Weekend Reading Recommendations – about our wars

Table of Contents

  1. Two (now three) more articles in the debate about the surge, recent events in Iraq, and the US Army’s new focus on COIN.
  2. We need a longer unit than Friedman Units to measure the Iraq War — 6 months is not long enough.
  3. Petraeus and Crocker, less convincing this time“, W Patrick Lang (Colonel, US Army, retired), Sic Semper Tyrannis (9 April 2008) — A brilliant summary of the selling of a war.
  4. A provocative new analysis — if not quite a forecast — by Strator.
  5. Follow-up to the Iraq Study Group: Iraq After the Surge: Options and Questions, US Institute of Peace (April 2008) .
  6. The staff of the Long War Journal have put together an Order of Battle for the Iraq and Afghanistan security forces.
  7. This week’s statement of what should by now be blindingly obvious.

Recommendation: You might find this post from last week worthwhile reading: We are withdrawing again from Iraq, forever.

I. Two more articles in the debate about the surge, recent events in Iraq, and the US Army’s new focus on COIN

Misreading the Surge Threatens U.S. Army’s Conventional Capabilities“, Gian P. Gentile (Lieutenant Colonel, US Army), World Politics Review (04 Mar 2008) — Gentile explains that the improved security in Iraq were caused by the ceasefire declared last year by Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr as well as the U.S. decision to enlist former Sunni militants in the fight against Islamist extremists. Also, an excessive focus on COIN threats the Army’s ability to respond to conventional threats. Gentile has tied together all three threads in this debate, a remarkable intellectual achievement.

Misreading the History of the Iraq War, Pete Mansoor, posted at the Small Wars Journal (10 March 2008) — A reply to Gentile’s warnings.

(update) “The Limits of the Surge: An Interview with Gian Gentile“, World Politics Review (11 April 2008) — Excerpt:

In COIN, a precondition for success is the existence of a legitimate government. The United States has one success in the history of counterinsurgency since WW II to its credit: it succeeded in assisting the legitimate government of El Salvador defeat an internal communist insurgency. However, it was not the U.S. military that defeated the FMLN guerrillas, but the Salvadoran military under the control of its own government, with U.S. encouragement and no more than 50 or so U.S. military advisors. Moreover, El Salvador was not simply a sovereign state: El Salvadoran society was and is a single identity — an essential prerequisite for successful internal defense of a government struggling for survival and legitimacy.

None of these conditions apply to Iraq, where the Iraqi government does not appear to be legitimate in the eyes of its people — whether Shia, Sunni or Kurd — and it seems that one Iraqi society does not exist.

Three notes on this debate.

  1. The part of Gentile’s thesis I found of most interest is his description of legitimacy as a precondition for success in foreign military interventions into civil wars. I made this in Why We Lose at 4GW (January 2007), as did Chet Richards at greater length in If We Can Keep It. Unlike our COIN manual FM 3-24, which discusses ways to bolster the host government’s legitimacy, foreign combat troops tend to diminish it. Furthermore, high levels of foreign assistance tend to reduce pressure on a host government to compromise or reform.
  2. Also note his description that the Iraq polity has fragmented, perhaps irretrievably. I described this in March 2007 and September 2007.
  3. The fidelity of officers on both sides to the DoD narrative — our enemy is al Qaeda, everywhere — ignores important dynamics. The violence was purposeful. Armed groups used ethnic cleansing to consolidation of control over “their” areas. Once that was largely completed, with the easy phases done, the violence subsided.
  4. Debate is largely annecdoatal, with few numbers or dates. Like much COIN research, very basic. Reflects limited analytical resources, hence unable to make use of wide range of public data.

II. We need a longer unit than Friedman Units to measure the Iraq War

After Action Report – Visit to Iraq“, Barry R McCaffrey (General, US Army, retired), posted on his website (18 December 2008) — Excerpt (bold emphasis added):

We have rapidly decreasing political leverage on the Iraqi factional leadership. It is evident that the American people have no continued political commitment to solving the Iraqi Civil War. The US Armed Forces cannot for much longer impose an internal skeleton of governance and security on 27 million warring people. The US must achieve our real political objectives to withdraw most US combat forces in the coming 36 months leaving in place:

  1. A stable Iraqi government.
  2. A strong and responsive Iraqi security force.
  3. A functioning economy.
  4. Some form of accountable, law-based government.
  5. A government with active diplomatic and security ties to its six neighboring states.

III. Petraeus and Crocker, less convincing this time“, W Patrick Lang (Colonel, US Army, retired), Sic Semper Tyrannis (9 April 2008) — A brilliant summary of the selling of a war.

This week’s stalwart duo has relentlessly and endlessly described the Badr/ISCI/Dawa hold on power in Iraq as the “government of Iraq” so many times that it must seem to most people that Malikiis the reincarnation of George Washington rather than merely one of the contestants for power in that miserable place. Then, there are the “special groups.” These two words are being used to conjure up direct Iranian responsibility for our remaining difficulties in Iraq. We seem to be expected to believe that were it not for the Iranians all would be well in Iraq.

The endless repetition of these two propaganda “themes;”

  • Maliki’s legitimacy above all other contenders
  • direct Iranian intervention as the cause of Shia infighting,

have been the music of the Petraeus/Crocker show before Congress. This propaganda technique of the endless repetition of truth, half truth or outright lies is the essence of the propaganda trade. This is how we were sold the war.

IV. A provocative new analysis — if not quite a forecast — by Strator

Reads like arrant nonsense to me, but time will tell.

A Mystery in the Middle East, George Friedman, Stratfor (9 April 2008) — Opening:

The Arab-Israeli region of the Middle East is filled with rumors of war. That is about as unusual as the rising of the sun, so normally it would not be worth mentioning. But like the proverbial broken clock that is right twice a day, such rumors occasionally will be true. In this case, we don’t know that they are true, and certainly it’s not the rumors that are driving us. But other things — minor and readily explicable individually — have drawn our attention to the possibility that something is happening.

V. Follow-up to the Iraq Study Group

Iraq After the Surge: Options and Questions, US Institute of Peace (April 2008) — Summary:

Iraq remains a critical problem for the United States. Security has improved to roughly 2005 levels, and tentative political progress has been made, but there is no visible end to the U.S. commitment required to prevent Iraq from spinning out of control and threatening a widening war in the region. The Bush Administration and the Congress face difficult choices: How can the relative success during the period of the surge be prolonged and solidified? Should the drawdown continue? When will the Iraqi security forces be ready to take over? What can be done to accelerate political progress?

In September, Iraq experts convened by the U.S. Institute of Peace identified five paramount interests that U.S. policy in Iraq should aim to serve:

  1. Prevent Iraq from becoming a haven or platform for international terrorists
  2. Restore U.S. credibility, prestige and capacity to act worldwide
  3. Improve regional stability
  4. Limit and redirect Iranian influence
  5. Maintain an independent Iraq as a single state

The same group reconvened in recent months to consider policy options for political development in Iraq formulated on the basis of these five interests.

VI. An Order of Battle for the Iraq and Afghanistan security forces

A project of the Long War Journal, this includes regular Army, Special Forces, Navy, Air Force, national and local police, and border security units. It designates Kurdish units. This is a valuable resource, useful for understanding reports about the Iraq War. Also valuable would be information about the composition of units by region, ethnicity and sect — indications as to the ultimate loyalty of these units.

That and other valuable information is at the iraq war — other valuable articles and reports.

VII. This week’s statement of what should by now be blindingly obvious.

“Petraeus Meets His Match”, Joe Klein, Time (9 April 2008) — Excerpt (bold emphasis added):

That {involvement in the attack on the Mahdi Army} would have been extremely foolish. The U.S. would have been inserting itself into a part of Iraq that we don’t know very well — the south — and taking sides against what is probably the most popular mass movement in Shi’ite Iraq. But the Petraeus battle plan apparently includes an anti-Sadrist move, which may mean a spurt of violence as widespread and vicious as the worst of the Sunni insurgency. Is that why the general wants a “pause” in the U.S. withdrawal this summer?

What could possibly be the rationale for this? Perhaps it is that Sadr’s Mahdi Army is the most potent force opposed to long-term U.S. bases in Iraq — and that a permanent presence has been the Bush Administration’s true goal in this war. I suspect the central question in Iraq now is not whether things will get better but whether the drive for a long-term, neocolonialist presence will make the situation irretrievably worse.

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).

2 thoughts on “Weekend Reading Recommendations – about our wars

  1. “Rumors now are swirling that the Israelis are about to reveal publicly that they in fact bombed a nuclear reactor provided to Syria by North Korea.”

    Rumors are also swirling that Stratfor is republishing Israeli propaganda.

    I doubt very much that Syria had anything worthy of the name “nuclear.” Perhaps they had a sixteen-year-old student with a fifty-year-old book on nuclear reactors. That would qualify as a “nuclear research program” if one were sufficiently dogmatic.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Great reply!

  2. “The United States has one success in the history of counterinsurgency since WW II to its credit: it succeeded in assisting the legitimate government of El Salvador defeat an internal communist insurgency.”

    The U.S.Army had another COIN success since WW2, the Jeju uprising (which was ultimately resolved with the Mongol method).I’ve heard that U.S. troops participated, but Wiki says it didn’t.
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    Fabius Maximus: I side with Wkipedia on this one.
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    Also, there must be some lower limit on rebellions before we consider them insurgencies. How about the urban riots in the US during the 1960’s? Did we use sophisticated COIN methods to defeat this insurgency? We the Hippy “flower children” an insurgency (Lind might think so, cultural Marxist rebels against our culture). Both of these were larger, both in absolute numbers and as % national population , than the Julu uprising.

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