaps our easy acceptance of these stories is not odd considering how the “success in Anbar” narrative suits our world view. Whatever happened there “must” be about us, as seen in the common explanations of events: our negotiating skill, our mastery of COIN, their recognition of our power and inevitable victory, our goodness vs. the enemy’s evil, etc.

What are the consequences of seeing a defeat as victory?

First, there is the danger that decision-makers come to believe their own propaganda. Faulty analysis leads to bad decisions. For example, tactical retreats provide opportunities to withdraw. The belief that we can always easily leave is comforting but sometimes fatal (as the Athenians learned at Syracuse in August 413 BC).

The victory narrative has built public support for the war, but probably also raised expectations. Let us hope that nothing happens in Iraq to disturb this optimism. Otherwise the American Expedition to Iraq might suffer the same fate as American forces did in the Vietnam War, where the Tet Offensive destroyed the public’s illusions — whether rightly or wrongly hardly matters now — and led to a long, painful defeat. For more on that see How the Iraq and Vietnam wars are mirror images of each other.

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

Go here to see an archive of my posts about the Iraq War.

Update:  John Robb (as usual) has some powerful and relevant thoughts on the Anbar Awakening at “Open Source Counter-insurgency?

Update:  this post might explain, to some extent, the differing evaluations of the same events in Anbar:  Today’s ABCD’s: About Blitzkrieg, COIN, and Diplomacy.

16 thoughts on “Surrender in Al Anbar province

  1. The part I love is how a lot of sudden armchair 4GW specialists don’t really seem to distinguish between actively co-opting the local population, which is a classic success strategy of a counterinsurgency, and buying off competing militants for what must be considered short term gain. It’s possible the analogy can be drawn to Egypt and Israel, where American largess ($6 billion a year since 1973) kept them from war so long that is seems unlikely, but comparing states to tribes is a tricky business. I tend to view things through other tribal conflicts, like Auckland’s folly, in Afghanistan, in 1842. He thought buying off the local tribes to serve as his proxies was a fabulous idea, until the money went dry… then the British Empire was served its most crushing defeat in history—16,000 men, women, children, and camp followers, slaughtered on the trail to Jalalabad.

    Now we have the same situation: an unstable alliance of tribal elders (notice the news today about tensions and possible fractures within the Sunni tribes?) being paid for short-term domestic political gain. Yes, the Pentagon is expert at IO against the U.S.; it sucks against anyone else (I suggest reading Mountain Runner for extensive commentary on the failure of information in these wars).

    It all feels so terribly familiar, and yet our chattering classes seem intent, like Lord Curzon, to repeat the exact same mistakes we’ve made again and again. We know how to do this; we’ve done it before. We just choose not to, for reasons I only wish I could say.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: great analysis, as usual! Here are two recent articles about the instabilities among the Sunni Arabs. By the National Security Network. By the Center for American Progress.

  2. The best chances for the United States in Iraq – and these chances are poor both in the sense that their result is not good and also in the sense that even worse results are more likely – would be for Iraq to evolve into a situation much like the pre-1745 Scottish Highlands.

    In those pre-Culloden days, the Crown kept the unruly clans, such as the MacDonalds and the MacGregors, in check by securing the aid of other clans, such as the Campbells and the Gordons.

    So read Rob Roy and hope for the best.

  3. That’s wins the brillant analogy of the day award! This idea might lift my spirits… but Rob Roy, and Walter Scott’s novels in general, were big sellers in the ante bellum South. The loved reading about the gallant, doomed Scotts — perhaps with some foreknowledge of what lie ahead of them. If this meme catches on in America, that might not be good…

    Wolfgang Schivelbusch discusses this in his excellent book The Culture of Defeat: On National Trauma, Mourning, and Recovery.

  4. Fabius-

    I tend to agree with you on most things–except today I refuse to accept your premise.

    Over the last year I’ve been fed two narratives:

    1) Security gains in IZ are the result of the surge.
    2) Security gains in IZ are the result of Concerned Local Citizen groups, the Anbar Salvation Council, and other grassroots movements whereby local Iraqis, as well as a more effective Iraqi army. al-Sadr’s militia has played a relatively constructive role, too.

    Now remember that I last fought in Iraq in early 2006, pre-Surge, but my unit was using many tactics that the current surge forces are using, and we were successful. Nonetheless it’s been a while since I saw events from the Anbari moondust. My gut would tell me that the truth is somewhere between the two narratives–that current security gains are the result of both surge forces using updated tactics, and because of grassroots efforts of the tribes.

    But now you bring up a third narrative:

    3) Recent security gains are the result of American defeat in Anbar.

    I can’t buy that. That narrative is premised on the following:

    a) The Americans were making war against the Anbaris. (they weren’t).
    b) The Americans have ceded full control to the Anbaris (it’s true that the locals are exercising more control over their own security. But you can’t have it both ways–in a previous post you criticise the American administration as being too colonial. Now you say we have NO CONTROL. Which is it?)

    A worthy counterexample of what a REAL defeat looks like is the case of Basra. The Brits were ultimately relegated to trying to survive inside their FOBs, unable to even conduct effective security patrols. They were beaten by a witch’s brew of 4GW poisons drowning the province and provincial capital, ultimately resulting in a swift and undignified exit where the new UK government made only fleeting attempts at face-saving.

    Another counterexample of defeat would be the American exit from Fallujah following the first siege in April, 2004. Again, the US left when it found it lacked the political will. Barriers were erected surrounding the city while a terrorist government controled the city through coordinated murder and omnipresent torture. This lasted until late 2004, when the US and Iraqis retook the city.

    These are defeats. What is going on in Anbar does NOT bear any resemblence to the two preceeding examples.

    Respectfully submitted,
    Smitten Eagle

  5. I have two points to make:

    1. Why do we assume that Sunnis are enemies of American, and Shia are American allies? It would seem that this is backwards. America is in Iraq to oppose Iran and defend Saudi Arabia. How does strengthening Shia help? Obviously, if you believe in the maxim that all democrats must be American friends, it all makes sense. There is more Shias than Sunnis, so they should rule in a democracy, and as a democracy they will become automatically American allies.

    2. The art of managing the tribes at the outskirts of the empire is very old (since at least Sargon) and it is rather hard to make any innovation. But it presumes one thing: that you are around to keep managing the tribes. Simply speaking, the tribes at the edges of the empire or a state can be managed with the correct strategy, but there must be a state or an empire to do it. As long as Americans are in Iraq, they can keep managing the tribes. But it is a bit too expensive in the long run. And if a strong state haven’t emerged before Americans will go, there will be no one left to do the managing.

    3. Were Americans fighting the Anbaris? Perhaps not, from their point of view. They could be fighting some shadowy “insurgents”, or “Al-Qaida”, or whomever. Those on the other end could have a different opinion, however, and their opinion counts.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: all good points. #3 is especially powerful!

  6. This article is about the tactical, at most about the operational level. But the Iraq war is a grand failure on the strategic and grand strategy levels.

    The Iraq war would be a lost war even if by word of god suddenly everything in Iraq would be just as in GWB’s past dreams.
    The economic, social political and personal losses of the war (even if we only consider the losses of the USA) are too large, and all possible and impossible gains too small.
    The economic and grand strategic situation demands to re-orient the domestic economy for more exports, less imports and more industry in general. Spending so much attention, innovation potential and money on such a useless conflict is extremely stupid.
    The war demolishes instead of helps national security by creating so many foes and alienating so many neutrals and friends.
    The Iraq has about 110 billion barrels total oil reserves according to EIA. At today’s prices that’s about USD 10,640 billion at today’s price. Consider the discount effect – it takes easily half of that away.
    Compare this to already more than 1,000 billion financial war costs, which would reach USD 3,000 billion if the war is continued till the Iraqi state is strong enough to take over alone (U.S. and financial only!).

    What does somebody need to expect as the prize for victory in this war? The actual possession of half the Iraqi oil reserves?

    Well, many people would reply that this war isn’t about oil. What else is worth the troubles? Nothing. WMD’s were not there and it would have been stupid to attack if they had existed – to attack was obviously the only way to assure their usage (if they had existed).

    AQ is only there because the U.S. forces are there, it wasn’t present under Saddam’s rule. The only AQ-affiliated group in Iraq was afaik outside of Saddam’s rule in Kurdish-controlled territory, protected by U.S. air patrols.

    Democracy? Doesn’t seem to work well in multi-national states where the factions can draw borders for succession or want to rule the other factions. The best thing in such cases is to allow a quick&dirty civil war to see who wins and to help the refugees find another home. Perpetual civil war/distress is much worse.

    Western outpost to civilize – sorry, to “westernize/democratize” the Near/Middle East? It should be obvious that even YouTube is a better instrument for doing so than this war.

    To feed the military-industrial complex? Even though some people there probably like the idea of a war simply for their business, they could be fed without a war if the nation agrees. And most likely there will be no majority for a war to feed war-profiteers alone.

    In the end it’s all about saving face. Not the faces of the troops – the faces of some hundred Republicans (especially NeoCons), some hundred Democrats and more than hundred commentators in the Media.

    And this means that the tactical/operational level does not matter at all. It’s in a losing game. That’s a Hobson’s choice. The USA does not lack COIN skill or information warfare skills – it lacks the ability to avoid/end stupid cabinet wars.

    Sven Ortmann

  7. Smitten Eagle –

    Thank you for your comment, which deserves a detailed reply.

    Hence I agree with your first 2 alternative narratives about reduced violence in IZ, but that’s not the subject of this post. You are applying what I said to Iraq as a whole; but this post focuses on one province only. It is not about the (misnamed) “surge”, except that the events in Anbar allowed redeployment of US troops to Baghdad.

    I agree that the Anbar Salvation Council and their militia (CLC, Son’s of Iraq, whatever today’s label) were the key to reduced violence in Anbar. Does anyone disagree?

    What produced this change? What are the strategic implications of these developments? That was my subject.

    Two quibbles in the quest of precision. Frist, “security gains” is imo vague — hence I say “reduced violence.” This is a “gain” for us only if it advances some strategic goal. Retreating often reduces causalities on both sides, but is not always a gain.

    Second, “grassroots efforts” has two different meanings. We struck deals with tribal elders, the elites of long-established social structures. This was not “grassroots” if one means driven by the constituents of a community (as opposed to organized by its leaders).

    In (a) you say that the Americans were not making war against the Anbaris. I do not understand. We were fighting in Anbar, and US government data consistently show that the opposition was mostly locals.

    The contradiction you note in (b) is a misunderstanding. Our *intent* appears to be colonial, as seen in both our actions and quotes by those involved with Coalition programs. That does not imply that Iraq *is* our colony. Our pacification efforts have consistently failed – as seen in Anbar.

    I do not understand your counterexamples. Basra, Fallujah, and Anbar have a common element: our inability to pacify Iraq. The Brits could not control Basra; we could not control Anbar. That they were bottled up in FOBs while we drive around freely reflects differing adaptations to failure. We pay in Anbar for our privileges; the Brits chose the cheaper and lower risk course.

    Fallujah is a classic example of a punitive strike. We ravaged it and called this “victory.” Unfortunately the locals were neither impressed nor cowed. Nor could this be repeated throughout Iraq due to the effect on US and world opinion. Force having failed to achieve strategic gains in Fallujah, it set the stage for our retreat from Anbar.

    Any comments in reply?

  8. Fabius-

    Fair points on “security gains” and “grassroots efforts.” WRT the “grassroots”, it seems that my potentially incorrect and certainly misunderstood use of the term is merely a product of transplanting the lexicon is democracy to the dusty Anbari soil–make of that what you will. I was referring to the co-opting of the local tribal leadership–that tribal leadership certainly did mobilize their people from above (in the local context.) However, this Anbari mobilization certainly occurred without leadership from the central government in Baghdad. From the view in the view in Sadr City, the Anbari mobilization was certainly “grassroots.”

    Fabius Maximus replies: Agreed; the term has different meanings. These things are so complex as it is, so I prefer to avoid ambiguity where possible.

    Making War Against Anbaris: Yes, we were fighting in Anbar. I was fighting in Anbar, even. Nonetheless we were not fighting the Anbaris–certainly some of those whom I/we fought were Anbaris. That said, I have also personally seen a fair amount of Syrian documentation carried on the persons of those we killed. We were making war against an organization–AQI–which had Anbari & non-Anbari, and foreign support. We could have made war on Anbar and it would not have been pretty–it probably would have resembeled Hama x 15. (Not even Fallujah reached the level of destruction necessary). Punitive strike? Sure. But it’s not like the city was inert. The government in Fallujah was making war against the Coalition and the Iraqi government in Baghdad. Such a situation would be intolerable and must be dealt with. And it was.

    “Pacification” as a term has a long history of misuse and misunderstanding. How do you mean it? Moreover, what would a “pacified” Anbar look like? How would that differ from what is there now?

    You claim that “being bottled up in FOBs” and “driving around freely” are two different adaptations to failure. I refuse to accept this. Being bottled up is certainly a result of, and a response to failure. “Driving around freely”, which I interpret as successfully operating on your own lines of communication is certainly not. These “two adaptations” are muturally exclusive–either you can operate you LOCs & patrol, or you cant. Yet you claim that doing either is an “adaptation to failure.” What tactical task would be a success?

    As far as “setting the stage for retreat in Anbar” goes–I don’t think the Americans I leaving Anbar any time soon.

    But I suppose that if there Americans were to stay in Anbar, that would be a sign of defeat. But so would be withdrawal. I understand “putting the enemy on the horns of a dilemma” but this is ridiculous.

    Semper Fidelis,
    S E

  9. Thank you for your reply. I appreciate your help discussing these things. Comparing viewpoints amidst the fog of war is perhaps the only way we can see our way clear in Iraq.

    Re: waging war against Anbaris

    This is a fundamental point. There is a great deal of evidence — using official US reports — that the insurrection in Anbar against American forces (2003 – 06 the de facto rulers of Iraq) was broadly-based, with AQI was a small part. That the insurrection stopped when we negotiated a deal with the tribes supports this point. The PR changed, without any supporting data or analysis, in summer 2007.

    I used the word “pacify” in the dictionary sense, to produce peace. We were unable to produce peace by fighting (“pacification efforts failed”), so we changed tactics.

    The rest of your reply ignores everything I said about our actions in strategic and tactical contexts. We “surrendered” or “retreated” — whatever term you prefer – in specific and clear ways. I can understand why you “refuse to accept this”. The emotional loading of these things, like so much in war, makes discussion of these things difficult. But avoiding them has a high cost, in money and blood. It is a cold business.

    I used “retreat” in a strategic sense, not physical sense. If you think of this as surrender, it is easier to understand why American forces can drive around Anbar — so long as we operate against enemies of the local rulers, and continue to pay handsomely for this privilege.

    One of the annoying aspects of 4GW is that the terms finely honed during millenia of conventional war change their meanings. Even seemingly simple things like offense and defense blurr. Staying or leaving, neither are inherently signs of victory or defeat.

    We have goals, national interests. Those are the benchmarks against which to measure our efforts. Staying for years in Anbar, at a annual cost in money and lives, but producing little of value to America (we are not the world’s police) … that is defeat.

  10. Fabius-

    Indeed, these topics are essential for us to debate, and I welcome that. However, I caution you against patronizing my service as making me too emotionally invested in the outcome. I think you will find most professional military officers bristling at such charges. I am no exception. I know of three officers from my TBS company who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and I shall never forget them. However, I also take my professional obligation to study the arts and sciences of war extremely seriously, and I know how to seperate my emotions from the realities I face. Were I be unable to know the emotional component, or ubable to know the artistic/scientific components, I could not function effectively as an officer. I therefore implore you to not confuse my service for being too emotionally vested in the conflict.

    Now I will address the meat of your response:

    What would a successful “pacification” look like in Anbar? How is that different from the reality of Anbar today?

    How does the current unpopularity of AQI and the other assorted terrorist groups factor into the “strategic defeat” we’re experiencing?

    I think it is you who are mixing the strategic/tactical components. You refer to Brits “being bottled up in FOBs” and Americans “driving around.” No matter how you view it, being “bottled up” in a FOB is inherently tactical. So is “driving around.” Patrolling is always tactical. I say the Brits were defeated tactically in Basra, leading to strategic defeat for them and a Grand-Strategic defeat for the Coalition. I also say the Americans have NOT been tactically defeated in Anbar. Strategically there has been some moving of the goalposts, and that’s fine, as war aims naturally change in the courses of conflict. I would argue that the moving of the goalposts toward more minimalist objectives in this fight has been a healthy reaction to the originally maximalist & unobtainable objectives earlier in the conflict. I think you might be defining retreat as a shifting of strategic objectives…am I correct? I would view such shifting of objectives as positive, you seem to think they indicate defeat.

    There is no such thing as “strategically” “driving around”. “Driving around”–patrolling is inherently a tactical activity

    Even in 3GW the offense and defense blur. This is not new. Any offense will have a strong force-protection component. Any successful defense will have an element of the offense. I am not concerned with this.

    As far as national interests go, yes, I agree we are not the world’s police. However, even that term of “world police” is problematic because the concept of “police” implies there is a predictable world order for the police to function in–that’s how the average Joe views police–a guy in a blue suit who enforces the laws of the land. The world is full of anarchy. Not only that, but the level of anarchy is increasing, as the soverign space of states is shrinking and the soverignty of individuals and transnational organizations is increasing. So now the question is this: What level of anarchy are we willing to tolerate from Anbar? Somalia? al Qaeda? Israel? Darfur? Pyongyang? Mexico? That is what determines our national interest–not some platitude-concept of “world policeman,” which starts from an a priori false premise.

    Semper Fidelis,
    Smitten Eagle

  11. Let us not kid ourselves. The emotional loading of these issues is intense, and most of us share it — other than the for rare icemen and those who just do not care. Imagine how military history would read if all decisions had been made logically and coldly! In the here and now, I have had brutal discussions of these things (and you too, I suspect) with both friends and others.

    There is nothing wrong imo with acknowledging that we are not Vulcans and flagging when the topic moves into esp hot zones. It is important to note for those reading this blog with no background in these things, and valuable for those who do to remind each other. Talking about surrender and defeat is deep in the red, and citing the technical meaning of the terms does not cool the discussion (speaking from experience, on both sides).

    You raise some powerful questions. Some I address in my next post (which I revising in the light of your posts, and ack the value of your comments here).

    The easy one is to describe one scenario as to what would pacification look like in Anbar if it forwarded our goals, instead of thwarting them… The Anbar elites and people joining in to rebuild the Iraq State. A nice follow-up to this would be the Kurd-Shiite alliance (which dominates the national “government”) welcoming and supporting this version of the Anbar Awakening. Then we could pay the local people to do something useful — unlike training and arming them (as if Iraq needs more and better militia. There is quite a bit of research that indicates militia are inherently destabilizing to a society.).

    A more difficult alternative would have been a full tactical retreat from Iraq. The Anbar locals would have then established their authority without our aid, taking longer to do so. Our exit from Anbar would have reduced energy of the insurgency in Anbar (no infidels to fight). We could continue to support the National government, offering both sides “carrots” as inducements to reconcile. This would give us a clearer and simplier strategic profile, unlike now — as we are back all sides in a low-intensity civil war.

  12. Interesting quote of Col Feisal.

    Is the US really bringing stability to Baghdad?“, Patrick Cockburn, The Independent (15 February 2008)

    “To judge from the talk in Washington, the ‘surge’ that put 30,000 more US troops on the ground in Iraq has succeeded in bringing stability to a nation still riven by ethnic, religious and tribal conflict. Life, the Pentagon boasts, is returning to normal. But the truth is a very different story.

    “… Even the police chief of Fallujah, Colonel Feisal, the brother of Abu Marouf, cheerfully explained that until he was promoted to his present post in December 2006 he was “fighting the Americans”. Abu Marouf is threatening to go back to war or let al-Qa’ida return unless his 13,000 men receive long-term jobs in the Iraqi security services. The Iraqi government has no intention of allowing this because to do so would be to allow the Sunni and partisans of Saddam Hussein’s regime to once again hold real power in the state.

    “Bizarrely, the US is still holding hundreds of men suspected of contacts with al-Qa’ida in Afghanistan and elsewhere, while in Iraq many of the Awakening members are past and, in many cases, probably current members of a
    al-Qa’ida being paid by the US Army….”

  13. Interesting quote from Col Feisal indeed. So he’s playing hardball to get increased employment for his citizens. He wants to get them included in the patronage system. It is disturbing that he’s considering letting AQ back in, or is considering taking up arms against the government. But bottom line, he’s still playing hardball–which is a game with rules. The fact that he’s playing such a game rather than rebelling outright is a positive sign.

    I agree that a successful pacification in Anbar would indeed have the Baghdad government acting slightly more positively toward its citizens in Anbar. But if the government were acting more positively, then the CLCs, Awakening Movement, and the Salvation Council wouldn’t have had to form in the first place. These things take time. The Baghdad government is still getting used to the “new normal” of Anbaris standing up for their communities. This organization of Anbaris will hopefully strengthen the Sunni blocs in the Baghdad government, hopefully leading to more integration. (It is doubtful that Anbaris will sit out the elections like they did in 2004).

    It is immaterial whether the tribal members in Anbar were prior gunmen for al Qaeda. Now they serve as the Ramadi police force, etc. And that is fine. I argue that this is OK only because these men are ordered to work by tribal elders–the same tribal elders we co-opted. We pay them–yes. Eventually the central government in Baghdad will pay them, slowly increasing their allegiace toward the central government. This buying-off & co-opting of opposition is valid from a 4GW perspective. Both TX Hammes and William Lind comment on the value of money & bribes as key supporting arms of any 4GW campaign. Hammes even argues for updated accounting techniques to make it easier for forces in the field to payoff adversaries so the bean counters in Washington don’t unnecessarely stand in the way. (I understand that 4GW theorists are not uniform in their views, but two heavyweights such as these men deserve at least a rebuttal if you disagree with them).

    Risky? Yes…but no more riskier than not co-opting the locals.

    A key problem of the exit strategy you propose–basically pulling chalks and letting the Anbari leadership organically form a relationship to the central government is that it puts too many American cards on the table. In doing so, we forsake future options to reenter the conflict (should that become necessary). We forsake influence in the region. We cede influence to other forces–and not on our terms. Futhermore, we would have to decide what kind of relationship we would have with Iraq/Anbar in the future–and we cannot “just be friends.” Defining such a relationship is something that is never spoken of by people who champion a withdrawl–mainly because they cannot predict the risky nature of such a future. How would you define such a relationship?

    I know you would argue that all this “is a feature not a bug”, as many a software engineer has said. But that simple change of point of view is not sufficient. We’re talking about lives and treasure here, and the very real possibility that I would have to redeploy to fight in Anbar again if we did pull chalks tomorrow or a year from now. And there’s a good chance that such a redeployment would be much bloodier than any imminent redeployment right now.

    Semper Fidelis,
    Smitten Eagle

  14. I address some of this in my next posts. Perhaps you are right as to how this will play out in the future. We are committed to your course, so (unlike my alternative history) we will learn if you are correct.

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